Covering major sports events: some tips for sports journalists

Major sporting events draw the interest of magnitudes from across the world, they are among the top events in the history of social media. The Fifa World Cup in Russia is expected to once again have sports journalists churning media content at unprecedented volumes.

Seasoned sports journalists Bareng-Batho Kortjaas and Simnikiwe Xabanisa give us an idea of what covering major sporting events is all about. Here are some tips.

1. Go to the venue

"The most exciting thing about major tournaments is being ringside to it all and having the challenge to tell the unfolding story in a way which will hopefully capture what happens in as captive a manner as the games themselves." - Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Simnikiwe Xabanisa says there is so much interest in major sporting events because the best in the worlds are matched up against each other.

2. Use the flexibility of digital media to access a broader audience

“Many people with cellphones can actually access their players through digital media.” - Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Journalists are affected by developments surrounding major sporting tournaments in broadcast media. With broadcasting rights becoming more lucrative for media organisations and the personal brands of certain sports personalities, the stakes are always on the rise.

According to Xabanisa this has affected how journalists are able to access athletes in some sporting codes. The problem is that all the rights to some sporting codes or specific events can be held by a single broadcasting organisation.

“Sporting codes have less need to play nicely with sports journalists who represent newspapers, magazines or websites simply because they don't contribute towards their lifeline,” Xabanisa said.

He said sports personalities can simply avoid journalists from some publications because they don’t think the coverage they will get is significant.

For up and coming sports journalists these events can be frustrating. Because they are lesser known they can have even less access to athletes.

Aspiring sports journalist Mthetheleli Mazwai says he often feels overshadowed by longer serving journalists at press conferences.

“The odds are normally stacked against the young journalist as there are seasoned reporters who are given priority when it comes to asking questions and getting answered first,” Mazwai said.

3. Guard your independence as a journalist

“Editorial independence is sacrosanct, it is way too important to be interfered with. Not now. Not ever.” - Bareng-Batho Kortjaas

The most important thing for Kortjaas is that sport journalists should not let all the different interests interfere with their independence.

4. Know who sets the game on fire

“A major rugby tournament isn't a major rugby tournament without the All Blacks, so from purely an aesthetics and purist's perspective you want to see it.” - Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Sometimes one factor makes a big difference regarding how much interest will be drawn by a major tournament. For the veteran rugby journalist unless a tournament includes New Zealand's All Blacks it is not a major rugby event.

5. Some stories cut across audiences

“There is such a thing as a story that's big enough to cover all angles, like Usain Bolt breaks the 100m world record. If you still look past that story to only focus on your "audience" you should be shot.” - Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Journalists can also be unclear about which audiences they should cater to when covering major sporting events.

The Fifa world cup is a blessing because it is mainly about one thing, soccer. For renowned sports journalist Bareng Batho Kortjaas the passion and excitement becomes too much to contain.

"The World Cup is about football. One becomes like a kid in a candy shop when the World Cup comes around. Why? Because it is the stage for the best players from the 32 qualifying nations to show the world that they are worth their weight in gold." - Bareng-Batho Kortjaas

6. Respect all audiences

“The idea is to endeavour to give quality journalism at all times. Whether local or global, from Nkandla to New York, we strive for the same standard.” - Bareng-Batho Kortjaas

Sports journalists can find themselves lost in a confusing hierarchy when deciding which audience comes first. When reporting on major sports events they can be torn between the choice of reporting for a local audience or catering to broader spectator interests

For Kortjaas there is a simple solution to the problem of which audience is a priority. The key is to treat all readers with the same respect.

7. Keep an eye for “spectator" journalism

Spectators at major sporting events are what the passer-by with a camera phone is to citizen journalism. They can be a good source of engaging content or give journalists a more intimate peek into moments during the event.

8. Repurpose content

Footage, images and information gathered during major sporting events can have many uses long after they hype has died down. The content is also an asset because it can form part of an important historical archive about the sport, athletes, institutions and developments at the time of the event.

9. Keep your ear on the ground

Developments at major tournaments change very quickly, sometimes without even a goal being scored. Keep tabs on standings, results, disqualifications and teams advancing to the next stage. In the Fifa World Cup an impact player can sit out of an important game if they accumulate two yellow cards at any stage of the finals, including the knockout stages.

10. Report across platforms

Social media is where different audiences from all over the globe will converge until the final on 17 July. The expectation is that Russia 2018 will surpass all other events as far as social media interactions are concerned.

The last world cup generated more than 3 billion interactions on Facebook. The most talked about sporting event in the history of social media, Germany’s 7-1 routing of Brazil, generated 35.6 million tweets.

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