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U.S. sports operations have been described as newsroom “toy departments,” at least partly because of their deviation from journalistic norms. Recently, however, more attention has focused on issues of ethics and professionalism; the failure of sports journalists to adequately cover steroid use in Major League Baseball has also directed critical attention to their roles and motives. This study, through a telephone survey of journalists in U.S. newsrooms, examines sports reporters’ practices, beliefs, and attitudes in regard to ethics and professionalism and how their ethics and practice relate. Results indicate that reporters’ attitudes toward issues such as voting in polls, taking free tickets, gambling, and becoming friends with sources are related to their views of public-service or investigative journalism. In addition, friendships with sources are linked to values stereotypically associated with sports as a toy-department occupation. These results suggest that adherence to ethical standards is linked to an outlook that embraces sports coverage as public service.
The authors are with the College of Communications, Penn State University, University Park, PA.