Study: Sports reporters who gamble admit objectivity suffers

Sports reporters who gamble on sports are more likely than those who don't to say sports journalists should operate according to more lax ethical standards their newsroom colleagues, and they are also more likely than other sports reporters to admit that gambling hurts objectivity in coverage, according to a new survey.

The telephone survey, conducted by researchers in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State (online at http://comm.psu.edu/sports), asked 285 reporters who cover sports for newspapers and affiliated Web sites whether they gambled on sports.

Four in 10 reporters said they did, and one in 20 said they had gambled on sports they were covering.

Gambling on sports by reporters who cover them is banned by the ethics codes of some news organizations, including The New York Times, because of the potential conflict of interest, said Marie Hardin, the associate director of research for the Center for Sports Journalism.

"What was most interesting was the admission by reporters who gamble on sports that it likely influences the ways they covered stories," Hardin said. "That's exactly the reason why it's considered a no-no by some ethicists and editors."

The Associated Press Sports Editors does not address gambling in its ethics code, and neither do most newspapers, Hardin added.

Results of the survey, "Sports Coverage: 'Toy Department' or Public-Service Journalism," by Hardin, an associate professor of communications; Bu Zhong, an assistant professor of communications; and doctoral candidate Erin Whiteside, appears in the September 2009 issue of the International Journal of Sport Communication.

Other questions on the survey, which was administered by students in COMM 412 Sports, Media and Society (one of the core class offerings of the Curley Center) asked reporters whether they believed sports journalists should do more investigative journalism. Most agreed, and many said they believed sports journalism should perform a "watchdog role" for the public in relationship to sports operations.

"Sports reporters have generally shied away from such an approach for a number of reasons, but they've been stung in recent years by scandals they have failed to adequately cover -- such as that of steroids in Major League Baseball," Hardin said.

The study found that reporters who embraced a public-service function for sports coverage were also more likely to reject behaviors like gambling on sports or taking free tickets.

Reporters also were asked whether they thought they should vote in polls and rankings of teams or athletes, another conflict-of-interest issue that has been addressed by a number of newspaper sports departments. Reporters generally said they believed they should be allowed to vote in such rankings.

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Last Updated September 17, 2009