Analytics has transformed many of the core principles of sports journalism, forcing journalists to work smarter, harder and more creatively than ever before. Yet reporters today are uniquely prepared to navigate the constantly evolving world of journalism, as they now find themselves armed with a plethora of statistics and data that allow storytelling at depths never previously imagined. In interviews with those at the cutting edge of the industry, journalists from around the country imparted insight into how they work to blend new age thinking with time-tested methods of journalism. This thesis expands on those insights and examines the strategies employed to best attack questions of how to best integrate analytics into writing, what role analytics should play in interviews, how to find stories using analytics and others.
The process to answer these questions began by compiling a list of 166 journalists who could provide valuable insight into the current state of sports journalism. Targeted specifically were those journalists who were either currently or had spent extensive time as a beat reporter, as a crucial aspect of the study hinged on the exploration of the role of analytics in day-to-day coverage. Of those 166 journalists, 93 made themselves available through either Twitter direct message or email. Once contacted, 47 of those journalists responded, eventually leading to 27 phone interviews and 7 email interviews.
Each interview began with the journalist establishing a baseline for what they thought the role of analytics should be in the coverage of their respective sports. From there, the conversation often took a linear turn as journalists talked about the experiences in their career that led them to that conclusion, what moments had shifted their overall opinions of analytics, their best approaches for utilizing analytics in both articles and interviews, their favorite and least favorite analytical measures, the gaps that remain in analytics, and the future of the industry as a whole.
Each interview was transcribed, and a number of compelling themes emerged. The many different themes were organized into three different groups, past, present and future, where they were further expanded on to best display the many concepts illustrated in this thesis. Among the themes explored include how journalists use coaches and players to validate statistics, what strategies work best when including analytics in conversations with athletes, how to find story ideas through analytics and the issues plaguing the analytics community. Once themes had been identified, the percentage of journalists who had indicated agreement with the themes were calculated. Thus, themes investigated were represented statistically as well as by a quote from a journalist addressing the idea.
Across 34 interviews with some of the country’s most established and well-respected voices, many of the pressing issues facing analytics in sports journalism today were explored, including the melding of analytical and narrative writing, how best to use analytics in question asking, and the “holy grail” of analytical data. Across interviews, a host of interesting strategies and ideas emerged as journalists examined how the industry reached its current point, what practices are currently most effective, and where the industry is headed. The perspective gained from this thesis gives insight into many of the lesser-discussed elements of journalism, imparting a deeper understanding of the challenges that lay ahead for sports journalism through an examination for how far the industry has come. While analytics and their usage in sports journalism remains a difficult concept to fully encapsulate, this thesis hopefully gives a better look at their complex and ever-evolving relationship.