Andy Cairns, Executive Editor of Sky Sports News, gave the keynote speech for the ICE conference at the Frontline Club in London today.
Cairns opened with the purity of sport and the ethics regarding sportspeople on the pitch and how much debate it causes.
He cited the example of Carew Cricket Club and how that divided the Sky newsroom. Ethics are not hardened rules, but like the spirit of cricket, there is a duty for all journalists to ensure they are upheld.
Being an editor at Sky, it was natural that most examples came from his work there and the difficulties faced by a rolling 24 hour news service.
The issue of Sky sources has become a running joke on social media especially when it comes to ‘Transfer Deadline Day’. Cairns assures the sources are always genuine and it is their ethical duty to protect identities.
Trust is a key part of what makes Sky Sports News successful. Trust comes from accuracy in news reporting and being first to break those stories.
Cairns admitted: “We hate being beaten to a story”
If they are, it is important to look for original angles and move the story on, not to rehash what has already been said.
In a talk that covered a wide range of topics on ethics, how the issue of mental health is dealt with in journalism, is something that everyone needs to be on top of in 2017.
Cairns said: “People between the ages of 16 and 34 have a one in four chance of having at least one mental health issue.”
That age demographic neatly casts a net over the large part of any professional athletic career. He referred to the Leveson enquiry and it has helped bring to the fore how the use of language can affect the way something is reported.
He cited the way the recent Aaron Lennon story was handled and the supportive nature of it, was an example of how the reporting of mental health is improving.
Boxing according to Cairns is a prime example of where the balance of reporting and ethics is exemplified. He said: “I have met many former boxers and they obviously weren’t all in the greatest of health.”
How much of this is due to boxing is still up for the debate but the issue is clear. Cairns highlighted the huge demand for boxing on Sky platforms.
Their ethical duty to balance that appetite for coverage, while also reporting on the health and safety standards in what is still two people trying to knock the other one out.
The cosy nature of the journalist-athlete relationship is a thing of the past. Deeper questions are asked and more in-house PR is there to deflect them.
The issue of drugs in sport was an example Cairns used of how journalists in the 90s maybe didn’t look deeper when these athletes were posting world record after world record.
“Is it ever right to doorstep a frail 70-year-old man?” asks Cairns.
If that man is Sepp Blatter, former head of FIFA, flanked by an army of PR people then the answer is yes.
Sky always want to be clean in their news gathering, but Bryan Swanson had to get a microphone under Blatter as it was a matter of public interest.
Other topics touched on were the need to increase the number of female sports journalists and how illegal streaming is affecting the industry. He said: “Piracy is putting jobs at risk,” equating it to “shoplifting through your phone”.
Rumours need to be substantiated but there is a distinct change in coverage in the last few years. Before stories are confirmed, rumours are put out there. The key again is honesty, telling the viewer everything they know.
Cairns finished by saying: “There is always another twist around the corner”.
The message from the talk was that no matter how many twists, always do your upmost to uphold your ethical integrity.