The Enduring Importance of Trust in Sports Journalism
In a time of exaggerated headlines and ‘fake news’, trust remains paramount to the reputation of sports journalism.
‘BREAKING: Antonio Conte wants this Premier League player to partner Diego Costa. Shock!’ tweets @FootballVines - an account with over 750,000 followers.
In addition to sounding like a tweet from a suddenly sporty Donald Trump, people have come to realise that the claims made by accounts such as these are likely to be just as spurious.
More often than not, the link provided on such tweets will take you to a story that will attribute the claims to an entirely unverifiable source.
This kind of click-bait has long been a part of Twitter - you could level a claim that the 140-character restriction actively encourages it - and even institutions such as the BBC are guilty of using this technique.
Using hyperbolic or sensationalised headlines which don't tell the reader the crucial details is, after all, an excellent way to garner traffic to your website.
However, unlike some recent mainstream ‘fake news’ stories such as ‘Pizzagate’, which lead to gunshots being fired in a Washington, DC restaurant, it’s worth mentioning that this style of sports reporting is essentially harmless.
These types of Twitter accounts are often amusing to follow and usually, with a bit of common sense, it’s straightforward to detect which stories are more credible than others.
With the advent of Twitter in 2006, the way that people consumed sports journalism - and indeed journalism as a whole - has changed significantly.
News became both instantaneous and interactive in a way that had never been experienced before and allowed not only organisations, but individuals also to have a powerful voice.
So, in an age where anyone can break a news story with a couple of taps of their thumb, how do people choose what to read, believe and share?
Due to the volume of opportunistic Twitter accounts reporting dubious sport stories, people were unsure which headlines to believe and which to discount in the early years of twitter.
However, when many of these stories failed to materialise, it didn’t take long for people to become wise to the specious tactics used and now these accounts are largely read with a not insignificant pinch of salt.
As a general rule, most people therefore only truly believe sport stories once they have been reported by reliable sources such as BBC Sport and Sky Sports or highly regarded journalists like The Times writer Henry Winter.
This trust doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of reputable and quality journalism to ensure that an organisation or individual receives the confidence of their readers.
Although there’s no doubting the calibre of coverage and reporting in recent years by BT Sport, it’s no coincidence that BBC Sport has around six million more followers on twitter.
Whereas BBC Sport has been an institution since 1988, BT Sport was founded in 2013 and therefore has 25 fewer years of cultivating trust and loyalty among its readership.
The BBC can afford to use the unpopular click-bait technique without alienating its readers because people will trust that the story at the other end of the link will be well researched and accurate.
Trust is what makes a well respected source stand out from the thousands of other sports accounts on twitter and therefore, as it always has been, remains the fundamental building block for any successful sports news agency.