Do The State's Sports Writers Show Bias?

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at how Auburn and University of Alabama athletics are covered by the state's newspapers.

Today's offering might not be popular. It might fly in the face of what some regulars on this website believe. But I am going to defend my profession, at least a little.

So many myths fly around about sports writing in general and sports writers in particular. Believe it or not, like it or not, the vast majority of the people in my business work very hard, are very conscientious and try very hard to do a quality job.

Here are some of the more popular myths:

MYTH: "He just wrote that to sell newspapers."

TRUTH: Neither I nor any other reporter I know writes stories to sell newspapers. The truth is, the circulation of The Huntsville Times is going to fluctuate regardless of what I write. If 1,000 people are angry because of something I write and cancel their subscriptions, it's not going to change my paycheck. If 1,000 people are delighted, it's not going to change my paycheck. Selling a newspaper depends on many things, but mainly on doing a consistently good job over a long period of time. Some stories are written to inform. Some are written to entertain. Some are emotional and some are factual. And, yes, sometimes we make mistakes. But in almost 34 years in this business, I have never once thought while writing a story about how many papers it might sell.

MYTH: The state's newspapers are biased toward one school.

TRUTH: I've worked for five of them, and it's been the same at every one. In coverage of Auburn and Alabama athletics, an immense amount of effort is put into trying to make certain the coverage is balanced. As a season unfolds, things happen to affect that balance. A team contending for a championship might get more attention than a team headed nowhere. At the same time, a team that started with high expectations and hits on hard times might get some extra attention.

MYTH: (Name the reporter) is a Bama/Auburn fan

TRUTH: I can't see inside anyone's heart, but I know every reporter who covers Auburn or Alabama on a regular basis. They all work very hard at being objective observers. Most are much more concerned about deadlines and writing the best stories they can write than they are about who wins or loses. It's not realistic to say you can work closely with coaches and athletes on a daily basis and remain totally oblivious to their emotional ups and downs. But I will lose sleep over who wins or loses a game when the players and coaches start losing sleep over whether or not I write a good story.

MYTH: Phillip Marshall is old, fat and has white hair.

TRUTH: Uh, well, I guess that's not a myth. I was dreaming for a second there about when I was young, not fat and had dark hair.

MYTH: Reporters are always looking for dirt.

TRUTH: Most of us are looking for a good restaurant. Though sometimes the job requires it, I don't know anyone who enjoys watching players or coaches or even administrators go through painful times. It was certainly no fun to be around Auburn football in 1998. I'm sure it was no fun to be around Alabama football as Mike DuBose's career collapsed in 2000.

My profession has its warts like any other. Some reporters do better jobs than others. Some work harder than others. None of us are getting rich.

There is no question sports writing has changed over the years. Talk radio and Internet message boards have changed the rules of the game. Sports writing is more opinionated now than it ever was, and I'm not entirely comfortable with that. If news breaks, it is widely known almost immediately. That leads to a search for new and different ways to present that news in the paper.

But, in the final analysis, I believe sports fans in Alabama are blessed. Alabama, a poor state with a relatively small population, has two of the nation's more prominent college athletic programs. And it has some good and talented people who report on those programs.

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