MU Study Finds College Football Writers Show Bias in Reporting

By Jessica Pollard
MU News Bureau

Columbia, Mo. (Sept. 9, 2004) — The ever-growing popularity of college football has triggered an immediate desire from fans for information specific to their favorite teams. While the media feel obligated to meet these needs, the sports world has become unwelcome territory for many writers and editors. A recent study by a Missouri School of Journalism researcher found that college sports writers, particularly those focusing on football, face challenges from both avid fans and unruly athletes and coaches.

Scott Reinardy
Scott Reinardy

“For many reasons, sports journalists straddle the line between fan and impartial reporter,” said Scott Reinardy, assistant instructor at the school. “The college football beat is unlike any other at the newspaper because even the casual sports reader follows the hometown team through victories and defeats.”

Reinardy’s study focused on four newspapers located in cities with universities in the Big 12 Conference, and examined them based on their general sports coverage. He found that in these newspapers, more space is allotted for sports articles compared with other sections in the paper.

In his study, Reinardy determined that sports writers connected to hometown newspapers wrote more favorably for the college football team, 37.8 percent positive, than the Associated Press, 24.3 percent positive. Reinardy found that 51 percent of the paragraphs in hometown newspapers were cited as neutral, compared to 69 percent of the paragraphs in the Associated Press. This, Reinardy said, is in part due to the fact that Associated Press reporters do not typically fall under the same public scrutiny as local newspaper contributors.

Comparably, writers for larger newspapers, with circulation sizes greater than 30,000, produced more favorable stories than those at smaller newspapers. When examining overall totals, 76.7 percent of stories were positive toward the local football team, with only 23.2 percent containing negative information. Examining paragraphs, Reinardy found that 37.8 percent were favorable, 11.5 percent unfavorable and 50.7 percent were neutral. Also, according to the study, newspapers generally write more favorably for the local teams during weeks of home games and victories.

“Choosing sides, which is virtually unavoidable, can be a complicated proposition, especially regarding high-profile athletes who use the media to their advantage,” Reinardy said.

Reinardy’s overall findings suggest that sports writers need to give more consideration to how they gather information, who is distributing that information, why they write the stories they do, and what is the news. By publishing a clear-cut, non-biased story, reporters are more likely to develop trust among coaches and athletes and be accepted by the majority of the fans they target.

Updated: March 17, 2020

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