Newspaper Sports Journalists Imitate ESPN’s Entertaining Jargon, MU Researchers Find

By Christine Feeley
MU News Bureau

Columbia, Mo. (Oct. 10, 2005) — ESPN personality Chris Berman coined the phrase, “Back-back-back-back, gone!” Stuart Scott defined “Boo-yah!” and Dick Vitale proclaimed, “It’s awesome, baby!” Now, ESPN sports jargon is making the jump to print media, according to a new Missouri School of Journalism study.

Scott Reinardy
Scott Reinardy

Scott Reinardy, a journalism doctoral candidate, and Earnest Perry, an associate professor, found that newspaper sports journalists, specifically writers and sports desk personnel, such as copy editors and page designers, believe creative sports journalism often is substituted for fact-based sports reporting. The study shows that print sports journalists often substitute ESPN “sports speak” for traditional reporting, though all journalists in the study, regardless of staff responsibilities, doubt that readers prefer this form of journalism.

“All sports journalists in this study agreed that readers do not necessarily enjoy sports jargon in their stories and that saturation of sports in the American culture has had a negative effect on sports writing,” Reinardy said. “Oftentimes what is being passed off as witty jargon can be cleaned at the copy desk before reaching publication. However, factual holes in stories that are being covered up by ESPN-type lingo cannot be fixed.”

Reinardy and Perry distributed surveys to 249 sports journalists, and responses indicated that ESPN jargon and entertainment-based writing do play a significant role in newspaper sports journalism. The study also found that sports writers and sports desk personnel believe more strongly than sports editors that this trend is changing the tone of sports reporting.

Reinardy said the shift from traditional to entertainment-based sports writing can be attributed to identification theory, a form of imitation where a person attempts to mimic some quality of a model. In this case, sports reporters in print media who aspire to become television and radio personalities conform to the behavior, speech and journalistic style of celebrity sports journalists on ESPN.

“As previous studies have demonstrated, newspaper readers are drawn to the sports section because of its entertainment value and ‘offbeat’ and humorous sports commentary,” Reinardy said. “It can be argued that no media outlet provides more entertainment and offbeat commentary than SportsCenter. Sports writers who grew up watching ESPN would be attracted to that style of sports presentation.”

Updated: April 7, 2020

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