Sports Journalists and Columnists, let us lift the standards

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Broadcast: February 18, 2017 on SportsNation Live

First published February 20, 2017, Republished April 3, 2017

The standards of sports and opinion journalism in Jamaica are falling. It’s time to lift the standards.

President Donald Trump (l) and his counsellor Kellyanne Conway have waged an unprecedented war on facts and truths since moving into the White House.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

A friend of mine recently said, “The most dangerous thing on planet earth is an opinionist whose opinions are formed void of facts.” So, I quickly added, “While that statement may be true, what say you of Donald Trump?”

Opinionists are like sand grains on the beach. They are everywhere and worse when it comes to the world of sports. They can be found on the street side, at the bus stop, at the gym, and at the lunchroom at work. Unsurprisingly, another place you will find loads of them is at your local bar, especially when you are trying to have a relaxing evening with the distilled spirits. Sadly, these opinionists often discuss sports in the most nescient and puzzling ways, which both baffles and depresses you simultaneously. We all know the individuals I’m referring to. At times, we entertain them but deep down we abhor them and their unfiltered claptrap.

Bars are a popular location where you will find fact-less opinionists.
(Photo credit: VQR Online)

These fact-less sports opinionists, which are often our friends, spew nothing but unadulterated hogwash and several times, they do so with such conviction that those informed individuals – like yourself – question whether you are the ones ill-informed and unaware that you are uninformed. Do you remember what our grandmothers used to say? “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not …” Yeah, that’s them at times and not you.

The worst part is when those trusted with the responsibility to inform the public, yes us journalists, are the ones described in such a manner. When we are the ones least informed, I often wonder to myself, “where will the public turn to for information and insight?” I presume Facebook and fake news websites.

Fake news stories have been rampant on social media platforms like Facebook in 2016. Facebook and Google have vowed to tackle these fake news entities.

What is even worse is when sports journalists or columnists, like myself, propagate misinformation, which whips the public into a frenzy of ignorance. Yet, strikingly, when the ‘true’ truth is unfolded, they and their unadulterated opinions vanish into thin air. I have seen this in recent years with discussions surrounding various sporting issues, not excluding Jamaican athletes and doping in sports.

As sports journalists and columnists, we have a sacred responsibility. We must be the voice of the minority and not necessarily the populace. We ought to investigate and base our conclusions and opinions on facts and matters rooted in principle and not necessarily those dipped in patriotism and insularity.

Sports Journalist Tony Cozier was respected for his diligent research borne out in his engrossing cricket columns.
(Photo credit: Caribbean Beat)

Let me be the first to shed my snakeskin of self-righteousness. As the Good Book says, we have all sinned and fallen short. In the past, I may have misinformed the public, or maybe in the distant future – God forbid – I may misinform the public on a particular matter. Similarly, I may take some extreme position, uncharacteristically, devoid of facts or truths. However, John Public must never accept misinformation as the norm and must demand facts, truths and statistics from our sports journalists and columnists.

In recent times, ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ have become almost a staple food in our society. Sadly, these fake facts and alternative news have been incorporated in the diet and salacious feats of the sports world. Several of my less and more learned colleagues and distant acquaintances, at times, report or purport such pristine poppycock that it makes me wonder. Unfortunately, this only sinks the already perceived sunken position of sports and opinion journalists in the local media sphere. Of a fact, our news counterparts are often held in higher esteem and the issues they discuss are often deemed more important. If we as sports journalists cannot inform the public of the basic tenets at hand in our speciality, then whom do we expect to do this job? The news reporters and weather reporters? We must do better. We need to lift the standards of sports and opinion journalism in Jamaica.

Morris Cargill (l) and Hugh Crosskill are two notable Jamaican journalists who were masters of opinion journalism and sports journalism respectively.
(Photo credit: Jamaica Gleaner)

John Public must demand of us sports journalists and columnists, fact-based opinions and insightful insights based on actual data, information and research. If they cannot, then anyone with an arbitrary opinion and pint-sized knowledge of sports can be a sports journalists or columnist. Or, is that already the case?

Recently, I read the work of some famous local columnists, some of who are luminaries, doctors in their respective fields and even lawyers. I also listened to several talk show hosts recently and heard various opinionists and sports journalists discuss several sporting disciplines and issues, including doping. Sadly, in my opinion, most of them were bereft of the ‘real’ facts to inform the public; hence, depriving the public of the opportunity to form informed opinions. From my observations, the writings and discussions of several sports journalists and opinionists were based solely, or mostly, on hypotheticals and conjecture. Astonishingly, facts and statistics were oftentimes treated like a bastard child, utterly detested. If our profession as sports journalists and columnists is to be taken seriously, my friends, then we have no choice but to raise the standards. If we do not, then we will certainly be the bastard children of several of our media houses.

Hubert Lawrence (l) and Lance Whittaker are two modern day journalists in Jamaica who are highly respected in the field of sports journalism.
(Photo source: Jamaica Gleaner & Barbados Today)

In closing, I must pay due respect to my colleagues who conduct their work with dignity and pride. They are the true descendants of Atlas, holding up the seemingly mystical sports and opinion journalistic world on their shoulders. As for me, and unlike the Apostle Paul, I am not even the least of the sports journalists or columnists in Jamaica. I consider myself simply a concerned observer: just call me a scientist.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

Zaheer was last seen in his dungeon pouring over statistics trying to determine why Donald Trump loves alternative facts and fake news. He found the answer in the 2016 US Presidential election polling numbers.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 3, 2017.

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6 thoughts on “Sports Journalists and Columnists, let us lift the standards

  1. Yes, this struck a chord with me, Zaheer! You are so right. I too have sinned in the past, but ALWAYS try to do as much research as possible. That’s the problem – many opinion makers fail to do this – it’s just laziness really. Kudos to you for your great blog, which I rely on for accurate sports information! Oh, and Happy Easter from a fellow blogger!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Petchary's Blog and commented:
    I am sharing this post from fellow blogger Zaheer Clarke (a winner of the Best Blog Award from the Press Association of Jamaica). It resonates with me. Facts and statistics are especially important in sports, but in general, opinion columnists and bloggers (including myself) need to do sufficient research before they put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard. We must keep “fact checking”! So important. Kudos to Zaheer for his great blog. If you love sports, this is for you!

    Liked by 1 person

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