Ivor Shapiro may not know much about soccer, but he knows that some coverage of yesterday's Canada-U.S. women’s semifinal match fell short of the rigour and autonomy that, he believes, should define journalism.
By Ivor Shapiro
There's no crying in Olympian journalism — or at least there shouldn't be.
Granted, there's quite a lot of crying going on in the 2012 Olympics, perhaps especially by Canadian athletes, but I don't know enough about sport to know if it is more than usual.
I do know enough about journalism, though, to believe there's too much crying in our journo troops' responses to some key losses. Especially yesterday’s women's soccer semifinal, where the headlines were to the effect of, ‘we wuz robbed.’
Well, maybe we wuz and maybe we wuzn't. Like I say, I'm no expert. I watched the game and what was super-apparent was that two outstanding teams played strongly and with extraordinary heart to the great credit of their sport, of their coaches, and, above all, of their own athletic training, mental discipline and Olympian-level commitment.
Repeat: two teams. To judge by the overall tone of most of the coverage, there was one team that should have won, and a referee who should be fired.
Well, maybe she should, or not. Beats me. To come to an informed opinion on the ref's performance, here's what I, as the aforementioned inexpert viewer, needed in the 12 or 24 hours following the game: accurate, contextualized information, dispassionately analyzed.
Was the ref biased? Of course the Canadian players and supporters thought so, but for a reporter, the best way — the professional way — to address a conflict is not to add to the yelling and bawling but instead, to show the evidence.
Where was the tick-tock — the chronological list of tough calls the ref made (or didn’t make) through the match, for and against the Canadians?
Where were the outside voices — the opinions of soccer experts not wearing maple leaves or stars-and-stripes on their chests?
Where was the historical look at other pivotal ref calls in the sport's history?
I didn't see them, sorry.
When a nation goes to war, or a company hits hard times, or a government calls an election, professional journalists do this: they seek out unreported information, they assess its accuracy, and they interpret it for their audience's edification.
According to some (including me) that kind of response is not just a best practice; it is essential to the definition of journalism. It's the kind of autonomous, original, methodological approach that distinguishes journalism from, for example, marketing or other forms of propaganda.
Sports journalism, included.
Ivor Shapiro is Chair of the School of Journalism at Ryerson University and heads the ethics advisory committee of the Canadian Association of Journalists