Penn State Report Finds Lax Ethics in Sports Sections

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(AP) Sports journalists routinely accept free tickets, travel, and memorabilia from the teams they cover, a practice that requires more advocacy for better ethical standards, a Penn State University researcher said.

In a survey of 285 newspapers, about 43 percent of sports editors agreed that accepting such “freebies” didn’t affect reporters’ objectivity, said Marie Hardin, an assistant professor at the Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.

“A lot of sports journalists don’t see the harm in them because they don’t see it as changing the story,” Hardin said Wednesday.

But, she added, accepting meals and other items could affect a reporter’s relationship with a source — or at least the impression of the relationship with a source — in stories beyond game coverage. She cited the ongoing story of the use of steroids in sports as examples of sports coverage becoming more complex.

The findings come from a study conducted in the spring of 2003 of sports editors or deputy editors in the southeastern United States, from Louisiana to Maryland. The results were published in the latest edition of the Newspaper Research Journal, a publication of the nonprofit Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, based in Columbia, S.C.

It also found that 39 percent of editors reached in the survey agreed with the statement that sports coverage “should boost the home team.” Editors at smaller papers were more likely to agree than those at larger papers. More experienced editors tended to disagree with the statement.

The results show a need for more discussion in newsrooms about ethical standards, especially at smaller newspapers, Hardin said. She also urged colleges to emphasize “rigorous” training in ethics to journalism students.

Hardin said she was not surprised by the findings and that they were similar to results from previous studies on the topic.

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