A Sports Poll Just for Online Journalists

By: Steve Outing For online sports journalists, it's been an ongoing struggle to gain the respect of colleagues in other media and in the sports world itself. Polls of reporters and editors ranking the top teams and figures in particular sports, long a media mainstay, typically don't permit online sports journalists to participate, for example. Online sports journalists haven't "broken into the big leagues" yet.

In a variation of the old saw, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," online sports reporters and editors have created their own "Top 25 polls," which will survey online sports journalists to name the top teams, players and coaches in (eventually) a variety of men's and women's sports. The results of the weekly polls will be published on sports sites throughout the Internet.

Built in a day

The original idea about an online-only sports media poll dates back several years, when Mike Emmett and Eric Harris were setting up the SportsServer on Nando.net. But it was only last Friday when Emmett floated the idea to the assembled sports journalists on the discussion list of SportsEditor.com, which Emmett (and USA Today Online sports editor Steve Klein) operate as a not-for-profit entity, that the idea really took off.

In fact, the creation of the Online Top 25 poll is a lesson in just how fast things can happen as a result of the Internet. Emmett tossed out an e-mail message to the mailing list of around 100 online sports journalists on Friday, proposing that an online sports media poll be created. The idea went over well, to put it mildly, and by the end of the day -- yes, a single day -- Emmett's idea was gelled and the digital infrastructure to conduct the polls was being put together. Editors at numerous sports sites announced that they would carry the polls, and Emmett produced a column for the SportsEditor.com site announcing that the polls would begin and the first results would be ready for Web publication on August 30, covering U.S. college football.

The poll, which is being conducted by SportsEditor.com without a profit motive, will be available to any Web site wishing to carry the results. Only SportsEditor.com members (membership is free) will be allowed to vote, and voting will take place in a password-protected Web form; each online sports organization that belongs to SportsEditor.com will get one vote. Deadline for voting in each week's online poll is 6 p.m. (U.S. Eastern) time Sunday.

Emmett expects to have the results of each poll up immediately (since a database will crunch the results), and members may publish them without charge. Non-members also can publish the poll results, but must wait till 6 p.m. Monday.

Online only, for now

Emmett says that polls will be restricted to online sports journalists. In recognition that online writers can't participate in the dominant media sports polls conducted by The Associated Press, "it's important for us to start our own," he says. "In terms of information, our (SportsEditor.com) members literally control a major part of sports content on the Net. That's powerful, and we continue to grow every day."

Perhaps someday, print and broadcast voters will be invited to take part in the poll. "We are not as traditional in our thinking as are our colleagues across the newsroom," Emmett says. "And by nature, we are a very flexible group. We have to be to do our jobs."

Emmett acknowledges that a gripe likely to be heard about the online media sports polls is that most voting members are not writers who actively cover a single team or conference full time. "I see that as a plus," he says. "It makes us more objective. I think too many AP voters tend to rate the teams they cover higher up on the list. ... Our members -- in terms of sports journalism -- are just as qualified as those you find in the traditional newsroom."

"No being able to vote in the AP poll has been a thorn for many of our members, myself included," says Emmett, who works for TotalSports and operates a sports-related start-up. But he emphasizes that "we are not anti-AP. Many of our members work for online operations at AP newspapers and broadcast outlets. And many of us are former print and broadcast journalists at AP member operations. It's just that we have a different way of looking at things since we are committed solely to the Internet."

While the polls will start this fall with Division I U.S. college football, SportsEditor.com expects to then expand to other sports. The opportunity is particularly good for doing polls on sports -- especially women's sports -- that don't get as much attention in traditional sports media. With print and broadcast media, polls of less popular sports typically don't get published or aired because of space constraints. There are a number of Division II and Division III college football polls conducted, for instance; they rarely make it into traditional media, but they abound online.

Once expanded to other sports, Emmett wants to move into presenting annual awards for Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc.

The online sports polls are being created for altruistic purposes, Emmett says. "No one, myself included, is doing this for fame or fortune. It's just something we all believe in. And for those of us who have been on the Net awhile ... it is giving us a way of putting something back into an industry that has provided us with an exciting career."

(Note: When SportsEditor.com launched earlier this year, I wrote a column about the venture.)

Contact: Mike Emmett, irish@litesports.com

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at:steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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