Sports journalism is still journalism

As Queen’s 2013-14 athletic year draws to a close, the Journal’s sports team reflects on pressing issues — and what actions should be taken

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“With so much to celebrate, it is hard to comprehend why you and the Journal chose to sensationalize versus to recognize.”

In last Friday’s issue, we ran a story outlining this year’s Colour Awards voting process — specifically, how men’s rugby was initially named best varsity team, before women’s rugby won an ensuing revote.

Our facts were correct, but the backlash was immediate. On Saturday, we received a letter from Jeff Downie, associate director at Queen’s Athletics, condemning our decision to publish the story.

Printed on official Athletics letterhead, Downie’s response didn’t dispute the accuracy of our report, but criticized us for not considering the impact it might have on the women’s rugby team. Essentially, they’re upset we didn’t protect their players from the truth.

The above quote is a telling portion of Athletics’ letter to us. I believe their criticism is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what our job — and the purpose of journalism — actually is.

Journalism exists to report the truth, to convey information to readers that they otherwise wouldn’t have known. It’s a public service that keeps organizations and individuals accountable, particularly when their actions and decisions could affect a lot of people.

The perception from some corners, though, is that sports should be exempt from this type of coverage and scrutiny. As sportswriters, the thinking goes, we should celebrate the achievements of the athletes we cover and ignore all else.

This, unfortunately, is a woeful delusion of our relationship. We relay information in an accessible and engaging way; it’s not our job to cheerlead if a Gaels team wins, or fixate solely on the positives if they lose.

As for Athletics, we cover them like the Journal covers other campus organizations. Think of it this way: should our news section exist to celebrate the achievements of Queen’s student politicians and University administrators?

No. It should report the news and relevant information, whether it’s good or bad. The same applies to the Sports section. We work to inform the student body, not safeguard the interests of the athletic department.

Judging by Downie’s letter, Athletics expects us to toe the company line of a company we don’t work for. We find this troubling, and so should our readers. What’s the point of a campus newspaper that acts as a de facto public relations firm?

In his letter, Downie chided us for disrespecting women’s rugby and their championship season. On-field performance was never the issue, though. Rather, the issue is the bureaucratic skullduggery apparently at play behind the scenes of the athletic department.

Calling out a news organization for reporting the truth is shooting the messenger. Still, in light of our story, Athletics says they’re “reevaluating” their relationship with the Journal.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to demand better of Athletics. As students, alumni and community members with a vested interest in Queen’s sports, I encourage you to do the same.

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