By Jackson DeMos
A panel of accomplished sports professionals and researchers delivered the inaugural Nike-sponsored Sports and Social Change Speaker Series event on Nov. 11, giving students advice on integrity and how to become better journalists.
"This event is, in many ways, the public launch of the Annenberg School’s new Institute of Sports, Media and Society," Dean Ernest J. Wilson III said. "As a school located in one of the sports-rich media capitals of the world — to say nothing of a sports-rich campus — we are extremely well positioned to be a leader in this arena."
The panel, hosted by the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media, & Society, included baseball agent Scott Boras (pictured, above left), broadcaster and Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski, former executive producer of NBC Sports David Neal (B.A. Journalism ’78), former CBS Sports executive and president of Forum Sports Joseph Heitzler, Fox Sports broadcaster Pat O’Brien (pictured, above right), and sports communication scholar Dr. Lawrence Wenner.
O'Brien asked what was wrong with the way universities teach journalists, citing an abundance of gossip and speculative articles containing factual errors.
"I’m not sure we’re teaching journalists wrong, but I think the marketplace teaches journalists there are rewards for making these types of stories," Wenner said.
Neal, a USC Annenberg alumnus, said young communication professionals must provide their own moral compass because there are many different types of media outlets where they can work.
"Ultimately you have to be your own toughest critic," Neal said. "By going to a school like Annenberg you’re going to be better equipped than most students coming out of other universities, but you have to know right from wrong."
Boras said journalism schools teach students correctly, but there is a difference between journalists and people writing for gossip media.
"We have to define what type of journalism we’re dealing with," Boras said. "I know in the baseball industry, the people covering the sport every day, they’re the best. When you do talk radio and people are there for a ratings scale and to get a reaction, that is a product of journalism as well. That affects the journalists out there doing their job."
The speakers all stressed the importance of business ethics.
Heitzler recalled a time in 2001 when, as president and CEO of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), he made the decision to cancel a race because he feared for driver safety on a track never before used by CART. Fans criticized the decision because it came one week before the race, but Heitzler said he felt he had no alternative.
"I think the secret to all of this is the next generation coming up has to have a core value system that they’re going to have to be rigid with and absolutely passionate about," Heitzler said.
O'Brien said part of broadcast media's problem is that students today rush too fast to get to a professional level where they do not yet belong.
"Even now in this fast moving-time there is groundwork to be made," he said. "You don’t have to be your idols or mentors right away."
But Lipinski, who won a gold medal at the age of 15, said it is less about age than knowledge.
"You can be young and want to achieve things," she said. "What’s important is knowing what you’re talking about. Know your sport inside and out. Know you have the facts. When you write something, know it’s legit."
O'Brien said broadcasting is a tough business, but aspiring professionals can be successful if they are good at what they do and work hard every day.
"You have to live your life right and do the work and be passionate about it," O'Brien said. "And there’s no better place than this. They care about students here and love teaching students."
Institute of Sports, Media, & Society director Dan Durbin said the institute will continue to bring events and research to USC Annenberg.
"This program was built to develop opportunities for students at USC Annenberg and USC," Durbin said. "It is the reason for the institute and the goal of its existence. When you judge the institute, judge it by the opportunities it provides for the students."
Full video of the "Mocking the Male Sports Fan for Fun and Profit: Sports Dirt, Fanship Identity, and Commercial Narratives" event held earlier in the day is available here.
About the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society:
The Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society seeks to advance and enrich the study and practice of sports communication at the intersection of sports and culture in media. The Institute is being developed to achieve these goals through teaching, research, special programs and events, professional programs, and community outreach.
The Nike-sponsored Sports and Social Change Speaker Series is one of the key public programs presented by the Institute which promotes academic and research programs in sports and sports media, including the new Minor in Sports Media Studies offered at USC Annenberg.