What is wrong with Big Sports Media?

On Monday, amid a US Presidential debate, football trade noise and sundry other blips of electronic ballyhoo, I wondered what was wrong with the media. As an entity. Let’s call this idea Big Media; recognising that Big Media contains many voices and individuals – but let us work in a general sense here.


And in thinking about this, I was drawn (again) to the School of Life. Here I came across this four minute video, which while discussing Big Media more generally, could certainly be applied to Big Sports Media. Let’s watch that before we go any further…




So, filling both the roles of (i) provider and (ii) seller of information inevitably leads to conflicted motives, and a substandard service. Yet we all of us have come to trust and even depend on Big Media for our information.


In the video, then, the following reasons are enunciated for “What’s wrong with the media?”
All can be levelled at Big Sports Media in Australia now. We can think of Big Sports Media as including the daily reporting cycles of major newspapers, TV channels and their websites.


And yes, individuals operate within the space I’ve just defined, who go about their reporting lives differently. Thoughtful stories are presented regularly by some columnists. Here Big Sports Media refers to the overall industry direction, rather than to individuals, and their particular well-reasoned articles.


What’s wrong?

1.(Big) Sports Media excites us unnecessarily.
We look to Big Sports Media to tell us about what matters. But Big Sports Media cares predominantly about what will excite us.
e.g. “Swan admits taking drugs in footy career” (News Limited, last Sunday) – a non-story, yet the headline deliberately creates the illusion that possibly performance-enhancing drugs may have been taken by Dane Swan.


2.Big Sports Media doesn’t care about improving society.
In theory, Big Sports Media has a deeply important role to play in society, regarding knowledge sharing and holding people to account. But Big Sports Media is instead obsessed with scandals and thrilling misdemeanours of a few people.
e.g. “Giants, Suns set to beat the system – again” (Fairfax, Monday) – playing into existing Victorian fears of deals favouring the start-up clubs.


3.Big Sports Media has the attention span of a gnat.
Most problems in society take time to fix. But in Big Sports Media, nothing remains a priority for long.
e.g. “Selectors to blame for ‘Who cares’ tour” (News Limited, Monday) – the Australian cricket team is fast losing its formerly guaranteed place on the back page.


4.Big Sports Media makes us anxious and scared rather than effective or sane.
The disproportionate representation of viruses, bugs, explosions -stories.
e.g. “The answer that had the Hughes family shaking their heads” (Fairfax, Monday) – a text-book fear and anxiety-laden click-bait headline if ever there was one. Fairfax have fallen down this rabbit-hole lately.


5.Big Sports Media is sanctimonious and prurient.
Hypocritical in its handling of scandal; promotes and yet disowns scurrilous behaviour.
e.g. “Blues ‘absolutely stunned’ by Gibbs walkout” (Fairfax, Monday) – a preachy headline covering a story that newspaper editors would love.


6.Big Sports Media makes us forget history.
Big Sports Media sells anew each day on the false premise that the new is important.
e.g. “AFL drug policy concerns raised” (Fairfax, Monday) – a lot of thought has gone into the creation of this policy. And while the policy can be improved, this was a good chance to present an historical story for learning and for arguing a better alternative.


7.Big Sports Media lacks the skill to make boring things exciting.
We need the most serious issues presented in the most engaging ways.
Hughes inquest: cricket in dock” (News Limited, Monday) – a terribly sad and terribly important inquest; boring findings of which will hopefully benefit players into the future, reduced after day 1 to a cheap sensational headline grab. This is NOT how to make boring things exciting.


8.Big Sports Media debases the idea of celebrity.
We need the media to anoint people with fame – but the good people who are acting to improve the lives of many. We need a better variety of celebrity.
e.g. “Why it’s time to start loving Nick Kyrgios” (News Limited, Monday) – but it would be better to learn about the off-field work that has footballers nominated for the Jim Stynes Medal on Brownlow night (for example).



All of these are clear and present problems. Cumulatively, they do a disservice to us all.


They exist as problems due to the dual and conflicting motives of Big Media.


All Big Media are driven by clicks, sales, eyeballs. Some even have a profit motive.


And as was established, the best way to capture attention is to appeal to emotion. Emotions are sparked by contentious views. So Big Media promote contentious views – they give Pauline Hanson a spot on morning TV, give Andrew Bolt a column. Sales rise on the strength of emotional responses to opinion. It is in Big Media’s interests to publish works that promote not rational and considered thought, but emotional reaction.

[As an aside, it’s probably worth considering the rise of the opinion-based blog world and whether there is a cause and effect relationship with the coincident rise of reactionary populist politicians. And perhaps thinking what about the consequences of this on wider policy settings.]



Imagine, if the timing of life had thrown up the AFL draft and player trade as being topical, that Big Sports Media, instead of rudimentary speculation pieces, ran investigations into the efficacy and problems of draft rules, or prosecuted arguments for improved arrangements, or even explained the current system in layman’s terms. This would be hedging towards Justice, Truth and Wisdom.


However, instead of playing this societal role, Big Sports Media instead runs stories entitled: “Swan Tom Mitchell wants to become a Hawk” (News Limited), “Cats stretched to fit Deledio, Tuohy” (News Limited), “Suns won’t back down on Jaeger trade” (News Limited).


Imagine, if circumstances had delivered a judgement by an international organisation specialising in drugs in sport, on the peak league of your local sport. Imagine the backgrounders, the precedents, the historical contexts into which Big Sports Media could delve. Imagine the almost limitless angles for exploration.


Instead, on Tuesday, Big Sports Media provides an opinion piece “AFL compelled to strip Watson of Brownlow” (News Limited) that would not pass a Year 11 English assessment as an argumentative essay, so flawed are the arguments presented within.



Not only would our Year 11 students thrive on intellectual, well-reasoned analysis in their media, so will the rest of us.
We need media that is not only free, but good.

We don’t have that presently.
The next question is: “How do we get it?”


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About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and likes to walk around feeling generally amazed. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. David i’m intrigued by your comment , ‘some even have a profit motive’, something which is self explanatory. Sport is big business, no two ways about it. Sport media like sport is dependent on advertising. So it’s hard to get any real in depth analysis of meaningful issue on Sports shows. I suppose the buffoonerty of the Football Show is the most extreme example of it.

    Sports media is about appearances, , where we are shown an accumulation of spectacles. We become entranced by these spectacles, and passively follow their appearances. In a world where commodification is primary, and people are now deemed as consumers rather than citizens, why should we expect too much from Sports media ?

    What did Guy Debord once sat , ‘Spectacle is the sun that never sets over the empire of modern passivity’.


  2. ER – I agree. The modern media is a juggernaut. Woe to those who get in its way.

    I heard an American journalist ask recently “is it the job of the journalist to gather the facts?”. The implication being that it is not!! Astounding!!!

    You ask the question at the end of the piece that we need a media that is “good”. By “good” do you mean free (not in a monetary sense) and thoughtful and well researched, and challenging and open to debate? If so then your argument falls down if you then imply that Pauline Hanson should not appear on breakfast shows and Andrew Bolt should not have a column. Of course they should! We need to hear people we disagree with. We need to let them undo their own arguments publically. It is a fundamental part of the whole media argument. Opinionated people are usually a reaction to something. Let them speak so we can affirm and/or question our own position. Do you really want to snuff out contentious views? Contentious according to who?

  3. g’day Glen – from first principles, the role of mainstream (Big) media, is to inform the population. Nothing there about profit. The ABC charter is interesting. And I imagine similar to that of the BBC and similar organisations.
    Ideally that information would be about the most important topics facing us.
    But then – Who decides what is important?
    Informing the population is a huge responsibility. And there must be a better way than the present situation.

    g’day Dips – astounding, indeed.
    By “good,” I do mean free and independent. And I’m in furious agreement that we all benefit if we are exposed to well-made argument by those with whom we disagree. Society rises on the back of constructive argument; where we are forced to re-evaluate our ideas. To think.
    It’s thought that is most important, probably.
    My point about Hanson/Bolt is that exploiting an emotional reaction is not the same as providing a thoughtful argument. And that Big Media is more likely to promote an emotional stoush – to provoke a reaction – than to seek answers or well-reasoned arguments or even compromises (which are necessary).
    Big Media loves the squeaky wheel of public opinion. Not necessarily the most important wheel.
    So no – no snuffing.
    Yes – more variety of views, thoughtfully reasoned and argued.
    We need it.
    Not sure how we get it.

  4. Interesting piece, you’ve identified most of my peccadillos David. If sport media was a city it would be Beijing. By my reckoning there are 3 categories;

    1. Mainstream; i.e. profit driven and thereby of variable quality owing to a desperate need to attract clicks and advertising revenue. It’s not all bad though – as much as The Age has lowered its online standards it still has the quality of writers to produce high quality content. The Hun, not so. Where independence was once its core strength, sadly that notion has been eroded.

    2. Conflicted; i.e. AFL Media and club produced content – provides inside access to players and stories to a level that mainstream media can only dream about (which in turn has contributed to their malaise). Though highly resourced this content has selective appeal and limited value.

    3. Indie; i.e. online blogs, the Almanac, Roar, Sport Business Insider etc. This too has affected the landscape. It also has its pros and cons as the quality varies greatly. And whilst offering infinitely more opportunities for writers it has done a disservice to those trying to make a living from the caper.

    From a selfish point of view I bemoan aspects of what the beast has become but there are a lot of good writers now able to be read that otherwise wouldn’t have been. I think the trick is to ascertain from all three categories where to find the quality and enjoy.

  5. Agree with nearly all your diagnosis, and not much of your treatment ER. Money, power and influence have always been hand in hand. Kings and queens; totalitarian dictators; and now corporate manipulators.
    But somehow we managed to discern a path between charlatans and hope over the centuries.
    “Free and independent media”??? Free – why? I pay $300 a year for Fairfax digitial because its closest to fair and balanced in Australia to my eye. I pay $90 a year for the New Yorker digital edition for international culture, literature and politics. One way or another I contribute time and occasionally money to help keep independent sports journalism alive via the Almanac.
    We value what we give time and money to. Free goods are inevitably degraded and mediocre at best. Read Mancur Olsen on the Tragedy of the Commons – how common grazing land was rendered grassless bog because everyone said it was their right to graze their herds whenever they liked. Try to public mental health care in Australia if you are not suicidal or psychotic. Everything for everybody is something no society can afford. “Never mind the quality – feel the width”.
    Which brings me to “independent”. Who says what is valuable or practical. I am as sick of Patrick McGorry and Sarah Hanson Young’s bleeding left as you are of Bolt and Hanson. So I ignore all 4 of them. That’s called discernment. Its a process of trial and error for all of us over life about who to trust – in media as much as in all walks of life. The ABC does it better than most and is where I go for most TV and radio sports and news. But it has no monopoly on truthiness.

  6. Dave, the present coverage of the trade period exemplifies the problem with the media
    8am there are rumours around that such and such wants out of (insert club)
    11am Sources a the club have neither confirmed or denied the trade (must be true then)
    3pm We have it on good advice that such and such was seen chatting with (insert Coach) last week (done deal then)
    6 pm It looks more and more likely that Such and such is moving to (because we said so)
    Next day – never hear any more about such and such so insert different player and repeat


  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    “Not only would our Year 11 students thrive on intellectual, well-reasoned analysis in their media, so will the rest of us.”

    Who is “us” ? Not all of the rest, let alone enough of the rest, care enough to make the exercise worthwhile.


  8. G’day all. Interesting stuff. Thanks. Love it. No answers here – just more questions.
    Which is fine.

    Thanks JD – that reads like a great break-down. I recognise the problematic impact of hobby contributors on those trying to make their living from writing. The hobby practitioners undermine professional efforts, perhaps. It’s an important point. What is an audience willing to pay for? What are they actually paying for?
    Are we willing to pay for access to pieces written and edited by those trained as journalists? Or are we happy with writers? Or with a mixture? How do we filter the good from the bad?

    Thanks PB – i have no answers. Or even treatment ideas – happy to acknowledge. And certainly yes, baseless opinion of the Left is just as troublesome as that of the Right. Good point, well made.
    Why should media be free and independent? Free – for the same reason that education and health care should be free. For equality of access. Without free media, people at the margins are priced out of the information economy.
    I’m familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons.
    And I’m thinking from utopia here.
    As for independence – (Sports) media needs to be independent to ensure a separation and perceived separation between reporting and narrative from marketing. This is a foundation on which the whole thing is built. Without independent media, we’re all being served someone else’s spin.

    Thanks TR – agreed. Big media’s coverage of AFL trades is a striking example of mis-directed effort. So many person-hours devoted to… what?

    G’day Swish – a decline in inquisitive, challenging, media is to the detriment of us all. But you’re probably right – if more people cared, funding to the area would be more of a priority. It’s a little Catch 22 though, as if the public doesn’t value free and independent information, then the supply of free and independent information dries up. And this results in a society relatively ill-informed, etc etc, and a further shrinking of the free and independent media provided, etc.. to the point that society doesn’t even realise that it is ill-informed.

    No answers. Good food for thought.

  9. Great issue.

    That video is a very handy find. The media (his term – and yes general for the sake of his explanation) is very neatly and succinctly explained.

    Nice application and extrapolation to sports media to generate your analysis.

    A further consideration (in Australia) is the lack of exposure (and hence audience) for those who should be offering the most rigorous critique – academics. As busy as they are, how do they find ways of getting their critique (and their ways of thinking, analysing, understanding) to interested readers. All credit to those websites and publications which do that. Interested to know which ones people are turning to?

  10. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Much food for thought as always ER.
    I reckon the language used by the big media in conjunction with social media plays a key role. Subtlety doesn’t sell as well as fear, sex and the promise of an ‘amazing’ experience. Readers are now ‘amazed’ ‘outraged’ or ‘gutted’ by the minutiae of everyday life.

    The interesting and life-affirming nuances are often lost in the details, but who has the time and energy to sift through reams of content? Social media is barely 10 years old and the mentality of many who use it reflects the vocabulary and inarticulation of that age group. Big Media knows this and serves the click bait as we drive through for the next fast food literature fix.

  11. OBP for mine it is the bullshit and lies and trade time is the king of it just made up rubbish eg James Aish put up for trade by the pies surprise surprise I may be heavily interested in that one.As you have pointed out above the click bait thrill seeking grabbing headline rubbish,how about some morals and honesty !
    Thanks OBP yet another thought provoking article

  12. G’day David,

    I agree with you mate. They like making stories bigger to attract people. ACA and Today Tonight are good examples.

    Mark Allan nominates Mario from Doncaster a good caller on Soap Box and Mark Robinson is the chief football writer from the most selling paper in the world. WTF?? I dislike Marko because of his attitudes. I only listen to Run Home because I have no choice and Daniel Harford is good. The evening show is better without Marko!! Get rid of him and bring back the Ox.

    Damien Barlett has been described his report on footy was the best in business by Garry Lyon. Hell no!!

    And his mate Craig Hutchinson… I can’t stand him! Then the chief football writer for the Age! I have negative feelings to all those three journalists on CH 9!!

    Their (including Robbo) attitudes are exaggerated. So horrible!

    Opposed to them, Francis Leach and Rohan Connolly will be on Sports Writers Festival. The event will be held with positive journalists. We should see these journalists and our Alamanac mates. I wish Bob Murphy will present in the upcoming event!

    And good evening to Tony. Your timelines for footy trade reports are hilarious. I couldn’t stop laughing because it’s true and funny! What do you think about Sam Mitchell?



  13. Luke Reynolds says

    Fascinating piece Dave, for which I also have no answer.

    Have found myself turning away from The Age and the Herald Sun, both of which I was an avid reader. The clickbait and (in my opinion) sharp decline in writing quality in both see the preferred option now as The Almanac , The Guardian & cricinfo. Most big media outlets seem to have their agendas, their sides, and this can be spotted straight away. Even the ABC, which I still enjoy, and regularly watch/listen to, has biases in it’s programming that annoys me. But big media has the resources to easily reach the majority. So will continue to play a major role in keeping the bulk of people informed.

    There are parallels, say in the music world where you have your global stars, say U2, Pink or Taylor Swift, as opposed to your local independent artists who produce great work and play fantastic live shows. Yet struggle to make a living. Whose work is more important? Do we just listen to what is played on commercial radio or delve into both? Or at the bar, most people choose a South African owned Carlton Draught than a locally owned and brewed product.

    There will always be the big guys, profiting from the mass market, often regardless of quality, as well as the smaller outlets, who find their niche and battle along. Also regardless of quality.

  14. David, surely ye jest by saying from first principles , the role of mainstream (big) media is to inform the public. I think we need to call it as it is to properly comprehend it: the corporate media.

    In the past state run media like the ABC, BBC sought to inform the public, but over the last few decades they have become corporate, and their raison d’etre is no longer the same. In our contemporary world with the primary nexus being about cash gain , and all aspects of life are commodified, it is verging on faceitious to surmise the corporatye media’s primary role is to inform us.

    Look at the power wielded by the Murdoch’s of the world as they accumulate huge amounts of money with subsequent great political influence, and i can’t see the primary purpose to be inform the public.


  15. As always, an interesting piece, e.r.

    In the end, I believe it is the responsibility of the reader/consumer to sort the wheat from the chaff, to either dismiss or choose which medium he/she will consume.

  16. bring back the torp says


    I believe that politics and sport should be kept separate. It is simply very divisive, and will probably irritate and/or alienate about 50% of the sport’s followers -and will possibly hurt the sport.

    Therefore, on a sports’ website, it is not appropriate to name and criticise prominent persons in politics ( A.Bolt and P.Hanson) that you philosophically disagree. Partisan, political views are more appropriate in a politics website, blog etc where people are expecting political views to be expressed.

    By extension, I have similar negative views about sportpersons making a “political act or statement” at a sporting event they are engaged in, either before, during, or after the game eg disrespecting the anthem or flag of a country. Sportspersons are, of course, perfectly entitled to express freely their political views elsewhere.

    I could very easily and quickly demolish the view that the ABC and/or Fairfax (and other large media organisations) are independant. They are clearly not, they are predictable and constantly have a “slant”and agendas. However, as this is a sports’ website, I have no desire to bore anyone with my views (and biases!).

    Finally, Afl.com is a behemoth. The AFL has over 100 media staff! It has access and/or control over most AFL persons and content. It is diverting eyeballs away from the major media organisations, which is therefore reducing their relevance, popularity, and profitability.
    The AFL apparently has plans to produce more of its own content and digital media. This is a terrifying prospect for the major media organisations, and their advertisers, but financially lucrative for the AFL.

    This may force the main media organisations to create more sensationalist and/or “contrarian”football “news”and content -point of difference.

  17. Thanks all for getting involved.

    Quick clarification to “Bring back the torp” – I agree that it’s best to keep political views separate from this discussion.
    My naming A.Bolt and P.Hanson was to describe the emotional pull of their pieces. “And as was established, the best way to capture attention is to appeal to emotion. Big Media promote contentious views..”
    No that I agree or disagree.

  18. Interesting reading this except of Waleed Aly’s Andrew Olle media lecture last night:
    Speed and sharing are changing the nature of news…


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