Best job in the world
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - July 15, 2019 - 12:00am

Sports journalists have a great job. We have a front-row seat to breakthrough moments of human achievement, rub elbows with those who are worshipped by millions, and have conversations with the physically and logistically mighty. We provide eyewitness accounts of moments sought by the masses, and are the conduit between the idolized and their target market. As with all news organizations, we give the public a higher awareness of what is going on. One key difference, though, is that while hard news is something people should know, sports news is something they want to know, or actively seek out. For many of us, it is the best job in the world.

As with most jobs, however, we face challenges unique to our profession. We are, for example, in the line of fire. We are the ones basketball players crash into when diving for the ball (photographers are particularly vulnerable). Most often, we are splattered by blood and sweat during boxing matches (at least us broadcasters are). We stay in the sub when covering outdoor events, are regularly jostled and bumped by overzealous fans, and still have to do our job, on a deadline, to boot.

Physical presence. The most basic necessity is being where the action is. Most regular people are excited by the prospect of a press junket. While it is exciting, it is part of an exchange. We have to physically get on a plane or boat, into a car, and travel to the site of the games. We go through the ungodly waiting for the flight, lining up at immigration counters, praying our luggage is intact and, when carrying video equipment, usually bring the cameras as our hand-carry. And yes, we’ve been ordered to protect our equipment with our lives. Then we have to be early for press conferences, shoot-arounds, interviews and the like, particularly when competing with international media. In the case of major international single-sport events, the national media of the home country are given priority seating. For example, at most important NBA Games, American national media sit at courtside, while foreign media sit at the other media section near the bleachers.

Institutional support. Of course, it is imperative that you have the backing of a credible media organization. This is why independent publishers and bloggers who aren’t affiliated with major dailies or broadcast entities have a hard time getting accreditation. International sports federations often recognize the publication, not the person. Broadcast rivals to the host network often prefer to not send anyone, and just pluck highlights off the air, as long as they do not exceed 90 seconds to two minutes. 

Relationships to protect. Still, there is often a trade-off. The granting of access – particularly in the Philippines- carries the implied reciprocation with good will. If they let you in, they assume you’re going to say only positive things. Doing otherwise may cause you to lose access. Sports carries a particularly personal relationship between athletes and media. Sometimes, a few personalities lose credibility because they consistently suck up to disarm selected sports celebrities. They perceive it is the only way to get scoops or information nobody else can get. And some writers stretch credulity by forcing a Filipino connection even when there is no relevant one.

Special interests. Of course, the Filipino audience is our special interest. For example, the FIBA Men’s Under-19 tournament received extensive coverage in the country. The upcoming women’s version in Bangkok will receive none, because the Philippines has no program for that age group. Only China, Japan, Korea and host Thailand will represent Asia. Probably the only Filipino we will see in the tournament is Thailand’s coach, Eric Samson. That is the general pattern. The only exceptions are multi-sport competitions like the Olympic Games and, to a lesser degree, the Asian Games and Southeast Asian Games. Of course, it is a given that boxing and a few other sports will also attract a substantial Filipino audience.

Immutable deadlines. Since sports are organic, you don’t control what time they end. This impacts publication times of newspapers and live broadcasts of news networks. More significantly, it affects the sleep schedule of reporters and writers. For example, when covering events in the US, the time is more or less the reverse of the Philippines. Nighttime in the Philippines is daytime there. The time most people sleep, we are e-mailing reports or doing live broadcasts. Significant events like the NBA Finals force colleagues to forgo sleep to do live reports for as many programs as they can. The only time they aren’t working is when they are traveling from one location to the other. Deadlines don’t move. 

Still, you’re only on the sidelines. You have to be clear about your role. If you are a reporter, then report. If you are a columnist, you are allowed to comment. You are not there as a fan to take selfies or have memorabilia signed. Unless your trip was sponsored by a brand that the athlete is endorsing, then that is conflict of interest, plain and simple. There are times when media get confused about why they are there. There is a difference between being photographed while doing an interview, and posing for a photograph with your subject.

Having said all this, sports coverage is an incredible job, and we get to go places and witness events that not everyone has the privilege to see. We get paid to go to events where – sometimes – even the athletes themselves are not paid. And the experiences are priceless.

Best job in the world.

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