Are Wrestling Journalists Really Journalists?

Copyright 2009 by Mike Rickard II
Originally published at World Wrestling Insanity December 14, 2009

Once upon a time, the wrestling industry was a well-protected realm in which promoters and wrestlers did everything possible to hide its worked nature.   While some people knew wrestling was worked, a lot of people didn't.   The wrestling world in many ways (including the way in which promoters did business) resembled organized crime.   Nobody talked (although, like the mob, someone occasionally broke the code of silence).   One of the by-products of this code of silence was that legitimate journalists couldn't cover wrestling too deeply (since reputable journalists have to establish sources-if there's no sources, there's usually no story).  This meant that most news stories dealt with match results or slice of life pieces on the wacky nature of the industry and its incredible fans. 

Despite the industry's closed door policy, reporters were drawn to the world of wrestling.   The wrestling industry is an incredibly savory world to describe, filled with questionable business practices and wild characters.   Over the past twenty plus years, reputable reporters began looking into the way the industry operates, fascinated by tales of illegal drug use, real violence, and even murder (it bears noting that reporters also found similar stories in professional sports such as the NFL).   Reporters willing to dig deep found a gold mine of good stories (Look no further than the book Wrestling Babylon which contains a number of good stories on the industry).   Then, during the 1980's the industry began to open up, making it easier for people to look into the inner workings of the industry.   This led to investigative stories on TV, tell-all books, and other glimpses at the sometimes seedy underbelly of professional wrestling.    Like any reporting, some of these stories were well-researched, following established journalistic standards while others were sloppy puff pieces.   Still, the world of wrestling was now ripe for people to start reporting on it.

Just about every industry has its own genre of reporting.   Whether it's journalists who follow sports, science, or Hollywood, you can find a group of people covering it.   Sadly, professional wrestling hasn't really developed much of a legitimate journalism industry.   While many people claim to be "wrestling journalists", they all too often ignore the basic rules of journalism, leading to shoddy reporting that wouldn't pass muster for a school newspaper.   If you don't believe me, just look at some of the following basics of journalism and ask yourself if you think the place you get your news is practicing them. 

Accuracy and standards for factual reporting

Reporters are expected to be as accurate as possible given the time allotted to story preparation and the space available, and to seek reliable sources.
Events with a single eyewitness are reported with attribution. Events with two or more independent eyewitnesses may be reported as fact. Controversial facts are reported with of the publisher is desirable
Corrections are published when errors are discovered

Defendants at trial are treated only as having "allegedly" committed crimes, until conviction, when their crimes are generally reported as fact (unless, that is, there is serious controversy about wrongful conviction).

Opinion surveys and statistical information deserve special treatment to communicate in precise terms any conclusions, to contextualize the results, and to specify accuracy, including estimated error and methodological criticism or flaws.

While these standards might seem simple to follow, most wrestling news sources seem to have trouble distinguishing between reporting and editorializing.     Also, too often it seems as if the self-proclaimed reporters seem to get star-struck, socializing with wrestlers at the expense of maintaining some distance from their sources.   If you're afraid to report something because you want to hang out with your sources, it may be time to find new sources or a new job. 

Harm limitation principle

During the normal course of an assignment a reporter might go about gathering facts and details, conducting interviews, doing research, background checks, taking photos, videotaping, recording sound-- harm limitation deals with the questions of whether everything learned should be reported and, if so, how. This principle of limitation means that some weight needs to be given to the negative consequences of full disclosure, creating a practical and ethical dilemma. The Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics offers the following advice, which is representative of the practical ideals of most professional journalists. 

The harm limitation principle is reflected by the following standards:

Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.

Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone's privacy.
Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.

Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

Balance a criminal suspect's fair trial rights with the public's right to be informed.

Sadly, this rule is often ignored by so-called "wrestling journalists".   For example, it's not a good idea to report someone as dead until you've confirmed the death.   Being the first to report someone's death shouldn't be your first priority.   Also, waiting until the body is cold is typically a good practice when you plan on launching into a tirade against the industry you profess to "report on".

Separating news reporting from editorializing is one of the biggest problems we see with "wrestling journalists".    Far too often, we see people professing to report the news when they're actually professing their opinion.   It's okay to editorialize as long as you're clear that you're doing it.   Some journalists even subscribe to a form of reporting known as advocacy journalism.   " Advocacy journalism is a genre of journalism that intentionally and transparently adopts a non-objective viewpoint, usually for some social or political purpose. Because it is intended to be factual, it is distinguished from propaganda. It is also distinct from instances of media bias and failures of objectivity in media outlets, which attempt to "be or which present themselves as objective or neutral."

Even if someone wants to practice this form of journalism, there are still rules to follow.   Acknowledge your perspective up front.

Be truthful, accurate, and credible. Don't spread propaganda, don't take quotes or facts out of context, "don't fabricate or falsify", and "don't judge or suppress vital facts or present half-truths"

Don't give your opponents equal time, but don't ignore them, either. Explore arguments that challenge your perspective, and report embarrassing facts that support the opposition. Ask critical questions of people who agree with you.
Avoid slogans, ranting, and polemics. Instead, "articulate complex issues clearly and carefully."

Be fair and thorough.

Make use of neutral sources to establish facts.

Wait, there's more.   Not only do you have to worry about pesky things like being fair and reporting on facts rather than opinions but you also have to present a professional product.   Here are some tips that any principled journalist will follow:

Correctly spoken or written language (often in a widely spoken and formal dialect, such as Standard English)


Brevity (or depth, depending on the niche of the publisher)

This  means you need to check for typos, grammatical errors, etc. regardless of whether you're writing a newsletter, newspaper, blog, or news site.    People expect to see a professionally written and formatted product, especially when someone is passing themselves off as a professional.

Sure, journalistic standards are not always followed by newspaper writers and TV reporters but that's no excuse for other people to do the same.   If someone wants to be considered a "wrestling journalist", then they need to follow the same standards aspired to by any other journalist.   It's not always easy but it's the only way to establish credibility and maintain it.    These rules are just a start (which I found online and which I hope anyone purporting to be a reporter could find as well).   Get a good book on journalism or better yet, take a couple journalism courses.   

This isn't an attack on everyone professing to offer wrestling news.  There are some excellent news sites out there.  Ask yourself whether the ones you go to seem to follow the above mentioned standards.  If they don't, you might want to go elsewhere for your news because what you're getting certainly isn't news.
SBN-10: 1-55022-841-2
ISBN-13: 978-1-55022-841-0
6.75 x 9.75 in, 300pp, paperback
Published by ECW Press

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About the Author:  Mike Rickard has been writing about the sport of kings since 2005.  His work has been seen on Pro Wrestling Illustrated's website, Pro Wrestling Torch, Gumgod, World Wrestling Insanity, and Canadian Bulldog's World.