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Streaming, AI and world events have transformed sports reporting


It's Christmas Day and game day. Three NFL games plus five NBA games will be on TV today. And that busy schedule means that despite the Christmas holiday, it'll be another long workday for sports journalists, sideline reporters and broadcast teams. And as we come to the end of 2023, it strikes me that so much of how we report on sports, like much of pop culture, has been transformed by current events, by streaming, by social media and by AI. So what do all these changes mean for how we follow sports?

Well, joining us now to help us make sense of that all is Keith Strudler. He's director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University in New Jersey. It's good to have you with us.

KEITH STRUDLER: It's great to be here.

KHALID: And merry Christmas. Thank you for joining us on Christmas morning. We really appreciate that.

STRUDLER: Of course. It's festive.

KHALID: Well, let's begin by asking sort of a broad question here. What are the most significant changes you've noticed in recent years in terms of how sports are covered?

STRUDLER: Well, God, there's been so many that it's almost hard to pick one. I mean, obviously the convergence of the industry has changed almost everything when we've consolidated because of industrial factors, you know, the consolidation of networks, we have declining budgets for newsrooms. So as traditional print publications, which were kind of the heart and soul of sports journalism and sports reporting came to be, we have less people going out to cover large games, traveling, covering local games. And I think increasingly, the influx of AI has made that even more pronounced where we're not even sure necessarily if the games that are being covered are actually being covered by a true human, nor if people actually care to read them because they've already seen them on social and so forth.


STRUDLER: So I think there's this myriad of factors that are kind of changing the entire nature of why or if we might even turn to the sports pages.

KHALID: Yeah. You know, reporting has also gone so much further, I think, beyond scores and trades. You're seeing so much reporting now on issues in sports around social justice, long-term health impacts. How is that affecting what it means to be a sports journalist?

STRUDLER: Well, I think it means everything. But the real question then becomes is there a market and an economy for that? I mean, I think we're all aware that two of the, you know, kind of the grandparents of sports reporting - "Real Sports" and the traditional New York Times sports page - have both kind of gone through - either gone away or have gone through a considerable evolution. So I think many of us, and particularly a younger generation, might be very interested in those things that happen outside the lines, to paraphrase from ESPN. But the reality is the leagues and those that have the economics and the, you know, financial power in sports might be less interested in those storylines. So I think you're going to find a real confluence in kind of what the market might demand and what some people might be interested in reporting.

KHALID: Can you just go back to this question of AI? What do you imagine the impact of artificial intelligence to be on sports reporting?

STRUDLER: Sure. Boy, if I knew that answer, I'd be in another business. But I do think we're going to see very few people actually reporting games. I just can't imagine that there's going to be a market for that. So I imagine we will expect that almost everything that we see on the sports pages that is game coverage is probably going to be generated by a computer somewhere.

KHALID: Oh, wow. Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Thanks so much for your time.

STRUDLER: Well, thank you, and happy holidays.

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