Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Can Blogs and Bisping change age-old reading habits?

Last week’s guest speaker, Shane Richmond, the Daily Telegraph’s Online Communities Editor, spoke of how his newspaper once enjoyed great popularity amongst students due to its sports coverage.

In spite of the newspaper’s traditional conservative leanings and news agenda, which tend to oppose the politics held by the stereotypical view of a student, the Telegraph’s sports section has consistently won awards due to its comprehensive nature and selection of top writers which Richmond credits as helping to win sales amongst students.

I am sure Telegraph Sport’s popularity amongst students is still true today, but although I appreciate the quality of articles from the likes of Henry Winter, personally I find the general content of the section a little “too straight” for my liking.

Whilst what they do cover in depth is written about very well, I have long noticed that they seem to concentrate only on sports with a traditional popularity in Great Britain – football, cricket, rugby union, tennis, golf, boxing and so on.

I can see the reasons for this – the Telegraph has an older, more mature readership that are likely to favour reading about the sports that have always held media sway – but it doesn’t do it for me.

The Telegraph is not where I’d turn to if I wanted to read about the Philadelphia Phillies’ triumph in Baseball’s World Series, nor is it the place to read about James Wade’s nine dart finish at last week’s Grand Slam of Darts.

In contrast to the Times and the Guardian, who cover such events in innovative ways, Telegraph Sport tends simply to marginalise growing, international and/or less glamorous sports into the news in brief sidebars.

In light of this, I was surprised to hear around this time last year that the Telegraph had become the first broadsheet newspaper to appoint a Mixed Martial Arts correspondent.

Gareth A. Davies, who is also the Telegraph’s boxing writer, took on MMA on top of his portfolio both online and in print form thanks largely to the rise of Lancashire fighter Michael Bisping.

Bisping’s ascent from reality TV stardom has lead to a growing interest in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, in which he competes.

The Telegraph's MMA Correspondent Gareth A. Davies interviews British UFC hopeful Michael Bisping on Telegraph TV.

MMA is a combat sport that permits a variety of fighting techniques. It has its critics and has been looked upon with a degree of snobbery and contempt, particularly amongst the boxing fraternity.

Indeed it was once famously described as being akin to “human cockfighting” by John McCain.

Although tabloids such as the Daily Star have covered the UFC for a number of years now, that an established boxing writer working for a newspaper not known for its coverage of supposed ‘minority sports’ is blogging about MMA with regularity in a generally positive, non-cynical manner is quite something.

This shows not only how far MMA has come, but also how new online technology has transformed how editors (both in print and online) view what is newsworthy.

As Davies wrote last November:

But does it?

Whilst clearly there is enough interest in Bisping and MMA for Telegraph Sport to give it a good level of coverage, how has this translated on their user-generated content blog site

A quick search of the site for the terms ‘MMA’ ‘Bisping’ and ‘UFC’ generated just one blog. Similar searches for other ‘minority sports’ also produced low numbers.

That’s not to say that My Telegraph contributors have no interest in blogging about sport – there are plenty of them, over 1,230 at last check.

Thing is, they’re all about sports like football, cricket, rugby union, tennis, golf, boxing and so on.

Perhaps the Telegraph are right to stick rigidly to the sports that they (and their audience) know, whatever I may think.

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