04/08/2014 08:11 BST | Updated 03/10/2014 06:59 BST

The Persecution Of Usain Bolt (or How D**kheads Ruin Sports Reporting)


Ok, so he isn't exactly being persecuted, but it seems truth should never get in the way of good Usain Bolt headline. Though first a story must be created. That's why we had the ludicrous situation of the fastest man on the planet being asked about the bombing in Gaza and Scottish Independence. Bolt naturally threw up his hands in despair at this line of questioning. Those who do this argue that it's part of the deal Bolt makes for being a recognised world celebrity. It is a flawed argument essentially because Bolt is not a celebrity, he is a professional athlete.

Unlike an actor, musician, or one of the bazillion reality show personalities that much of our media is now obsessed with, Bolt's worth is wholly quantifiable. His fame, and the money he makes through sponsorship, is down to one thing and one thing alone: he can run 100m quicker than anyone else, ever. All the rest is a bonus.

Most of the problem here is the type of media who are sent to cover events such as the Olympics and the Commonwealths. There are many excellent and knowledgeable track and field reporters with a real passion for the sport. The problem, however, is that not all of them were in Glasgow. Many there were not experienced athletics correspondents, quite a few were not even sportswriters, and a good portion of those who were came from the monoculture of Football. So we had to suffer world class athletes being asked questions by people who literally didn't know what they were talking about.

Few things inspire me like good journalism can, but few things irritate me as much as bad journalism. I'm not talking about grammar here, but those who try to engineer a story when they don't have one. I witnessed it twice last week. The first was a regional newspaper who decided to report on a domestic abuse story by focusing on an Olympian who just happened to be a friend of the victim. The second was from a national and involved Bolt.


The publication and the journalist made good publicity out of their non-story, but nothing smacks of desperation more then the deliberate twisting of a quote to make a few headlines. As was the case when Bolt's casual words about the Olympics being bigger than Commonwealths, and it being "a bit shit" when it's raining, were turned into a Bolt Slams Glasgow Exclusive! Thankfully most of the public know when they are being sold a pup.

Since journalism moved online it has become a by-product of the advertising industry. The sad truth is that the story is often just a vessel on which to attach a few ads. With so much free copy flying around in cyberspace, it's advertising, not paper sales, which pays the bills. And advertising is obsessed with "trending". So whilst there was little accuracy in the way Bolt's comments were reported, it didn't stop other news outlets from repeating an inaccurate story. It is never enough just to print the words, tone and context are just as integral to accurate and professional reporting.

They didn't let up on Bolt. Even some cheeky banter with the BBC's Gabby Logan was reported on several sites as an angry Bolt "taking a swipe". I'm not saying the media should fawn over every sporting superstar, but neither should it try to darken the tone in which jovial comments are made. Or waste space reporting non-stories just because you lack the knowledge, originality, or insight to accurately report on many of the amazing performances witnessed in Glasgow.

I get it. Bolt is a superstar and he makes for good copy, but he's not one of your manufactured popstars or reality contestants. There is not another Bolt being created. He is a one-off, and

after his experience in Glasgow he might well decide it's just not worth risking a casual chat with a journalist, or even making a joke for fear it be twisted. If that were to happen he will become what every sports journalist loathes: someone who trots out the same, safe, coached clichés which offer neither insight nor entertainment.

So from those of us who genuinely love sport, and wish to accurately reflect its many personalities, to those who just moonlight during the big competitions and care only for headlines - We say thanks a lot, dickheads.