It is important to begin by defining a sports reporter and give context to their role. Robert Lipsyte in his discussion on sports media gives multiple roles a fan, comic, expert, and investigator all are important to developing a reporter that does not narrow their skills but works towards developing a larger range of skills.
The more sports reporters equip themselves with different skills the better chance they have to not get stuck with the “toy department” label. Of course, readers are still looking for general coverage of the game, but where I think audiences needs are heading is away from neutral-voiced based writing and wanting reporters to add a little of their own voice.
I am not suggesting that sports reporters turn their writing into tabloids, but to begin giving readers a different perspective. It is very difficult to balance the scales of objectivity and giving a unique perspective, but this is a challenge that sports writers will need to tackle especially when working in smaller sports markets.
That might mean taking a risk like The Boston Globe’s Billy Baker who used twitter to creatively string a store together. Maybe for a sports reporter interlaying your tweets with highlights from the game. Or on a darker note, take a new approach to sports obituaries.
Also, it might be time for sports reporters to speak up in the newsroom and look to challenge themselves in the stories they try to pursue. Sports can be a vehicle for a myriad of subject manner if it is handled in the right way. For example, when the Travel Ban was first signed into action, the NBA had to deal with how that may affect players traveling in and out of the country. This was a perfect crossover story for sports reporters where they could work outside the toy department framework and look to garner a broader audience.
The platform that national athletes have now to express themselves is immense some players can reach millions through a small interview. Other news beats and readers look to sports writers to present them the news.