In many ways the golden years for newspaper sports reporting were from the 1930s to the mid-1970s. In that time New Zealand produced many fine sports writers and columnists. These journalists were offered regular big spaces in newspapers and magazines, and provided an excellent service across all sports. The early years pre-dated the emergence of clear international radio signals – and television, of course.
Official tour reporting
During these years some All Black rugby tours included what was called official reporting. These ‘official’ writers had almost the same status as full members of the touring party. They travelled with the team, stayed in the same hotels, ate with the players and wrote 'official' releases about the team's activities and performances.
Originally these were just newspaper reporters, but with the emergence of radio and then television, the number of official reporters increased. The role was abandoned in 1978.
Changes in reporting
Around the time that official reporting was abandoned came wider live television coverage. As a result writers were obliged to change their style of reporting. Radio and television were getting the message home first with their more regular live commentaries and results. By the time a match report had been published, sometimes 24 hours had gone by and the home audience had already seen coverage of the game.
While some reporters welcomed being able to write background stories with more freedom, the players lamented what they saw as a change to more sensationalist, personality-focused coverage.
‘Big hit’ reporting
By the 2000s coverage of all sports in New Zealand had changed markedly. Sports bodies had to cope with newspaper, magazine, television, internet and blog reporting (and other social media). Major New Zealand teams in sports such as rugby, rugby league, netball, cricket, football, major yachting or Olympic and Commonwealth Games teams serviced reporters with large press conferences, their own controlled press releases or 'big hit' reporting. The latter is a free-for-all press conference, where all the players involved in an upcoming event are brought to one location, and the assembled reporters have a chance to interview whom they like. However, these conferences are strictly controlled by media officers from the sport involved. They can decide who attends from the media, and can decline requests if the team does not want a particular player interviewed. Senior reporters disliked these controlled media scrums, but they became the norm.
Impact of the internet
The rise of internet communication in the 2000s facilitated instant communication of results. Cricket matches were broadcast through ball-by-ball internet commentary, and sports news around the world was instantly available on phones and computers. This heightened the need for reporters to be reflective columnists rather than strict reporters. Many internet sports sites provided for the exchange of views between journalists and fans.