"Sports Journalism"

Perhaps the nationís first sports magazine, American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine (1829), was devoted to horseracing.  In 1831, William Trotter Porter founded what became the leading sports paper of the antebellum years, Spirit of the Times (and bought the American Turf Register in 1839).  He promoted horseracing, pedestrianism, yachting, rowing, and, in the 1850s, baseball, for which he is credited with publishing the first box scores.  But baseballís main publicist was the New York Clipper, established by Frank Queen and Harrison Trent in 1853.  The Clipper hired Henry Chadwick as the first baseball writer and statistician, and defended prizefighting, which was deemed too violent and corrupt for polite society.  (By the 1870s, the Clipper was one of the top three sports journals.)

As early as the 1830s, newspapers in New York and Philadelphia reluctantly reported the results of horse races and prize fights.  The latter particularly gained press attention in the 1850s with the 1853 match between Yankee Sullivan and John Morrissey, the 1855 murder of boxer Bill Poole, the 1858 Morrissey-John Heenan bout, and the 1860 championship between Heenan and Thomas Sayers.  Editors like Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune denounced the immorality of prizefighting on the editorial page, while allowing the sport amble space in the paperís news columns.

After the intermission of the Civil War, the games began again, becoming more popular than ever.  In 1866, James Gordon Bennett Jr. assumed from his father the editorship of the New York Herald, the nationís highest-circulation newspaper.  The 25-year-old Bennett was an avid sportsman who introduced polo to America and made sure that his paper reported athletic competitions.  Most metropolitan dailies, though, did not follow his lead.  

Horseracing continued to spawn interest and magazines, but lost ground to other sports over the postwar decades.  Hunting and fishing enthusiasts turned to Forest and Stream (1873), whose editor, Charles Hallock, organized the International Association for Protection of Game (1874) and promulgated standards for game laws (1875).  In 1877, Irish-born Richard Kyle Fox took over the lurid scandal sheet, National Police Gazette, and initially continued its emphasis on crime and sex.  However, when the paperís coverage of the 1880 Paddy Ryan-Joe Goss prizefight boosted circulation to 400,000, he quickly transformed the publication into the nationís best-selling sports paper.  

In Philadelphia, Francis Richter hired correspondents from around the country to contribute news to The Sporting Life (1883), which specialized in baseball but covered all sports.  The Sporting News (1886) was an erratic rival which did not achieve dominance until after World War I.  In the mid-1880s, prompted partly by Foxís success with the National Police Gazette, Joseph Pulitzerís New York World and Charles Danaís New York Sun outdid Bennettís previous efforts to incorporate sports into a daily newspaper.  Pulitzer hired the first newspaper sports staff, and he and Dana both initiated a sports page in their papers.

In the 1890s, sports journalism fully permeated the newspaper business.  Early in the decade, most major dailies followed the lead of the World and Sun by hiring a sports staff  and publishing a sports page.  Randolph Heart went further at his New York Journal by developing the modern sports section and employing writers who were experts in specific sports.  In Chicago, baseball journalists, such as Finley Peter Dunne of the Chicago News, jettisoned the restrained sport reporting of the past for lively, vivid narratives.  Even refined publications like Harperís Weekly hired a sports editor (Caspar Whitney).

"The Australian System"
February 22, 2024

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