It may be alluring to think that writing and reporting demand very little more than a sound knowledge of good grammar and a wide vocabulary. Both of these are critical of course. But a sound piece of communication seldom occurs without solid research and a discipline on the part of the writer to read, read and read still more.
This has been nowhere more apparent than during the first week of the London Olympics in events surrounding, in particular, the results of some of the swimming finals. Some reporters covering these events appear to have shown scant evidence of having researched an issue prior to a result, and little interest in doing so thereafter. And their poor knowledge of history was all too plain to see.
The first incident that comes to mind is the allegations that flew thick and fast that the 16-year-old Chinese swimmer, Ye Shiwen, could not have clocked a faster time for the 200m individual medley final (which she won) than the male world record holder for the same distance. For the record, Olympic officials have said that Ye has passed her drug test.
The allegations still fly and no doubt much will be made of this in a highly competitive sporting world before it is laid to rest. There seem to be astonished disbelief that a 16-year-old could swim so fast. But there is nothing unique about a teenage swimmer achieving the unbelievable!
My mind immediately went back to the 1960s, and in particular 10 August 1965 when a 12-year-old South African girl (okay she was just over a month short of 13 years old) became the youngest person ever to break a sporting world record when she swam the 110 yards backstroke in 1m 08.7s in Blackpool, England. Karen Muir, who now lives in Canada, was to go on to set 15 world records in the backstroke in the 100m, 200m, 110 yards and 220 yards events. She won 22 SA Championships and 3 US Championships. A victim of the sporting boycott of South Africa, she was regrettably not allowed to swim in an Olympic games.
She was 3 years younger than Ye.
The point should be obvious: why has there been no reference to this remarkable swimmer’s career in the light of the furore surrounding Ye? I suggest the answer is simple: sports writers at the Olympic Games in London don’t know the history of the disciplines about which they are communicating to the world and, worse still, don’t bother about research to the extent that they should.
The second issue where research seemed to be absent was the stunning victory by Chad Le Clos where he pipped Michael Phelps at the post at the 200m butterfly. The Australian commentators were beside themselves that Phelps had not won and could speak mainly only about him. Their commentating was marked by a lack of background knowledge about Le Clos.
They simply had not done their homework, let alone given any thought to the fact that sport is well-known for dishing up the unexpected. They appear to have been caught by surprise, having made up their mind that Phelps, somehow, was ordained to win, despite the fact that Le Clos was swimming in the lane next to the greatest Olympic swimmer ever.
The message about all of this is to take seriously the mantra research and read. It is a mantra we at Quo Vadis Communications repeat often and practice religiously.
Those two Rs will stand any writer and communicator in good stead. They may even produce the unique interview capable of going viral in this Digital Information Age – but more of that soon.