1 de junio de 2014

Journalistic sports language in digital communication

Por Jesús Castañón Rodríguez

Journalistic sports language in digital communication (*)

Jesús Castañón Rodríguez

(*) Text of the presentation at the multidisciplinary round table “Más allá del fútbol (Beyond football)”, Sports Journalism Conference “El tercer tiempo de la comunicación (The third round of communication)”, University of Malaga, 13 May 2014.


Throughout time, sport has represented a privileged observatory of the latest linguistic trends in the Spanish language.

It is a creative sphere, in a permanent state of flux, characterised by the exchange of information, formats and languages, the sharing of news and relating of events with freedom of style. It constitutes a space that seeks originality at the crossroads of expressions originating in sporting action, the corridors of power, the emotions of the stands and the expressive forms of the media.

It configures a space that is constantly expanding in Spanish speaking countries thanks to the sports magazines published since the 19th century, specialised sections in the general information press since 1910, radio broadcasts since 1922, specialised newspapers since 1924, television programmes since 1950, transnational information projects since 1938 and Internet spaces since 1995.

It constitutes an environment of constant evolution and dynamism, as exemplified by television, between 1948 and the present day: the first live broadcast to our homes with a range that did not exceed an 80 kilometre radius around London in 1948, the commencement of live coverage on a continental scale in Rome in 1960; satellite coverage, proximity effect microphones, recording in slow motion and the use of helicopters for aerial views in Tokyo in 1964; colour transmissions, portable wireless cameras and backpack recorders in Mexico in 1968; world coverage on five continents with 75% of programming broadcast live and the rest recorded or delayed in Munich in 1972; digital recording in Los Angeles in 1984; high definition image in Seoul in 1988: video on demand services and high definition in 3D in Nagano in 1998; the first transmission via mobile telephone, Internet and multiple television channels in Turin in 2006; digital television broadcast, live and on demand coverage by internet, summaries for smartphones in Beijing in 2008; the use of mobile telephone platforms in Vancouver in 2010…

In view of this panorama, the linguistic analysis of sport and the reflexion of its journalistic language has always been a topic of interest that is not exempt from difficulties. During the twentieth century, it overcame the purism that would not allow the use of foreign words and the accusation that it collaborated with the corruption, perversion and destruction of language by amplifying linguistic errors in the public use of language.

However, the growing social influence of sport and of its specialised communication achieved recognition for the importance of the language of sport in the renewal of language in general.

The current situation

The twenty-first century has been characterised by the alliance between journalists and linguists, the growing concern of sports communication with language and the incorporation of physical activity and sports professionals in language-related jobs.

We have before us a situation such as that generated by London 2012 which brought together 3.7 billion television viewers in 200 countries by means of various multiplatform resources: official web pages, applications for mobile telephones and tablets and other platforms and multichannel television, both subscription-based and free. Access to contents anywhere, at any time and from any platform required continuous broadcasting, via internet and via 24 interactive digital television channels. It represented a triumph for digital content, especially aimed at the new possibilities of mobile telephony, which place the spectator in the midst of the action: high definition wide screen, surround sound, multiple viewing angles, super-slow motion replays…

This has led to a new generation of sports journalists who complement the work of those who came before them and who developed their work in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: the Restoration Generation, the Professionalism Generation, the Generation of 1938, the Generation of 1950, the Renewal Generation, the Ethical Generation and the Generation of 1995.

The Digital Sports Journalism Generation inherits from the previous generations its sociological look at sport and develops in an exponential manner the dimension of the sporting event as an element of consumption that is marketed by adapting expressive forms from other cultural spheres, political, commercial and religious. It takes a trip from local to national, backing both paper and technology, adaptive design and complementary web services. It has attained special strength since 2008 and thus, from that time until the present day, digital journalism has introduced around fifty digital, print and audiovisual media, not counting the multi-format work of the clubs, which integrates press, radio and television (1).

Principles of action

The forms presented by the new digital experience of sport are innovative, creative, fun and exciting. It seeks to enfold the spectator on the basis of three main principles of action, as has already occurred in English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Mandarin Chinese in the Olympic sphere.

In the first place, digital chat to converse with the fans, sharing images, interviews and experiences, to encourage an active and healthy life and to promote social values such as excellence, friendship and respect. In second place, the interaction of the players with their fans, through social networks and geo-location, which requires them to publish updates and create their own communication channels to give their own vision and to follow other people. And in third place, the global perspective which requires mobile and online coverage of competitions and which has generated specific centres and directories.

This vast technological panorama has contributed to a global dimension of words; it has created new rhythms and communicative models, new production systems in which citizens and sports clubs are converted into informers and authors; it has accelerated the processes of creation, publication, distribution and discussion of contents based on instantaneity, the elimination of the limits of time and space in access to information…

Historically, this has taken place in two main stages: 1995-2004 and from 2005 to date.

The first stage favoured forms of editing that enabled the recovery and browsing of textual and multimedia information and fostered the value of emotional tension. It used hybrid formulas that informed with verbal codes and made suggestions with non-verbal codes based on four basic principles: a new ordering of space with an interactive organisation in boxes and pages and a short textual organisation, the development of iconographic genres and a presentation of news with texts, images, sounds and animation, the creation of jingles to entertain and stimulate and the use of modular writing of texts, the different parts of which could be modified, inserted, extracted and unified in a functional manner. And it provoked a response from sports and linguistic institutions for the correct dissemination of sport in the communications media thanks to the reference books Lexique olympique multilingue, published by the International Olympic Committee to unify criteria for dissemination in a multilingual information society, and the Proyecto Zacatecas absorbed by the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy) and the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española (Association of Spanish Language Academies)  in the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas. They contributed data regarding terminology of the International Olympic Committee, the Olympic sports, the communications media and sports medicine, as well as guidelines regarding graphic adaptations, gender use, the formation of plurals, equivalences, the use of synonyms and vulgarisms originating in journalistic jargon, spelling recommendations, comments on the most common doubts and errors and the use of initials and abbreviations. Furthermore, between 1997 and 2004, linguistic tools arose such as El idioma español en el deporte, Idiomaydeporte.com, Efdeportes.com, Comunidad virtual Ciencias del Deporte and Palabras mayores (Basketconfidencial.com).

In a second phase, from 2005 to the present, the traditional forms of sports journalism are interwoven with the new technological voices of information networks that reach the farthest corner of local sport, news generated by the sports clubs themselves, reports in real time for newspapers, radio, specialised television and blogs in which fans narrate their own experiences.


A new digital environment has been created for all kinds of mobile devices that searches for information at high speed and seeks the satisfaction of global  enthusiasm and social impact with the aim of participating, creating and sharing information; as well as to amplify the discourses associated with sport via new social relationships and models that turn the sportsman into an icon, a brand or a media culture personality and transform sport into a pretext to represent other stories, myths, values, priorities, hopes, dreams and aspirations. Journalists write directly in the page layout that the reader will consume, they send short phrases for platforms for the management and publication of news or microwebs, they inform regarding the time played and the results for radio and the news in real time, they put together a chronicle with the most essential information for the digital edition and another more extensive version for the print edition or for news syndication services, they write up information for articles that go to automated alert services, news on demand and headlines for e-mail, they compose the short «tickers» for the subtitles with the results and main incidents or edit sound recordings and video files for television, whether analogical, digital, digital terrestrial, cable, Internet or via mobile telephone. And they even save data that they will subsequently use in mono-format and multi-format viewers of a biographical and thematic nature. Emotions and the sharing of experiences have been intensified via the interaction of two forms of knowledge: that which is thought and that which is felt. A world of transnational and multilingual primary emotions in action has been extolled to develop commercial connections in the interactivity with the fans. Joy, sadness, displeasure, love, fear, anger, surprise and shame serve to emphasise identity, the formation of communities and the seeking of hope for happiness. And they create an emotional tension in which great importance is achieved by emotional metaphors and pathetic figures of thought (apostrophe, personification, hyperbole, interrogation, exclamation, imprecation, execration and deprecation) previously reserved only for the narrator of the sports event and now open to public participation.


Thematically, a great deal of mistrust has been generated with regard to perfection and model lives, and a general preference has arisen for convincing and real stories with eccentric personalities, or those who do not follow the social conventions, in the leading role. Uncompromising and nonconformist realism is favoured. The value of the subjective is emphasised as testimony, experience of life and truth, presented on the basis of criteria founded on feeling and empathy. Thus, the narrative journalism of America will present an unabashed vision that combines fiction and reality and mixes diverse elements to report on those invisible realities that remain out of reach, especially in football and the Olympic Games. Meanwhile, in Spain, debates will arise based on the tension of the news, positive stress and vehement defence of one’s own points of view, in which elements of televised society journalism, such as rhythm and systems of self-promotion and inducements, are combined with heated and passionate debates. A new reader profile has arisen, of 20 to 40 years of age with a medium-high cultural level and strong technological training, which recovers a cultural and sociological view that originated with the Ethical Generation between 1976 and 1992, to collect stories that have no place in the media. With a freedom of style that favours paper and digital formats, magazines such as Panenka and Líbero portray society through football from its relationships with politics, culture, religion and economy thanks to a sociological reading of the stands, the use of interpretational reports and the application of theories regarding social discourses and mass culture.

Linguistic characteristics

In the linguistic response the spheres of contribution have been readjusted: the field is left to the traditional media, the offices no longer need journalists and they create their own media, the stands are interpreted with a sociological and cultural reading; and the media present a complex panorama in consonance with an unstoppable diversification of services and specialisation.

In general, a reorganisation of resources has taken place towards essential information at high speed, the use of microtexts for fast and easy reading, the relevance of spontaneity and orality, terminological precision, care in translations, the use of lexical Latin-Americanisms, the transcriptions of names from different alphabets, the use of generic terms as opposed to localisms of the particular context, the summary of the sports event and its emotions via headlines with plays on words and sense of humour, the description of events with a vocabulary appropriate for non-specialised audiences and an editing style that uses a modular structure that can be automated, modified and adapted to the requirements of different products.

This linguistic response for global sports communication leads to the coexistence of an everyday use and a professional use of the language.

The everyday use presents conversational elements to share and participate in society. Of the multiplicity of products generated, four blocks have attained special relevance in sports: e-mail and instant messaging services (chat, sms, whatsapp) in audiovisual journalism, which has given rise to a simplification of syntax and the elimination of non-significant words; jointly written pieces in collaborative tools or wikis, which have created linguistic guidelines regarding sports vocabulary, as has occurred with Wikilengua; the blog with brief and concise headlines and structures of three or four paragraphs in length in which use of the indicative predominates; and the social networks, both of a general nature and segment-based, aimed at a professional sector or a community united by interest.

In digital chat, language develops a new perspective consolidated on three axes. First, it appears as a cultural marker that generates style, image and reputation in a complex task that has generated specialised work to defend an image subjected to commercial rights in a complicated task of superposition of interests. A world has been created which values respect for the contributions of others, the adaptation of the message to different electronic devices, the hierarchical structuring of contents at the beginning of the reading area, the use of well-written headlines, subtitles and key words and the elimination of localisms. Second, the design establishes semiotic relationships with colours and font sizes, as well as the use of a descriptive headline that includes key words, setting out the conclusions in the introduction, writing short paragraphs with a single idea and using subtitles, headings, lists and words in bold. And third, a new colloquial standard has been created, for digital environments integrated by means of threads, characterised by the use of a synthetic language with shortened links and tags for their possible reuse in other environments and their combination with different forms of communication other than words; the orientation of the statement towards the present and the description in the present tense of everyday actions. And especially outstanding is the predominance of the colloquial register for conversation with particular spelling features (suppression of final sounds and syllables, the loss of vowels, the  use of w in place of gu, the exchange of digraphs, the omission of punctuation marks, the use of capital letters to emphasise, graphic reiterations, emoticons, abbreviations and symbols), lexical features (common vocabulary forms avoiding localisms in order to facilitate understanding, loan words, creativity in composition and the use of suffixes, youthful language and appreciative expressions to evaluate positively or negatively) and grammatical features (problems of number, intensified use of language, interjections and exclamatory and interrogative headings, ellipsis, omission of articles, prepositions and conjunctions and the predominance of coordination).

In the professional use of language subjective interaction is favoured so that users feel themselves to be in the starring role and the use of the visual metaphor triumphs, along with attention to majority sports and the extension of linguistic tools.

Commercial criteria have been followed by applying the study of semantic and rhetorical spheres, as facilitated by the resources provided by the books La información y el deporteMarca: Libro de estiloPeriodismo deportivo de calidad. Propuesta de un modelo de libro de estilo panhispánico para informadores deportivosLa retransmisión radiofónica del fútbol and Las retransmisiones deportivas radiofónicas and the different editions of the Manual del Español Urgente. Criteria for coherence in the use of language are provided in order to avoid its impoverishment and to confront the indiscriminate invasion of foreign words and phrases and unnecessary neologisms. Continuity has been provided online to traditional lines of work dealing with: general principles, journalistic ethics and legislative framework; general rules of style with regard to clarity, precision, originality and fluency; data processing and the elimination of offensive, racist or sexist expressions; elements of the text and their relationship with the design and other graphic aspects; spelling rules; guidelines on sports, disciplines and forms, names and phases of competitions and names of clubs; the most common grammar and spelling errors. And encouragement has been given to the use of language as a form of respect to the public, thanks to the volumesLibro de estilo de Canal Sur andDirectrices editoriales. Valores y criterios de la BBC, which cover clarity and precision in order to avoid speculation, the use of offensive terms when informing about harm and offense, discriminatory language, the handling of suicides and self-harm, the informal or derogatory use of expressions of religious origin and the handling of terms used by terror groups.

The development of linguistic tools, aimed at the formation of knowledge, included twelve centres of attention: the provision of lexical resources; guidelines on the use of technical terms; guides to terminological equivalences for translation; articles on sports language in specialised pages and digital sports magazines with contents of a general nature; the description of the current state of sports language; the explanation of the keys to its historical evolution; literary language; specialised bibliographies; the use of sports language as a teaching resource; vertical portals that host news related with an integrated vision of sports language; textual corpora; and documentation networks. The following have appeared from 2005 to date: Idioma del deporte, Palabras en juego, Hinchas del idioma, Periodismodeportivodecalidad.blogspot.com and Fundéu BBVA with its specials on top level competition and the service Liga del Español Urgente which focuses on semantic spheres (war, feelings and artistic activities, motoring, law and geometry), mechanisms of word formation and the use of rhetoric with hyperboles, metaphors and metonyms.


In short, sport and the communications media of the global age have expanded the Spanish language towards new forms of expression for multilingual, multidirectional communication, without timetables and without borders… In a permanent state of flux, answers have been given in Spanish to three of the eight challenges that have been presented since 2007: the full incorporation of women, the dissemination of social values, and modern sport as an element that generates employment and as an economic factor. One of the remaining challenges is attention to the constant diversification of physical activity and sport that requires the generation of digital journalism to break away from its commercial outlook limited to sport as a spectacle, Olympic, Paralympic, and to overcome the idea of sport as something that cannot be fully covered by sports journalism. Sports communication is not the owner of sport or of its forms of expression since this important role also corresponds to society and to the work of the sporting bodies.

This new phase has facilitated the informal, immediate and direct nature of communication, it has created new wineskins of a leisure-based and participative environment to revitalise the language and provide continuity to the efficiency of the work of the word in the expansion of sport and its passionate social experience with a technical, diffusional or artistic focus.

Sports communication has once again demonstrated its permanent support of innovation, understanding and seriousness in its social dimension, maintaining a relationship with cultural history by influencing behaviour, with the analysis of political, cultural, emotive or aesthetic aspects and with the capacity to transmit all kinds of social values.


(1) As stated in the 2013 Annual Report of the Journalism Profession, published in December 2013 by the Press Association of Madrid, sports journalism contributes 10% of the 297 new digital, print and audiovisual media set up by professionals in Spain since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. Specifically, it provides 28. In reality, with the complementary data provided by José Luis Rojas in Peridodismodeportivodecalidad.blogspot.com and by the register that includes Idiomaydeporte.com, there are now at least 48 media: 1 free weekly newspaper (Alirón), 17 multi-sport digital newspapers (Avance deportivo.es, Campdesports.cat, Cronometrodeportivo.es,  Deporadictos.com, Deportes en Ávila, Diario Gol, Eldeporteconquense.com, El Desmarque, Fosbury, Ha10.es, Minuto 116, Qualitysport, Ritmodejuego.com, Spherasports.com, Sportyou.es, Time Out Magazine,  Tribunadeportiva.es and Vavel.com), 2 media dealing with the Olympic Games (Juegosriojaneiro2016.com and Pasaporte Olímpico), 2 in-depth analysis media (Cuadernos del basket and Martiperarnau.com), 12 Digital football media (Ecosdelbalon.com, Elenganche.es, Elevenfoot.com, Falso9.com, Kaiser Football Magazine, Masquealba.com, Mundialdefutbol2014.es, Once contra once, Palabradefutbol.com, Protagonistasdeljuego.com, Proyectopremier.com and Vivafutbol.es), 2 magazines on football and culture (Libero and Proyecto Panenka), 4 digital media on basketball (Eljuegodenaismith.com, KIAenzona.com, Piratasdelbasket.es and Ramirobadalona.com), 1 municipal sports portal (Munideporte.com), 1 on sport and technology (Sportics), 1 digital radio (Radiogoles.es), 1 internet television channel (Deportesevilla.tv), 1 multimedia (Gipuzkoasport.com) and 2 on economy and sport (La Jugada Financiera and Metadeporte).

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