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IS PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING COVERAGE A FORM OF
Is Professional Wrestling Coverage a Form of Journalism?
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of
The University of Chester
in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements
for the Degree of
The University of Chester
A massive thank you to everyone involved with the production of this
dissertation; that includes all 1,578 people who kindly responded to my survey. Thank
you to my lecturer Vera Slavtcheva-Petkova who didn’t laugh in my face when I told
her I wanted to start a new dissertation on professional wrestling a month before the
first draft deadline. A great deal of gratitude must also be given to Bill Apter, Aubrey
Sitterson, John Pollock and Sam Gascoyne who all generously contributed to this by
offering their expertise and opinions on the subject. Finally thank you to Olivia, for
encouraging me endlessly throughout this.
IS PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING COVERAGE A FORM OF
Ryan Carse, 1103180, Journalism
The University of Chester, 2014
Supervisor: Vera Slavtcheva-Petkova
The following study set out to discover whether coverage of professional wrestling
could be rightly considered a form of journalism. In order to effectively investigate
this subject, literature was read and reviewed to apply to the study. The research
consisted of quantitative data by critically analysing the representation of professional
wrestling within three British newspapers across a week-long period. Qualitative
techniques were also deployed by interviewing personnel within the world of
professional wrestling journalism and a survey for wrestling fans regarding their
reading habits, which received an impressive 1,578 responses. The result of the study
established that whilst professional wrestling coverage may not be as extensively
covered within the mainstream media, the basic rules of good reporting must still
apply and therefore can be deemed a form of journalism.
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On January 16
2014, American professional wrestling journalist and historian David
Shoemaker appeared on his online podcast “Cheap Heat” to discuss the current state
of professional wrestling journalism. He said:
We’re just in this weird world – it used to be that there were good, respectable
outlets for wrestling news, and we all know what those are and then there was
everything else. It’s fun to call them the “dirtsheets” or whatever, but there’s a
huge chasm between guys who are reporting stuff, guys like [Dave] Meltzer
who are actually doing a job and guys who are just cut and pasting stuff from
Meltzer and are just making stuff up.
But we’re in this weird world now where like, there’s a third party of people
who will copy off all of those sites and just tweet them. You can’t even use
your own judgment to tell what’s good or bad anymore. In some sense it’s
kind of awesome though because it makes everything a mystery again
This quote from Shoemaker accurately describes the current state of professional
wrestling journalism, a market that has been active for over a century. Despite having
a proven global market headed by a sports-entertainment conglomerate, professional
wrestling has found itself shunned by a majority of mainstream media outlets. This
claim was made by Jim Romenesko of the Miami Herald in 2007 when he wrote,
“When McMahon and WWE stars conduct a show for the troops in Iraq, the
mainstream media are AWOL. In the Benoit family tragedy, the mainstream media
have taken the easy road and focused on steroids only. They are wrong.”
(Romenesko, 2007) As such it was up to fans of the sport to seemingly single-
handedly create a legitimate news source. Professional wrestling has heavily relied
upon respected wrestling journalists such as Dave Meltzer to provide a reliable outlet
for professional wrestling news for over thirty years.
Findlay Martin has been the editor of British-based monthly wrestling magazine
Power Slam for almost twenty years. He stated for this study that each issue of Power
Slam has, “a budget of around £16,000 which includes print costs, colour origination,
photos, articles, etc. It generates sufficient revenue each issue from newsagent sales,
digital sales and advertising to operate in the black. It has never lost money in the
near-20 years I have been publishing it.”
This dissertation is investigating how legitimate a news outlet for such a niche market
can be. Motivation for the research stems from the fact that professional wrestling has
such a wide and varied global audience, as evidenced from the fact that last year’s
‘Wrestlemania’ pay-per-view event garnered 1,039,000 worldwide purchases,
becoming WWE’s highest-grossing ‘Wrestlemania’ ever, earning $72 million for the
company. (Graser, 2013) There’s a proven market of professional wrestling fans that
want to read news on the events going on inside and outside of the ring, so why does
professional wrestling not receive the same coverage as other sports such as football?
This paper is studying the news outlets offered to professional wrestling fans, as there
has never before been an in-depth investigation into the self-created world of
professional wrestling journalism.
To thoroughly examine professional wrestling’s news outlets and their legitimacy, a
look must be taken at the existing literature on the history of professional wrestling
and its place within the mainstream media. Chapter 1 provides the background
knowledge that is required in order to correctly carry out this study.
Chapter 2 then describes how the study will be conducted via a mixed-method
approach of content analysis of three British newspapers across a week to see how
professional wrestling was covered, in-depth interviews with current professional
wrestling and sports journalists and a survey looking at the existing reading patterns
of current professional wrestling fans.
These results will then be examined and analysed in Chapter 5 through a textual
analysis and a series of diagrams. The prevailing themes of these results will be
discussed further and in deeper detail within Chapter 4. Finally, a conclusion for the
study will be offered in Chapter 5, taking into consideration the research undertaken
and literature studied.
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The sport of professional wrestling has relied upon the media for decades to bring
exposure to their product, which in turn provided a wider scope for new audiences
and ultimately resulted in better business. Since the aforementioned outing of
professional wrestling as a choreographed sport in the mid-80s by Vince McMahon,
wrestling has lost a lot of respect from the media and is often mentioned in passing, if
at all. It was since then that people who supported wrestling began reporting on the
events both inside and outside of the ring in a journalistic manner, providing fans with
newsletters and publications, in particular Dave Meltzer and the Wrestling Observer
Newsletter. The wrestling world had essentially created its own news outlet.
The literature that has been studied in preparation for this dissertation presents a litany
of examples and studies as it relates to professional wrestling and its place in the
world of news. This review will aim to focus on three main themes that have emerged
frequently throughout the literature studied. These themes are defining professional
wrestling, sports journalism as a whole, and where professional wrestling stands in
regards to it and the mainstream media’s current perception of professional wrestling.
An objective stance will also be taken into attempting to define journalism and
looking at any existing professional wrestling studies involving journalism.
DLIINING ÞkCILSSICNAL WkLS1LING: SÞCk1S-LN1Lk1AINMLN1?
To truly define professional wrestling, we must first go back to 1957, when French
literary theorist Roland Barthes published his essay entitled, “The World of
Wrestling” within his book looking at a series of modern culture phenomena called
“Mythologies”. What is incredible to note is that Barthes wrote this in 1957, decades
before wrestling was delivered with the pomp and circumstance that it is today. When
Barthes wrote “The World of Wrestling”, wrestling in Barthes’ home country of
France was considered almost an underground ‘outlaw’ sport, not yet reaching the
television screens like its American counterpart had just recently achieved. Above all
else, there was no question to the fans of wrestling that it was a legitimate sport.
However, Barthes had the foresight to state:
There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not
a sport, it is a spectacle. True wrestling, wrongly called amateur wrestling is
performed in second-rate halls, where the public spontaneously attunes itself
to the spectacular nature of the contest, like the audience at a suburban
cinema. The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest
is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the
spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters
is not what it thinks but what it sees (Barthes & Lavers, 1957, p. 15)
In February 1989, the biggest question surrounding professional wrestling was
answered when the largest professional wrestling company on the planet declared that
professional wrestling is not a ‘true sport’. The New Jersey Senate was voting on a
bill that would see wrestling removed from the jurisdiction of the state athletic
commission. Not affording to make a financial loss, owner of the then-called World
Wrestling Federation – now known as World Wrestling Entertainment, which should
be indicative of how wrestling is treated nowadays – Vince McMahon sent his
representatives to formally state that henceforth, professional wrestling should be
defined as, “An activity in which participants struggle hand-in-hand primarily for the
purpose of providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a bona fide
athletic contest” (Johnson, 1991, p.51)
John Urban, director of the Family Entertainment Division of Madison Square
Garden, praised the decision when he said, “Once Vince moved past the big question
– is it real or not real? – they shook off the last vestiges of the old pro wrestling
image. It became more respectable than ever. It used to be a cult – you either loved it
or despised it” (Johnson, 1991, p. 52)
The media, however, took the admission as a reason to poke fun at the ousted ‘sport’.
A New York Times headline from February 10
, 1989 announced, “Now It Can Be
Told, Those Pro Wrestlers Are Just Having Fun”. In a somewhat scathing article,
Peter Kerr wrote, “Promoters of professional wrestling have disclosed that their
terrifying towers in spandex tights…are really no more dangerous to one another than
Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy” (Kerr, 1989, p.B2)
In the current day, WWE is officially described as an “integrated media organisation
and recognised leader in global entertainment” on its Corporate website. WWE
programming alone is broadcast in more than 150 countries and 30 languages and
reaches more than 650 million homes worldwide (Corporate.wwe.com, 2014), despite
this huge audience however, most media outlets will not report on professional
wrestling in the same manner that they would with other sports. What makes
professional wrestling interesting from a journalism standpoint is that as soon as it
was acknowledged as ‘fake’, wrestling was found in a journalistic gap. No sports
journalists wanted to carry stories on wrestling as it was now considered not a ‘true
sport’, and no entertainment journalists wanted to carry stories on wrestling as it did
not have the mainstream appeal that popular TV shows or movies would have.
This opinion was reinforced by Chad Dell in his 2006 book, “The Revenge of Hatpin
Mary” in which he wrote, “The ‘wrestling press’ was an amalgam of for-profit
weekly and monthly magazines and news sheets, which existed in a journalistic nether
region between sports journalism, tabloids and internal ‘house organs’” (Dell, 2006,
DLIINING ICUkNALISM AND ÞAS1 S1UDILS
To determine whether or not professional wrestling coverage is a form of journalism,
we first must define journalism in its truest sense. In “Making Journalists: Diverse
Models, Global Issues”, Hugo De Burgh states journalism is, “the end product of a
major industry employing hundreds of thousands of people, and daily supplying
hundreds of millions – billions, across the globe – with information about every
conceivable aspect of the world around them” He then goes on to say, “Journalism, in
all its varieties, is the constant background and accompaniment to everyday life”
(Burgh, 2005, p. 25) If we apply this quote to professional wrestling coverage it can
be said that professional wrestling coverage is the accompaniment to being a
professional wrestling fan.
As far as studies regarding professional wrestling went, the available resources were
extremely thin. Any existing studies on professional wrestling tended to involve a
look into the violence being portrayed as opposed to the journalistic integrity of its
news outlets. Former professional wrestler Harley Race may have found a reason for
this. Race competed across the globe and spoke extensively on the subject of
professional wrestling journalism in his autobiography, “King of the Ring: The
Harley Race Story”. He wrote, “Japan still covers wrestling as more of a sport. They
always seemed to focus on the positive. The U.S. media tends to view wrestling with
more cynicism, focusing on the use of steroids among wrestlers or the ‘secrets’ of
wrestling” (Race, 2004, p. 55)
The negative stigma professional wrestling seems to garner is examined in Keith
Elliott Greenberg’s book from 2000, “Pro Wrestling: From Carnivals to Cable TV”.
This form of entertainment had come under fire, however. The critics claimed
it was too violent. Women paraded around the ring in barely any clothing as
the men in the audience whistled and hollered. Wrestlers used foul language
while being interviewed in the ring and sometimes encouraged their fans to do
the same. WWF owner Vince McMahon noted that each time the media ran a
negative story about professional wrestling – there were three in the New
York Times on the morning of ‘Wrestlemania XV’ – his business increased
(Greenberg, 2000, p. 8)
Perhaps this is why there are so few studies looking at the positive aspects of
professional wrestling, because a negative outlook from the mainstream media makes
the sport seem more attractive to prospective fans.
SÞCk1S ICUkNALISM AND nCW I1 kLLA1LS 1C ÞkCILSSICNAL WkLS1LING
Raymond Boyle sums up sports journalism as a “paradox”. In his 2006 book, ‘Sports
Journalism: Context and Issues’, he writes: “In the hierarchy of professional
journalism it has been traditionally viewed disparagingly as the ‘toy department’, a
bastion of easy living, sloppy journalism and ‘soft’ news” (Boyle, 2006, p. 1) Despite
this belief amongst some journalists however, sport is the fastest-growing sector in the
British media and sports coverage is “vitally important to the health and prosperity of
the print and broadcast media” (Andrews, 2005, p. 2)
Prior to the aforementioned exposé of professional wrestling in 1989, it was not
uncommon for articles on wrestling to feature prominently in sport publications.
Sports Illustrated carried an article in 1955 that described wrestling as, “a great show
that fascinates its fans, rough enough to seem authentic and funny enough to amuse.
It’s comedy and drama, with the laughs following hysteria” (Shoemaker, 2012) Even
then it seemed like the sports journalists were in on the act, but did not let it phase
Sports journalism can seem attractive to the modern journalist. But to define it as only
reporting on results and upcoming events would be shortsighted. Joanne Gerstner, a
sports reporter for the Detroit News, wrote, “Sports writing is really about medicine,
business, sociology, psychology. It’s a lot more than a home run or a slam-dunk. I
have to be able to decipher contracts. I have to be able to describe a knee injury”
(Stofer & Schaffer et al., 2010, p. 10)
In a time where column inches are sought after so relentlessly, professional wrestling
has found it difficult to crossover into the mainstream media outlets. The slew of
analysis offered for football, baseball and basketball within American media has
dwarfed any opportunity for a sport like professional wrestling to ever be reported
upon extensively, despite having a large weekly audience. The same can be applied
for British media outlets too. So in late 1982, one wrestling fan decided to start his
own news publication, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. The Observer was the
brainchild of San Jose State University graduate Dave Meltzer who aimed to create
the first publication that would cover professional wrestling for what it was, going
behind the scenes and not reporting with any pretences that storylines and matches
were not predetermined, openly reporting upon professional wrestling as a business.
(Meltzer & Hart, 2004, p. vii) Former professional wrestler Bret Hart was an active
competitor when the Observer was launched and he said:
It’s a credit to Meltzer that as time went by he educated himself about the
business, gradually prying open doors that’d been welded shut for generations.
His observations and analysis were increasingly detailed and insightful, and it
became obvious that he was gradually compiling the only factual chronicle of
pro wrestling especially of my era, and that it was encyclopaedic in scope
(Meltzer & Hart, 2004, p. viii)
Frank Deford, a Sports Illustrated reporter for fifty years, has labelled Meltzer “the
most accomplished reporter in sports journalism”. He said, “You could cover the
Vatican or State Department and not do as good a job as Dave Meltzer does on
wrestling” (Rossen, 2013, p. B13) This quote proves that Meltzer is directly
responsible for the transition towards reporting on professional wrestling in a factual,
legitimate way, a way in which the mainstream media do not offer to report on
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Professional wrestling has had a chequered history with the mainstream media dating
all the way back to 1908, when wrestling reached its first real national prominence.
When the highly anticipated world championship match between Russian-born
champion George Hackenschmidt and American challenger Frank Gotch ended with
Gotch winning controversially, it was covered by press from across the world. The
former champion Hackenschmidt was quoted as saying to American press, “Gotch is
the king of the class, the greatest man by far I ever met”. Two days later however, his
story changed, when he claimed to the Daily Mail that Gotch had used ‘unfair’ tactics
to defeat him (Shoemaker, 2013, p. 12)
Since going national in 1982, the most successful professional wrestling outfit on the
planet, World Wrestling Entertainment has been under a microscope from media
outlets and through a series of controversial incidents in the last three decades,
professional wrestling is now often reported upon in a negative light. In the late 90s,
the WWE found itself in direct competition with a rival wrestling company – World
Championship Wrestling – as they broadcast live shows simultaneously on Monday
nights. What resulted was a ratings war between the two companies as they pushed
the boundaries of acceptable television – a time wrestling fans refer to as the
“Monday Night War”. Reporting for TV Guide, Phil Mushnick wrote, “Pro wrestling
isn’t good guy versus bad guy theatre anymore. It’s bad guy versus worse guy, and
both are instructed to sustain an audience through shock appeal” (Maguire, 2005, p.
158) Defending his company, owner Vince McMahon stated that he will promote
whatever sells and that he is not the conscience of the country. Speaking in a New
York Times article, McMahon admits that his programs “walk on the edge of
creativity, to shock the public” (Johnson, 1998, p. C17)
Perhaps the darkest day for professional wrestling was on June 25
, 2007. Over the
course of a three-day period, veteran professional wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his
wife and seven-year-old son, before taking his own life. Due to steroids being found
in the home, media organisations such as the MSNBC and Fox News went with
headlines “Wrestler Chris Benoit Double Murder-Suicide: Was It ‘Roid Rage’?”
(Donaldson-Evans, foxnews.com, 2007) and “Cops Eye ‘Roid Rage in Wrestler’s
Murder-Suicide” (Associated Press, nbcsports.com, 2007) respectively, conjecturing
that steroid-induced rage was the cause of the tragedy. The actions led to a federal
investigation into steroid abuse within professional wrestling, and what followed can
only be described as a media witch-hunt.
After weeks of coming under fire from media outlets, WWE released a statement
challenging the claims made by “sensationalistic reporting”. In the statement they
said, “The physical findings announced by the authorities indicate deliberation, not
rage. By the account of the authorities, there were substantial periods of time between
the death of the wife and the death of the son” (Corporate.wwe.com, 2007)
Toxicology reports announced that no artificial steroids were found in Benoit’s urine.
Later it would be revealed through tests on Benoit’s brain conducted by the Sports
Legacy Institute that Benoit suffered from “chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or
CTE”, a progressive condition attributed to the multiple concussions he had sustained
throughout his wrestling career (Cajigal, 2007, p. 16) Head of neurology at the Sports
Legacy Institute Julian Bailes stated that Benoit’s brain was “so severely damaged it
resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient” (abcnews.com, 2007)
Nowadays, the mainstream media hold professional wrestling under a very different
light altogether. Despite having made a conceited effort in the post-Benoit era to
create a safer product for both the wrestlers and the fans – most notably by
introducing a stringent wellness policy and switching to PG programming – most
media organisations still find it difficult to report upon wrestling in an unbiased
fashion. As has been the case in the last two decades, wrestling is often only reported
upon if something bad happens.
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This chapter includes a review of the method chosen to devise this study and how
appropriate this method is when compared to others. As the study will be aiming to
discover whether coverage on a ‘fake’ sport like professional wrestling can be
considered ‘real’ journalism, this chapter will first discuss the methods for collecting
data, before discussing how the data will be used. A brief look will also be taken at
alternative methods available for this study, before finally examining the ethical
The method chosen to undertake this study will combine both quantitative and
qualitative research in a mixed-method manner. Connelly (2009) offered an
interesting definition of mixed-method studies when she wrote, “In mixed methods
research designs, researchers use both quantitative and qualitative methods and data
in the same study. The goal of mixed methods research is to draw on the strengths and
minimize the weaknesses of both types of research” (Connelly, 2009, p. 31) Using
mixed-method research allows this study to qualitatively produce hypotheses and
theories before testing them quantitatively. This will offer greater evidence towards a
conclusion, and the hypotheses generated can be found following the methodology.
The quantitative data will be collected in a dual-pronged approach. Firstly, a content
analysis examining the number of times – if at all – professional wrestling is
mentioned within three British newspapers across the span of a week. Next, a survey
will be issued to professional wrestling fans enquiring about their reading habits and
how they consume professional wrestling news. From this approach, conclusive
evidence should emerge as to whether or not professional wrestling coverage can be
considered a form of journalism.
In “Analyzing Media Messages”, it is stated that the data collected in quantitative
content analysis identifies the “typical patterns or characteristics” or “discovers
important relationships” from the content examined (Riffe & Lacy et al., 2005, p. 3)
The survey conducted will be a quantitative one, as the data generated will be able to
be transformed into usable statistics to give a clearer answer to the question posed in
the study. This will take the form of charting responses to the questionnaire on graphs
that will feature within the dissertation, helping to further visualize the outcomes of
the investigation. As written within “A Practical Guide to Graphics Reporting”,
“Information graphics can tell stories with a degree of detail that is often otherwise
impossible” (George-Palilonis, 2006, p. 3)
That is not to say qualitative research will not feature in this dissertation at all. In a
definition by Frey, Botan and Friedman (1992), qualitative data takes the form of
“words rather than numbers”, and presented in the form of “case studies, critiques,
and sometimes verbal reports” (Cheseboro and Borisoff, 2007, p. 6) The idea of using
qualitative research in this dissertation is crucial to begin with, as it will help develop
an initial understanding towards the issue. The qualitative research will take the form
of structured interviews conducted with figureheads of the journalistic world within
professional wrestling to analyse their approach to reporting on news and any
assumptions they make about their audience.
The sampling used throughout this study is known as snowball sampling, a procedure
defined as “building a sample through referrals” (O’Leary, 2004, p. 110) This can be
useful for locating a difficult sample of people, such as homeless people or migrant
workers. For this study, it is particularly useful as the track record for snowball
sampling is very successful. This was evident in 2005 when Kath Browne used
snowballing through social networks to develop a sample of non-heterosexual women
in a small town in the United Kingdom. According to Earl Babbie’s, “The Basics of
Social Research”, “She reports that her own membership in such networks greatly
facilitated this type of sampling, and that potential subjects in the study were more
likely to trust her than to trust heterosexual members” (Babbie, 1999, p. 201) As a
member of professional wrestling social networking sites such as Reddit’s
‘SquaredCircle’ and by following likeminded wrestling fans on Twitter, the
snowballing sample should prove fruitful for this study.
For part of the research for this study, a content analysis will be conducted using three
newspapers for the week beginning January 20
, 2014. The reason for this chosen
week is because on Sunday January 26
, WWE will be hosting its annual “Royal
Rumble” pay-per-view event, an event which is commonly considered by wrestling
fans to be one of the ‘Big Four’ shows that the organisation produces a year. Last
year’s Royal Rumble event garnered around 498,000 buys on pay-per-view, with
176,000 of these being international. This means there is definitely an audience for
professional wrestling coverage, but will it even be mentioned in the newspapers? An
eye will also be kept out for any mention of former professional wrestlers that have
made the crossover into the public eye, past wrestlers such as Dwayne ‘The Rock’
Johnson – who was recently named the highest grossing actor of 2013 – and Hulk
Hogan (Pomerantz, 2013)
The three newspapers chosen cover the main three categories of British newspapers;
broadsheets, tabloids and ‘middle-market’ newspapers. The newspapers selected are:
the i, the Sun and the Daily Express. The primary reason for selecting the i as opposed
to its more popular competitors in the broadsheet market is because it is primarily
aimed at younger readers and students, a demographic which the WWE also mainly
aims its programming towards. These figures are projected by a study on national
newspaper circulations calculated by ABC in August 2013, which projected that the i
has a circulation of 303,096, whilst the most popular broadsheet, the Daily Telegraph
has a circulation of 504,908 (Mailclassified.co.uk, 2014), WWE’s audience figures
were collected by Nielsen Media Research from April to June 2013, declaring that
78% of the audience is aged 21 or older (Corporate.wwe.com, 2013)
The content analysis was conducted for the week of January 20
, 2014 leading up to
the ‘Royal Rumble’ event using three major English newspapers: The Sun, The i and
the Daily Express.
An online survey will be created and issued to relevant outlets for readers of
professional wrestling news to complete. The survey will be created using Google
Forms, as other survey-creating services such as SurveyMonkey require a premium
purchase to list more than ten questions. Some questions will appear as multiple-
choice questions, such as, “How do you mainly receive your news on professional
wrestling?” and some questions will appear as open-ended questions, such as, “Please
state why you believe professional wrestling journalism should or should not be
treated any differently to other sports journalism.”
Maire Davies and Nick Mosdell offer some advice on using open-ended questions,
writing, “If you use these, put them near the end of the questionnaire – people may be
pushed for time and not want to have to think too much.” (Davies & Mosdell, 2006, p.
81) Upon completing the questionnaire, users will be invited to share their opinions
further and are able to comment and interact with each other within the confines of
the topic thread.
Using the aforementioned snowball sample, the survey will be advertised on the
wrestling sub-forum of popular social networking site Reddit. The sub-forum called
“SquaredCircle” is a platform exclusive to wrestling fans where they can share and
discuss opinions and news on professional wrestling. SquaredCircle features among
Reddit’s top 50 most active sub-forums.
Whilst this method may restrict the study to solely Internet users, it’s important to
note that the typical Internet user of 2014 is far different than the techno-bloggers of
the past. In a survey conducted on the social news website Reddit, out of a random
sample of 5,042 users, the ages of users on the site ranged from 13 to 73. In a thread
of this size, 12.75% of users were aged over 30.
In a report of the results found from a representative study conducted by the Pew
research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, it was discovered that “6% of
online adults are Reddit users” (Duggan & Smith, 2013, p. 1) Therefore, there is
conclusive evidence to suggest that Reddit would be a good platform to advertise this
For the final part of the research, invitations for interviews were extended to some of
the forefront figures within the world of professional wrestling journalism. The
sampling approach for this was done by choosing a range of participants from across
the world of wrestling, both in America and Britain. It was important to get diverse
opinions so contact was made with not just wrestling journalists but broadcasters and
sports reporters as well. With the majority of these figures residing and working from
North America, the optimal method of reaching them was via e-mail to preferably
arrange a Skype conversation. As Shearlean Duke argued in 2000, “As much as I love
e-mail, I prefer the spontaneity of good old-fashioned conversation. As most
journalists know, the good stuff often comes when the formal interview is all but
concluded. That’s when many sources let down their guard and begin speaking more
candidly” (Duke, 2000, p. 38) Using Duke’s advice, it is critical to the integrity of this
study that attempts to speak to the interviewees face-to-face are made clear.
This section of the research looked at conducting interviews with current and
instrumental figures from the world of professional wrestling journalism to gather a
specialised standpoint on the subject. Interviews were sourced via e-mail and in some
cases later conducted via Skype. For others however, e-mail interviews had to be
carried out due to time zone differences – most of the interview candidates are
situated in America – and conflicting schedules. The transcripts for all of the
interviews can be seen in the Appendix.
In any research study involving people, especially ones that are undertaken through
the medium of the Internet, we must take into consideration the ethics of the research
that is being carried out. As John Ensslin wrote for the Quill, journalistic ethics are,
“like a daily meditation and a way of looking at the world” (Ensslin, 2012, p. 3) This
must then be enforced and outlined at the beginning of the research to ensure
prospective contributors know what the information they provide will be used for.
Consent will be required from each contributor, as information will be generated from
new content and not archived conversation.
kLSLAkCn ÇULS1ICNS AND n¥ÞC1nLSLS
“Does the mainstream media have a negative connotation of professional wrestling?”
To properly investigate as to whether professional wrestling can have a legitimate
news outlet, it must be established what the mainstream media’s opinion on
professional wrestling is. Mainstream media have had a chequered history with
wrestling, which is further explored within the literature review of this study. This
question will be asked to not only wrestling fans, but also selected journalists both
inside and outside the world of professional wrestling journalism.
H1: Wrestling fans and journalists will believe that the mainstream media have a
negative connotation of professional wrestling
In the 1950’s the popularity of professional wrestling was so high that local
newspapers used to cover the industry the same way they would do with boxing.
Since the outing of the sport as an entertainment business in 1989 by owner of the
then-known World Wrestling Federation Vince McMahon, it has been a very different
story altogether. The first hypothesis for this study states that wrestling fans and
journalists will believe that the mainstream media have a negative connotation of
professional wrestling and it is expected that references will be made to former
wrestler Chris Benoit – who was involved in a double murder-suicide of his own
family in 2007 – and the steroid scandal of 1994, in which owner of the World
Wrestling Federation Vince McMahon was indicted and accused of distributing
steroids to his employees. He was later acquitted of all charges. Events like these and
more have left a permanent black mark on professional wrestling for most media
organisations, and wrestling fans will echo this statement.
“Should professional wrestling journalism be treated any differently to other sports
A comparison must be made on how professional wrestling is reported upon
compared to how other sports are reported upon and the journalistic ethics that are
upheld within each. A full definition of professional wrestling and how it can be
categorised within sports journalism can be found within the literature review of this
study. This question will have two meanings throughout the investigation. To
wrestling fans, it relates to how they are interacting with and consuming the news
reported. To journalists, it will mean are there any precautions or assumptions they
make when reporting on professional wrestling.
H2: Wrestling fans will believe that professional wrestling journalism shouldn’t be
treated any differently to other sports journalism
Fans of professional wrestling are often fans of other sports and follow them with the
same passion that they do for wrestling. Due to wrestling having a niche audience
when compared to mainstream sports such as football or rugby, it is expected that
wrestling fans would want the news that they read regarding wrestling to follow the
same journalistic practices and ethics. It is believed that wrestling fans would
ultimately ideally want wrestling to have the same coverage in terms of news,
reviews, discussion and interviews that other more prominent sports receive in the
CnAÞ1Lk 3: kLSUL1S AND ANAL¥SIS
This chapter will state and analyse the results of the mixed-method model regarding
whether professional wrestling coverage is a form of journalism. The first section of
this chapter will evaluate the results from the content analysis of the three British
newspapers. The second section will examine the opinions given during the
interviews with the figures from within the world of professional wrestling
journalism. Finally, the results of the online survey will be scrutinised through the
usage of graphs to display the trends that run throughout the results.
Content Ana|ys|s kesu|ts
The results of the content analysis were surprising to say the least. During the
boundaries of the content analysis, the only time professional wrestling featured in
any of the three newspapers was a rudimentary place in the television listings –
interestingly, it was listed under the sports section. Other than this minor footnote,
professional wrestling did not feature at all in the week’s content analysis of three
Interv|ews: Iohn Þo||ock, Aubrey S|tterson, 8||| Apter and Sam Gascoyne
Interviews were conducted with host and producer for professional wrestling radio
show Live Audio Wrestling, John Pollock, former freelance writer for WWE.com and
host of the online wrestling discussion show Straight Shoot, Aubrey Sitterson,
Leicester Mercury sports reporter and lifelong wrestling fan Sam Gascoyne and
American professional wrestling journalist known for his work in what is now
commonly known as the number one professional wrestling magazine in the world,
Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Bill Apter. The questions were structured to gather views
and insights from these figures on wider issues such as professional wrestling’s place
in journalism but also on issues more specific to each individual, such as in the
interview conducted with British sports reporter Sam Gascoyne the British media’s
perception on professional wrestling.
The first question asked was whether or not professional wrestling journalism was a
form of sports journalism. Out of the four representatives asked there was a direct
split when it came to this question. Pollock and Apter both claim that they have never
attempted to report upon professional wrestling under any other circumstances than
they would for any other form of journalism, especially sports. Pollock argues that
wrestling is a “massive industry that competes for significant revenue dollars on an
annual basis” and that it “deserves the exact same coverage any other major
entertainment or sports genre should receive”.
However, both freelance writers Sitterson and Gascoyne argue that no, professional
wrestling journalism is not a form of sports journalism. Sitterson even goes as far to
say that, “wrestling is scripted entertainment, so wrestling journalism (whether it
actually exists or not – something I’m sceptical of) is more akin to something like the
Hollywood Reporter.” Gascoyne echoes this viewpoint of considering wrestling as
entertainment journalism and says, “the fact that there’s a pre-determined outcome in
professional wrestling pretty much removes all credibility, taking away from the
Following up from this question, the interviewees were asked if they thought the
mainstream media had a negative connotation of professional wrestling. As stated in a
hypothesis earlier, it was believed that wrestling journalists would have a resounding
belief that the mainstream media have a negative connotation of professional
wrestling, however, that was not quite the case. Pollock perhaps sums up the
underlying opinion of the four interviewees when he says, “I don’t know if it’s as
black and white as a ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ connotation but I do feel the prevailing
belief is that it is not an industry to devote any serious thought towards. It is much
closer to the circus coming to town rather than a sports or entertainment revenue
Sitterson said that the negative connotation – which if it exists, is changing in his
opinion – stems from wrestling’s origins when it was prominently featured in
carnivals. Sitterson says, “wrestling was never able to shake the fact that people saw
the whole thing as a flashy, vulgar, exploitative big con or sham…but that being said,
the fact that it’s a flashy, vulgar, exploitative con is kind of the best thing about
Finally the four interviewees were asked whether or not they believe professional
wrestling can have a legitimate news outlet. As would be expected, the journalists not
only believe that professional wrestling can have a legitimate news outlet but both
Pollock and Gascoyne believe that they already do. They both concede that there are
issues that journalism within professional wrestling has to contend with, as Pollock
says, “It’s a much tougher industry to cover in the sense that talent is not as accessible
as it may be in other genres and have certain barriers between talent and the media but
you work around that limitation, find your sources and report within the environment
you live in.”
Sitterson contends that whilst professional wrestling could have a legitimate news
outlet, he resoundingly states that there should not be. He concludes, “Larger issues,
like deaths and other tragedies, exploitation, contracts coming up etc. are things that
can and should be covered, but could easily be addressed by broader entertainment
news outlets. A good wrestling news outlet would exhibit the same qualities as
wrestling itself, vulgarity, ostentatiousness and that blurring of fact and fiction, and I
think those things are pretty incompatible with a ‘legitimate’ news outlet.”
The survey should be considered a resounding success as it elicited 1,578 responses
from a wide range of wrestling fans across the globe, who offered well thought-out,
structured opinions that have helped obtain a clearer picture of how legitimate a
professional wrestling news outlet could be. Of the 1,578 participants, only 64 of
those were female and over 1,000 of the responses came from the United States. This
was to be expected however, as the biggest wrestling organisation on the planet, the
World Wrestling Entertainment is situated in North America and has a key
demographic of 18-35 males – 89% of the responses to this survey fall under the 18-
35 category, whilst a staggering 96% of the responses are male (see Figs. 1 & 2)
#M^KH= <Y B^= _@KJABHM=G `@H DBH>MIMDBJ>G @` >?= GKHa=R
Within the interview stage of this study, some of the journalists conceded that the
mainstream media have a negative connotation of professional wrestling, with John
Pollock summing it up by saying, “I feel many people feel it is a ‘dirty’ form of
entertainment and tends to lean on the ridiculous nature.” Despite this prevailing
belief from the mainstream media to view wrestling fans as illiterate hicks blindly
mesmerised by “shock appeal” (Maguire, 2005, p. 158), the results of the survey show
that the highest percentage of participants – 34% – have completed a Bachelor’s
degree. A further 10% of responders have also gone on to obtain Masters,
Professional and/or Doctorate degrees (see Fig. 3) In addition to this, 33% of the
responses are students still in education, so it’s very possible that this figure could be
higher when they complete their respective courses. This shows that a high margin of
professional wrestling fans are educated and are obviously very aware of the fact that
the sport is predetermined, yet still continue to consume professional wrestling shows
Despite this seemingly educated make-up of wrestling fans that predominantly
responded to this survey, it’s important to note that when asked which newspapers
they would buy or read on a regular basis, 40% of participants stated that they do not
#M^KH= NY ^=JA=H H=GKE>G `@H DBH>MIMDBJ>G @` >?= GKHa=R
buy or read any newspapers on a regular basis. Another interesting observation to
note is that the Guardian was the second most popular newspaper, not just amongst
British and Irish participants where the Guardian distributes its newspaper, but also
with responses from the United States, Chile and even Kenya. 7% of participants
claim to read the newspaper on a regular basis, which speaks volumes of the online
appeal of the Guardian worldwide.
#M^KH= SY =AKIB>M@J H=GKE>G `@H DBH>MIMDBJ>G @` >?= GKHa=R
That is not to say that all of the responses were applicable for the study. Results were
filtered through and one or two omissions had to be made for participants not
truthfully answering the survey. In one case for example, a participant’s open answers
both consisted of the entire movie script for the film “Bee Movie”. Needless to say,
this response was omitted from the final results for analysing.
The makeup of wrestling fans was then further subcategorized into three subdivisions
by asking the participants how they would define themselves. The three options were
casual wrestling fan (someone who watches wrestling at least once a month),
dedicated wrestling fan (someone who watches wrestling up to three times a week)
and diehard wrestling fan (someone who watches wrestling three or more times a
week). Of this, over half of the participants – 53% – described themselves as a
dedicated wrestling fan, whilst only 13% of participants defined themselves as a
casual wrestling fan. The participants of the survey are clearly passionate wrestling
fans so it came as no surprise to find out that an incredible 97% of participants
continue their fandom into reading and consuming news on professional wrestling.
What came next was however, surprising. Despite 1,524 participants claiming to read
news on professional wrestling, only 57 of these currently own a paid subscription to
a premium news outlet for professional wrestling, such as the aforementioned
Wrestling Observer (see Fig. 4). On top of this, an overwhelming 78% of participants
stated that they never have and never will own a paid subscription to a premium news
website. This is quite shocking as there is obviously the audience for educated
wrestling fans seeking intelligent, well-written wrestling news, yet so few seem ready
to pay for such a service.
#M^KH= 4Y bH=G>EMJ^ J=bG H=BAMJ^ `M^KH=G `@H DBH>MIMDBJ>G @` >?= GKHa=R
It was then established that over half of the participants choose to read their news on
professional wrestling from wrestling forums, and it safe to assume they would also
be a member of these sites (see Fig. 5). Perhaps it is the community aspect or the
immediate discussion that can follow a news piece that attracts so many wrestling
fans to these sites ahead of the premium services. One source frequently mentioned in
the ‘Other’ choice was the wrestling ‘subreddit’ of Reddit.com, called
‘SquaredCircle’ or ‘Wreddit’. This is not to be surprising news however as the survey
was prominently advertised on the website, however it is frequently deemed by
moderators to be a wrestling forum at heart. But how reliable are these sources?
#M^KH= FY bH=G>EMJ^ J=bG H=BAMJ^ ?B_M>G `@H DBH>MIMDBJ>G @` >?= GKHa=R
It was recorded that despite almost all of the participants in the survey claiming not to
own a paid subscription to the Wrestling Observer, well over half of the participants
believed that the Wrestling Observer was either the most reputable or a very reputable
source of wrestling news (see Fig. 6). Obviously wrestling fans are drawn to the
longevity and reliability of the Wrestling Observer, but yet, only a few of them seem
to want to be willing to pay for its service.
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H=DK>B_E= BJA F _=MJ^ a=HR H=DK>B_E=
The most popular form of reading and consuming of wrestling news however was
considered not as reputable by participants of the survey. Despite over half of
participants admitting to reading their wrestling news on wrestling forums, the
majority of responses believe that wrestling forums are only a somewhat reputable
source of news (see Fig. 7).
#M^KH= 7Y DBH>MIMDBJ>Gc @DMJM@J @J J=bG `H@C bH=G>EMJ^ `@HKCG @J B GIBE= @` <1FY bM>? < _=MJ^ J@>
H=DK>B_E= BJA F _=MJ^ a=HR H=DK>B_E=
The most interesting result to come out of the survey however was when participants
were asked whether or not they believed professional wrestling journalism should be
treated any differently to other sports journalism. It was even stated as a hypothesis
for this study that the vast majority of wrestling fans would believe that professional
wrestling journalism should not be treated any differently to other sports journalism.
The results however, were quite different.
The results came back as almost a dead even split, with participants completely torn
50:50 as to whether professional wrestling journalism should be treated any
differently to other sports journalism (see Fig. 8). The other hypothesis held true as
participants resoundingly believed that the mainstream media do indeed have a
negative connotation of professional wrestling with 92% of participants believing this
(see Fig. 9). The answers participants gave for their reasoning behind their choices
will be further analysed within the next chapter.
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CnAÞ1Lk 4: DISCUSSICN
Following the completion of the survey, the participants’ answers given to both open-
ended questions regarding professional wrestling journalism in relation to other sports
journalism and the mainstream media’s alleged negative connotation on professional
wrestling were analysed to see if any recurring themes became apparent.
Out of 1,578 survey participants asked, “Do you believe the mainstream media has a
negative connotation of professional wrestling?” a staggering 1,447 responded that
they believed the mainstream media did have a negative connotation of professional
wrestling. Participants were then asked to give a short opinion as to why they thought
this was, and here are the findings from their answers.
As outlined in the hypothesis section, it was expected that references to former
wrestler Chris Benoit would appear in participants’ answers, and whilst this was the
case, it was not as many as originally assumed. Out of 1,447 responses, 117 answers
made direct references to the name “Benoit”, which roughly works out to 8% of
answers given. An example answer is included below:
“I think that while the stereotype is declining there is still the assumption in
wider media that wrestling fans are of a lower intelligence, "rednecks" or kids
who believe everything that happens is completely real. That coupled with the
more controversial angles that do reach the wider media, incidents like Chris
Benoit's death and accusations of steroid usage often present wrestling in a
negative light in the wider media rather than displaying the great work with
companies like Make-A-Wish and Susan G Komen that has taken place in
recent years” (Male, 18-24 years old, United Kingdom, Dedicated wrestling
The above answer highlights the charity work that World Wrestling Entertainment has
undergone in recent years but still admits that the dark past of professional wrestling
leaves a black mark on the sport for most media outlets. Some answers went for a
more blunt approach, with one response simply saying, “Two words. Chris Benoit.”
Another possible reason for the negative connotation from mainstream media outlets
is offered in the above answer, with the suggestion of steroid usage. Analysing the
results it was discovered that the word steroid was mentioned in 120 out of 1,447
responses to the question, only three more times than mentions of the term “Benoit”.
Whilst steroids are seemingly non-existent in today’s corporate world of wrestling
that boasts regular drug testing and a proven Wellness Policy, there’s no denying that
they were a huge part of the locker room culture in the 1980s, something which the-
then World Wrestling Federation was eventually indicted for. One response states,
referring to former wrestler Kevin Nash:
“As Kevin Nash once said in an interview, a positive news note of wrestling
"is not sexy", compared to reports of steroids use and aggression. In recent
years, the deaths of Chris Benoit (murder-suicide) and Eddie Guerrero (heart
illness related to previous drug use), two beloved wrestlers by fans have been
used by media outlets to present wrestling in a negative light. This could be
due to its carny, "redneck" tradition from many years past without been treated
similar to others forms of entertainment. A casual viewer will not pay
attention to wrestling unless it's a "sexy" story, one that involves violence or
drug use. Meanwhile, in the music and film industry is much less uncommon
to find news stories like this, but due to its "gold coating" and "high class"
status of entertainment, it will never be seen as a savage, rustic or
"bloodthirsty" form of entertainment” (Male, 18-24 years old, United States,
Dedicated wrestling fan).
Whilst participants have cited Chris Benoit and steroids within their answers, it still
doesn’t seem to be the dominant opinion within the answers given. So another search
was conducted for the word “fake”, and the results were apparent. Out of 1,447
answers, 512 of them mentioned the word “fake”, revealing that the true reason why
wrestling fans believe that the mainstream media has a negative connotation of
professional wrestling is because most media sources can not get past the fact that the
outcomes are predetermined. One participants sums it up, saying:
“I don't think it's negative, but they don't grasp the crux of wrestling these
days. For anyone not familiar with WWE (ie. follows it/has followed it), they
see it as fake and can't understand why anyone would watch a fake sport. They
fail to see how a storyline is built, how hard these guys work, and how it's not
about winning or losing for these guys, but about entertaining. I just think
mainstream media looks at wrestling through a different lens to wrestling fans,
and I don't think it's their fault entirely. I think it's a lack of understanding
rather than actively being negative towards the product” (Male, 18-24 years
old, Australia, Casual wrestling fan).
The question that provided the biggest split in terms of opinions was by far, “Do you
believe professional wrestling journalism should be treated any differently to other
sports journalism?” Out of 1,578 survey participants asked, 786 answered yes, and
792 answered no. But why was there such a division between opinions? This question
is harder to analyse because there are a wide range of variables to express opinions
upon. One response stating professional wrestling journalism should be treated
differently to other sports journalism said:
“It is scripted and therefore can not be covered in the same way. When one
looks at sports journalism, you want to see statistics to gain an insight into
what may unfold. Looking at statistics in wrestling to gain a clearer picture of
what is happening is entirely pointless. It needs to be covered in the same way
the rest of show business is” (Male, 25-34 years old, United States, Diehard
Once again the opinion from survey participants who claim professional wrestling
does not receive the recognition it deserves because it is scripted continues here. The
above answer states that conventional aspects of sports journalism such as statistics
cannot really be applied to professional wrestling because the results are
predetermined. The following response disputes this however, arguing professional
wrestling should be treated the same as other sports journalism, saying:
“Because the content shouldn't influence the form. Movie reviews (i.e. the
form) are very much taken seriously by their authors as well as their audience,
even though the content (i.e. the story of the movie) isn't an event happening
in reality. The fact that the reporting is serious means that it takes into account
what it is that it is reporting on, and thus bringing in good insights to the
debate which may or may not talk about the behind the scenes, and the part of
the event that is anchored in reality (such as in this case, cast and crew
relationship, on set stories etc.)” (Female, 25-34 years old, United States,
Casual wrestling fan).
This answer offers a valid comparison to liken professional wrestling reporting to
movie reporting, and the argument bears true that good journalism should still hold
the ethics and values of any other, regardless of the subject. Another aspect called into
question for participants who believe professional wrestling journalism should be
treated differently is professional wrestling from a business perspective. One answer
arguing that professional wrestling should be treated differently to other sports
“Given the secretive nature of the business, I just can't see any "reliable"
sources coming forward; journalism, as I understand it, is meant to report
news after it happens. Dirtsheets like the Observer and Torch are still just
presenting speculation. It’s like more and less informed Op-Ed sections”
(Male, 25-34 years old, United States, Dedicated wrestling fan).
This is the same opinion that wrestling journalist John Pollock brought up in his
interview when he stated that because World Wrestling Entertainment is the only
major wrestling corporation in North America, it can be difficult to get sources within
the company to discuss behind-the-scenes information. This opinion is echoed by a
participant on the opposing side of the fence who argues that professional wrestling
should not be treated any differently to other sports journalism, who said:
“Mainly, the talent need to be treated more like professional athletes. They can
offer great insight to the business but it's up to journalists to establish
professional, trusting relationships with the wrestlers to get inside info. Also,
treating wrestling more like professional sports offers more legitimacy
towards your news organization because it's a recognizable style that casual
readers will recognize” (Male, 25-34 years old, United States, Dedicated
Analysing the question of “Should professional wrestling journalism be treated any
differently to other sports journalism?” is difficult because there is such an even split
of opinions, between the progressive thinking participants who feel that it would be
good for news organisations to cover wrestling in order to expand their product and
the perhaps cynical thinking participants who are perhaps accustomed to professional
wrestling not getting a look in from the mainstream media. It appears that much like
the journalists interviewed before them, the wrestling fans are divided yet
opinionated. What can be taken away from this most importantly was the intellect and
knowledge provided within the answers given by a wide variety of people from every
walk of life.
CnAÞ1Lk S: CCNCLUSICN
This chapter will examine the research findings discovered throughout the study and
seek to respond to the question set out at the beginning of the dissertation. In an
attempt to provide an accurate investigation to the current opinion of the mainstream
media on professional wrestling, a content analysis of three British newspapers was
carried out across a week-long period. The results were poor, as professional
wrestling was only mentioned once in passing within the television listings section.
One major limitation that resulted from the content analysis was that the day after the
analysis finished, January 27
, 2014 a very different outcome appeared. Controversy
stemmed from the ‘Royal Rumble’ event when fan-favourite wrestler Daniel Bryan
was contentiously excluded from the main event, causing a revolt from wrestling fans
and even the live audience at the show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This was a very
real-life choice made by the decision-makers behind the scenes at WWE that was
criticised by former wrestler Mick Foley on Twitter, who asked, “Does @WWE
actually hate their own audience? I’ve never been so disgusted with a PPV” (Foley,
2014, Tweet) As a result, articles on the story were featured on BBC’s News website
and even on the Independent. The article went on to become the second most-read
story of the day on the BBC News website. (see Fig. 10)
The fact that the event was not promoted in any fashion whatsoever by the
mainstream British media, but stories on the fallout of viewers’ dismay were so
prominently featured could be indicative of a shift in perception. What’s particularly
important to note is that the ‘Royal Rumble’ fell on the same day as the 56
Awards, and coverage of these awards are usually extensive. For an article regarding
professional wrestling to feature – let alone be so widely read – it’s unfortunate this
could not be covered in the content analysis stage of the study.
The survey conducted with professional wrestling fans offered an immediate reaction
and can be considered a resounding success. Opinions given were intelligent and
well-worded and offered an intriguing analysis that helped massively with the study.
Interviews with current wrestling and sports journalists also served to give a
professional opinion on the matter which was also crucial to the investigation.
This study set out to answer the question on professional wrestling; can a ‘fake’ sport
have a ‘real’ news outlet? After taking into account all of the research conducted for
the study, it can be concluded that yes, professional wrestling coverage can be
considered a form of journalism, however it does not quite have the news outlet it
seeks yet. Whilst professional wrestling does have an abundance of news outlets to
choose from, and specifically the Wrestling Observer has taken great strides in
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providing fans with reliable news with journalistic integrity, the survey proved that
this is a service that a high majority of fans are not willing to pay for.
What can also be deducted from this study is that there is clearly the market for a
legitimate professional wrestling news source, as a high number of existing educated
wrestling fans that a news source could cater to. The only thing currently missing to
allow a news source such as this to occur is that professional wrestling needs to
become culturally relevant to the mainstream media once again, in the way that it was
in the mid-80s and late-90s. If professional wrestling can create another ‘boom
period’, there’s no reason to believe that news outlets could not take the reformist
decision to report on the sports-entertainment company, no matter how extensively.
One survey participant summed it up succinctly when she said:
“It is a multi-faceted, multi-billion dollar business (not just WWE, but
professional wrestling as a whole) with a history that has as much intrigue in
the board room as what is shown in the ring. Professional wrestling journalism
focuses very heavily on that aspect, just as professional football journalism
focuses on the office machinations and player transactions that culminate on
who and what we see happening on the pitch.
Professional wrestling journalism should not be treated any differently
because, in keeping with the definition of the word "journalism," is proffers
descriptions of facts and events. And just because an event has been pre-
determined, doesn't mean it isn't worth being reported” (Female, 25-34 years
old, United States, Dedicated wrestling fan)
There seems to be a growing acceptance within the mainstream media of professional
wrestling and in recent years following the Benoit incident, World Wrestling
Entertainment in particular has taken great strides into restoring its image through the
usage of PG programming and charity work. If this can continue, this study concludes
that a ‘real’ professional wrestling news outlet can emerge. Professional wrestling
coverage already adheres to the standards of ‘good’ journalism and because of that
this study determines that professional wrestling coverage is unquestionably a form of
Word Count: 9,914
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How long have you been covering professional wrestling?
I began with Live Audio Wrestling in September of 2003 after doing some website
work for them in the past. I've been making a living at this since 2005 so anywhere in
the neighborhood of 8-10 years.
Do you believe the mainstream media has a negative connotation of
professional wrestling? If so, why do you think this is?
I don't know if it's as black and white as a "negative" or "positive" connotation but I
do feel the prevailing belief is that it isn't an industry to devote any serious thought
towards. It's much closer to the circus coming to town rather than a sports or
entertainment revenue giant. It also comes down to what sections of the country you
are speaking towards. I find a lot of historical hot markets (New York, Houston, St.
Louis, Portland, Toronto, Montreal) are going to treat professional wrestling with a
more serious tone because of their roots in those respective cities and thriving
territories at one time or another.
In terms of why certain media will scoff at pro wrestling - a lot of it comes down to
how the industry (and in 2014, the industry is largely the WWE in the U.S. and
Canada) presents itself to the world that covers it. I think most understand that it has a
loyal audience, the WWE generates a lot of money and is a well-run company but I
feel many people feel it is a "dirty" form of entertainment and tends to lean on the
ridiculous nature. I understand why some look at the business as a whole and cannot
understand its appeal but those are also the same people that are not following the
business to any degree that I would take their analysis or opinion as anything
substantial or indicative of why something works or doesn't work in wrestling
Do you believe professional wrestling fans feel journalistic integrity is
important when it comes to reading wrestling news?
100%. I have never looked at covering wrestling as any different than if I were
covering politics, sports or other. This is a massive industry that competes for
significant revenue dollars on an annual basis and deserves the exact same coverage
any other major entertainment or sports genre should receive.
Do you believe professional wrestling journalism should be treated any
differently to other sports journalism?
I think if you're coming from a traditional sports background it's a very complex
industry to understand and having a "sports" mindset will hurt you at times when you
are trying to understand what this business is and more importantly, what this
business isn't. I feel the same can be said for MMA where I see lots of reporters that
cover traditional sports and that's how they cover MMA, which is missing a massive
part of what draws in MMA. In football and baseball we aren't concerned about
players that draw television numbers of putting attractions on pay-per-view, because
those sports are supported by TV rights fees and advertising that PPV is not part of
their world. I have always found that my understanding of pro wrestling has been a
giant primer for MMA rather than a negative on my resume. If you are covering pro
wrestling I think studying the history of the industry and having a business acumen
will get your further.
Can professional wrestling have a legitimate news outlet?
It can and it does. There are some extremely talented reporters that cover professional
wrestling and there is a huge audience for "real news" when it comes to this industry.
It is no different than what Billboard does for music and Variety does for the
television and movie industry, pro wrestling fits into that genre with relative ease. It's
a much tougher industry to cover in the sense that talent is not as accessible as it may
be in other genres and have certain barriers between talent and the media but you
work around that limitations, find your sources and report within the environment you
live in. It is my hope that pro wrestling journalism continues to grow and hopefully to
be a part of that.
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What role do you perceive yourself playing to wrestling fans?
I'm not in the position to break any news, so for me, the most important thing to do is
create compelling content. The way I try to do that is by recording smart, fun, topical
conversations between knowledgeable wrestling fans. So, my role is largely that of a
wrestling talk curator.
How do you obtain your professional wrestling news? Do you carry a paid
subscription to any premium news websites?
Normally, I don't really much like looking at professional wrestling news, unless
there's something specific I hear rumblings about. A big part of that is because
wrestling news is either worked (scripted) material you find on places like WWE.com,
or no better that rumours that you see on any of the various dirt sheets.
Thing is, a lot of people do like hearing and discussing wrestling rumours, so as a way
of catering to that, I do "Rumour Mill" segments, where we discuss various rumours
swirling around along with their plausibility. I try and take a reasonable "well, it could
be true" approach, which is far different from a lot of outlets that take pretty much
everything as gospel truth.
Are there any assumptions you make about your viewers/listeners before
recording a show?
I know that a lot of my viewers are either more casual fans, or more centred on the
WWE video games, as that was my most recent full-time gig. Because of that, I try
not to get too deep into my college-boy ramblings about how best to appreciate
wrestling and the role it serves in the entertainment world, but at the same time, one
of my goals is helping to elevate that quality of discussion surrounding wrestling, so I
try not to talk down to anyone. I generally like to assume that the viewers are people
like me, which may or may not be true.
Do you believe professional wrestling journalism is a form of sports journalism?
Nope, not in the slightest. I think that there are some similarities of course, but the
same similarities exist between Sports Center and Access Hollywood. At the end of
the day, wrestling is scripted entertainment, so wrestling journalism (whether it
actually exists or not - something I'm skeptical of), is more akin to something like
Deadline or Hollywood Reporter.
Do you believe mainstream media and audiences have a negative connotation of
professional wrestling? If so, why do you think this is?
Sure, though I think that's changing as people find out just how many people are
wrestling marks - similar to how public perception of NASCAR has been changing
over the past few years. It's a tough question because truthfully, the easiest answer is
that people have always looked down on it, though that's not really satisfying.
I think a big part of it has to do with wrestling's origins, which is in the carnival and
traveling fair circuit. While boxing came from much the same place, that form of
entertainment zigged when wrestling zagged, and as a result, became a "legitimate"
sport, albeit one with flagging interest. Wrestling was never able to shake the fact that
people saw the whole thing as flashy, vulgar, exploitative big con or sham, and as a
result, people look down their noses at it. But that being said, the fact that it's a flashy,
vulgar, exploitative con is kind of the best thing about wrestling.
Can professional wrestling have a legitimate news outlet?
I guess it could, but it'd be exceedingly difficult. That's because unlike Mad Men,
where we all admit and openly accept that the whole thing is fake, a big part of
wrestling fandom that's been around for decades and is still exceedingly prevalent, is
allowing the lines between fact and fiction to get blurred. Wrestling's at it's best when
you can't really tell which parts are real, which extends out naturally to trying to work
or fool the outlets covering wrestling. (See: Bogus Internet "news" reports of how
much McMahon hates Daniel Bryan)
Whether there should be a legitimate wrestling news outlet is a different question,
however, and I'd have to give a resounding "NO." Larger issues, like deaths and other
tragedies, exploitation, contracts coming up, etc. are things that can and should be
covered, but could easily be addressed by broader entertainment news outlets. A good
wrestling news outlet would exhibit the same qualities as wrestling itself, vulgarity,
ostentatiousness and that blurring of fact and fiction, and I think those things are
pretty incompatible with a "legitimate" news outlet.
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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in journalism to date.
I'm a young British freelance sports journalist currently working for large regional
daily the Leicester Mercury as a Sports Reporter, freelance match reporter for agency
Sportsbeat covering football matches for national newspapers and former Press
Officer of reputable lower league football club. I'm an absolutely huge wrestling fan,
and have been since an early age.
Are there any assumptions you make about your target audience when
It depends who I am writing for, when I was editor of the match day program at a
football club I used to work for I would be very bias and I'd assume that the reader
only wanted to hear positive things about the club, I'd never write anything negative
in my match reports unless it was glaringly obvious and I would certainly not slate the
team for a defeat, that would be left for the local newspapers to do. So to summarise,
I would assume that my audience paid for the match day magazine to be entertained
and be informed, they're looking to read something with a certain angle.
At the Leicester Mercury It's different as I'm writing about a number of different
sports that are read by a massive variety of people, If I'm writing a match report for
Leicester City I have scope to write negatively about the football club. Although you
have to really walk on eggshells, as you have to assume that not everyone will share
the same opinion you did, and because of that you cannot be too dismissive of the
team, or overly positive if the performance was poor. Although all in all you can't
really afford to make assumptions when writing for a specific audience so you stick to
a set routine of writing as honestly as you can without winding up the wrong people,
especially as you have to remember the manager, players and officials of the teams
you write about read the reports as well.
With freelance match reports it's a lot easier, you're not tied down to any team so you
can be as brutal as you like, you assume that the winning teams supporters are the
more than likely ones to read the report so you favour them.
Have you ever had the chance to report on professional wrestling?
No, there's two or three or so magazines devoted to wrestling that are based in the
United Kingdom, with the market for professional wrestling journalism being so
niche and small there's pretty much no openings whatsoever to get involved, as quite
simply these publications cannot afford to hire more journalists, and even if they did
they'd be writing more content at a higher cost which isn't viable as there's not enough
people that read their publications.
Do you believe professional wrestling journalism is a form of sports journalism?
Personally I'd like to believe it, but in all honesty, in the national press, no. Not at
all. The fact that there's a pre-determined outcome in professional wrestling pretty
much removes all credibility, taking away from the 'sporting' aspect. The
Sun however, albeit very rarely do report on wrestling, but it's only if it's
Wrestlemania or if it involves the Rock, as he’s a universally recognised name.
I think if I had to put pro wrestling into a category it'd have to be entertainment/TV
journalism, which isn't ideal but as the WWE keeps pushing, they're a sports
entertainment brand, not a wrestling brand.
What opinion do you feel the British media has of professional wrestling?
It depends what age group you look at; I have a lot of friends within media, who like
me are in their early twenties who absolutely adore pro wrestling and the WWE,
although this is because we all grew up with it. If you ask an older journalist they'd
laugh it off. I don't think the British media has an opinion because they don't make
that much of a big deal about it. It's all down to personal preferences. If you look at
big online media outlets like Vice UK, they absolutely tore into professional wrestling
with an article earlier this week, mocking the WWE and it's fans. It's a tough one to
Will professional wrestling ever be culturally relevant in Britain?
Professional wrestling was arguably the most culturally relevant sporting event in the
United Kingdom from around 1920-1970, thousands of people would watch it and all
of the nationals would report on the events that happened daily. The only way
wrestling would become relevant in Britain again is if either the WWE held major
PPV events here, or the British independent scene absolutely boomed and gained a
TV deal and saw large crowds in the thousands.
Can professional wrestling have a legitimate news outlet (British or otherwise)?
Yes, it already does. Look at Fighting Sprit magazine as an example; there are a
handful of others out there too. But wrestling just isn't as grand over here as it is in
America, given the right amount of investment by the WWE/British independents it
could one day have legit news outlets that are taken seriously by people who aren’t
hardcore wrestling fans like you and me.
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ICk nIS Lk1LNSIVL WCkk IN ÞkC WkLS1LING ILLUS1kA1LD
How long have you been covering professional wrestling?
Is professional wrestling journalism, in your opinion, a form of sports
Yes. When I worked full-time for the publishers of the various magazines we covered
it with a sports style mentality.
In the 1980’s, you operated your publications under the impression that
professional wrestling was not scripted, why did you make this decision?
We presented it in the same manner that the business portrayed it and that was more
of a sport feel than entertainment.
Do you believe the mainstream media has a negative connotation of professional
wrestling? If so, why do you think this is?
They did -- but not necessarily now.
Do you believe professional wrestling fans feel journalistic integrity is important
when it comes to reading wrestling news?
Yes as that is the feedback I get from my current work at 1Wrestling.com
When writing professional wrestling articles, are there any assumptions you are
making about your readers?
Just that they expect a certain level of expertise from me and I try to fit that role each
time I write or broadcast something.
Can professional wrestling have a legitimate news outlet?
The WWE Network will hopefully fill that department well!
You are being invited to take part in a research study regarding journalism within
professional wrestling. Before making the decision whether to participate, it is
important that you understand the purpose of the study; what is being investigated,
how and why, before you consent. Please take the time to read the following
information carefully, and also feel free to ask if you would like more information or
if there is anything you do not understand. You are not required to participate and
your involvement is strictly voluntary.
What is the purpose of this study?
The purpose of this study is to
determine whether professional
wrestling journalism can be considered
a legitimate form of journalism.
Why have I been approached?
The study requires a large number of
participants who consume and interact
with professional wrestling news. You
have been asked to participate because,
presumably, you are an active
consumer of professional wrestling
Do I have to take part?
No. Participation is entirely voluntary.
It is important that you are aware that
should you start and (at any point)
wish to withdraw your involvement,
you may do so without having to give
any explanation and without detriment
What will happen if I take part?
If you agree to take part in the study,
you firstly sign a consent form
agreeing that you have read this
information. You will then be given a
questionnaire by the student
researcher. You will be asked to
complete the questionnaire as honestly
as you can. This study will take no
longer than 10 minutes to complete on
Will my taking part in this study be
Yes. The raw information provided by
yourself will only be seen by the
student researcher, supervisor and the
examination board of the University of
Chester. Data will be stored securely
and will not be available for other
students to use within their studies.
Who is organising the research?
The research is organised by Ryan
Carse, who is a final year
undergraduate student at the University
of Chester, studying Journalism.
Who can I contact if I have further
If there is anything you would like to
discuss in relation to this study, please
feel free to do so.
1. I confirm that I have read and have understood the information. I have had the
opportunity to consider the information, ask questions and have had these answered
2. I understand that my participation is voluntary and that I am free to withdraw at
any time without giving any reason, without my rights being affected.
3. I understand that, under the Data Protection Act, I can at any time ask for access
to the information I provide and I can also request the destruction of that information
if I wish.
4. I agree to take part in the above study.
Please confirm you have read and understood the terms of the study.
(blank tick box to indicate terms of the study have been read and understood)
Please enter your email address.
This is completely optional and you are under no obligation to include your email
address, it's merely to verify that the responses are unique.
How old are you?
- Under 12 years old
- 12-17 years old
- 18-24 years old
- 25-34 years old
- 35-44 years old
- 45-54 years old
- 55-64 years old
- 65-74 years old
- 75 years or older
Are you male or female?
In what country do you currently reside?
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Other (please state)
What is the highest degree or level of school you have completed?
If currently enrolled, please choose the highest degree you have completed.
- No schooling completed
- Primary school
- Some high school, no diploma
- High school graduate, diploma
or the equivalent
- Some college credit, no degree
- Associate degree
- Bachelor’s degree
- Master’s degree
- Professional degree
- Doctorate degree
- Other (please state)
Which of the following best describes your current occupation?
- Employed for wages - Self-employed
- Out of work and looking for
- Out of work but not currently
looking for work
- A homemaker
- A student
- Unable to work
Which newspapers would you buy/read on a regular basis?
Please select all that apply.
- The Daily Telegraph
- The Sunday Telegraph
- Financial Times
- The Sunday Times
- The Guardian
- The Observer
- The Independent
- The Times
- Independent on Sunday
- The i
- Daily Mail
- Daily Express
- Sunday Express
- The Mail on Sunday
- The Sun
- The Sun on Sunday
- Daily Mirror
- Sunday Mirror
- Daily Star
- Daily Star Sunday
- The Morning Star
- The People
- The Wall Street Journal
- The New York Times
- USA Today
- Los Angeles Times
- Daily News
- New York Post
- The Washington Post
- I do not buy/read any
newspapers on a regular basis
- Other (please state)
Are you a fan of professional wrestling?
- I used to be
How would you describe yourself?
- Casual wrestling fan (watch wrestling at least once a month)
- Dedicated wrestling fan (watch wrestling up to three times a week)
- Diehard wrestling fan (watch wrestling three or more times a week)
Do you read news on professional wrestling?
Do you currently have a paid subscription to a premium news outlet for
professional wrestling (i.e. the Wrestling Observer)?
Would you, or have you ever, owned a paid subscription to a premium news
outlet for professional wrestling (i.e. the Wrestling Observer)?
How do you mainly receive your news on professional wrestling?
Please choose one.
- Paid subscription to Wrestling Observer
- “Copy and paste” sites
- Social media sites (Facebook, Twitter etc.)
- Wrestling forums
- I do not read news on professional wrestling
- Other (please state)
On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rank the legitimacy of each of the following
With 1 being not reputable and 5 being very reputable.
- Wrestling Observer
- “Copy and paste” sites
- Social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- Wrestling forums
Do you believe professional wrestling journalism should be treated any
differently to other sports journalism?
Please state why you believe professional wrestling journalism should be treated
differently to other sports journalism.
Please state why you believe professional wrestling journalism should not be
treated differently to other sports journalism.
(Depending on the answer given in the prior question, users will be directed to the
Do you believe the mainstream media has a negative connotation of professional
Please state why you believe the mainstream media has a negative connotation of
(Users who answered ‘no’ in the previous question will be taken to the end of the
The spreadsheet file containing the results to the survey from 1,578 responders can be
seen at this link:
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