Tomorrow is Election Day in Minnesota. Would you expect a political reporter in the Twin Cities to predict a winner in either of the big-city mayoral races? Obviously, not (even though most newsies do have predictions).
So why is it OK for newspaper sportswriters to predict the outcome of games? If you follow football, for example, you've no doubt seen the Friday comparisons of two teams ending with a prediction of who will win.
Those days are over in Denver, apparently, where the Denver Post has banned the practice.
"We did not get a single complaint from outside," (Editor Greg) Moore continues, "but I did look at the predictions before the San Diego game. Obviously, I had seen these for years. And it occurred to me that it must be making it hard for news reporters, especially when they pick against the team they cover. In an equal vein, these beat reporters don't want to seem like homers, always picking the Broncos. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed an unreasonable position to put these reporters in."
Moore says it's a matter of ethics.
I think the biggest difference is that sports predictions have almost zero impact on the actual outcome, while a political prediction --especially by a respected journalist-- could very well sway the votes of undecideds.
Although I think it should be more of a personal choice, I can buy Moore's assertion that a specific team beat reporter's integrity can be damaged by publishing predictions. However, for the more general reporter (covering all aspects of a sport/league) who is at least supposed to be unbiased toward specific teams, I would argue that predictions are appropriate. In fact, because predictions are a simple, easily interpreted analysis, they can provide a level of transparency over long periods of time that you just can't get with a simple column.
It seems to me that sports columnists and maybe even non-sports columnists who maybe were sports reporters at one time in their careers or who are known to be knowledgeable on the topic made predictions that would satisfy the public's desire for prognostication and keep the beat reporters out of it. In fact you could get some one who is known to have sentiments for another team to participate so the readers know that not everyone is a "homer".
I like a sports reporter to comment on a teams success, past and future. A reporter that suggests the Timberwolves are in for a long season, or the Wild are struggling with a new coach and system demonstrates a familiarity with the topic they are covering. Judging odds of succes for an upcoming contest is entirely appropriate.
Coverage of the presidential campaign and election was similar. Most pundits acknowledged that a few key states would decide the election. If you didn't know Ohio was critical, you weren't paying attention. Polls were released all the time indicating where the candidates stood. I don't see much difference between that and sports coverage.