January 22, 2010

A Hostile Look at the Lost Art of Sports Journalism

The Daily Redskin 1.22.10

I admit it. I'm friends with a Cowboys fan.

At least I think I can call him friend--we have "spoken" via the web on and off over the years in our mutual roles as message board administrators, but more so, as lifelong fans of rival professional football teams.

He goes by Hostile in his online incarnation, but don't let the nom-de-guerre and occasionally brusque posting voice fool you. The man is intellectually curious, engaged, objective (when absolutely necessary, like any self-respecting partisan), a true blue fan of his favorite team and connoisseur of the game of football.

He also happens to write pretty damn well, something I tend to appreciate more than the average bear ... and which happens in this case to be serendipitous as well.

I happened to drop by Hostile's home site message board this morning looking for a nugget or two on Cowboys fan's feelings on/reactions to the two-year contract extension just given Head Coach Wade Phillips, and instead ran across the post copied below.

[site requires registration so post is offered in full here. Hos, hope you don't mind, my friend.]

You don't have to be a Dallas fan, Redskins fan, or even fan of the game for that matter, to appreciate the piece. It's about a frustration I know many of you share; a frustration with much of the state of the mainstream media that covers our world in general, and in this case, the game to which so many of us devote so much of our time, energy and interest.

For the record, as Redskins fans we're actually pretty lucky. For all our complaining there are some damn fine writers--professionals--covering our team. I won't name names, because opening that door is not what this is about.

This is about a nod to the notion that the inexorable dumbing down of so much of the mainstream media over the years has gone neither unnoticed nor unlamented. 

Forget the venue, forget the allegiances ... I hope you'll take a couple of minutes out of your day to hear Hos out.

The Lost Art of Sports Journalism

I will never understand some people.

I assume you would get into journalism because you love to write. So then why become a hack instead of a writer? A hack is literally someone who writes low quality pieces that are rushed to print. (Incidentally, and I don't mean this to be flippant, but that is why Ed Werder isn't a hack. He is a talking face, not a writer. What he delivers to us is spoken versions of what hacks do give us.)

Why put effort into learning a discipline and then abandon it? Today, the sports journalists want sound bites and angles. Anything that will cause a buzz, because a buzz means traffic. Good or bad traffic sells.

Here's a simple comparison. How much attention did Tony Romo's story about changing a tire for an old couple after the Cleveland game last year get in comparison to Cabo? They are still talking about Cabo. Media even asked Minnesota if any of their guys went to Cabo. Why? Because they had a bye and were playing us. That passes for research now. Sad.

I think part of it is that people no longer love to read. They just want an information spew and it doesn't matter what the quality is. They will fill in their own thoughts later and cognitive thought or research on the part of the writer is a waste of time. More the pity.

I have to come to this second conclusion because I often see someone write a well thought out post using good details and almost immediately I see this response.


"Too long, didn't read."

It's the fate of a generation scared to learn anything for fear it might actually inspire them to learn more.

A while back I posted a thread about Blackie Sherrod. Blackie had style and it drew you in. I want to re-introduce one of the quotes I posted by him.

"In a perfect world, a fair world, Bob Hayes should be forced to carry a small calf on his shoulders when he runs the dashes...Mark Spitz should swim with a sea anchor...Ella Fitzgerald should sing every note with a mouth full of Tootsie Rolls."

Even if you don't know who Ella Fitzgerald is you have probably tried to talk coherently while eating a Tootsie Roll. If not, you haven't lived. But maybe just maybe a few people who read that the first time wondered why he would say that about Ella Fitzgerald and listen to the lady sing.

That is the power of writing. Even sports journalism has that power. Let me show you what I mean. The link below is an article written by William Nack. Warning, it is extremely long. It is so long it took me four posts to get it all in there at the time. It is worth your time to read though.

Nack Article

If you didn't bother to read the article you don't need to read any further. You prove the point. If you did read it I have one question to ask. Do you suddenly feel a kinship to a horse you may have never even seen run?

Isn't that amazing? That is the power of writing. I am sure that the DFW media members at one time or another were inspired by great writing and I am also just as sure that as they learned their craft they were good at it.

What changed?

We did.

That's right. It is us as fans that have changed the destiny of sports journalism. We want our information and we want it right now. Careful, thoughtful research be damned. We want instant stories. Actually to hell with stories, we want instant sound bites. From there we simply provide our own commentary and supply the story.

You're probably asking, "what the hell sent Hos off on this rant?" I read an article today by one of our esteemed media and it just grated on me. The article took no effort to write. No different than a typical over reaction mixed with shtick.

One of the foremost ideas of this "article" was the concept of when you fire a Coach. The theory was the Super Bowl coaches keep their jobs, as do the Coaches who get their teams to the Championship games, although these coaches jobs were "probably" safe. Every other coach should be wary of the door on their way out.

Do you get the gist being presented there? At minimum 28 teams per year would change Head Coaches. That was the brilliant idea of how to make things better because the writer did not like the idea of continuity. That idea doesn't make me want to listen to Ella Fitzgerald or try and talk while eating a Tootsie Roll. The only thing it accomplishes is to make me shake my head at how far sports journalism has fallen.

The sad thing is, this "article" began as advice offered to Jerry Jones. As if the writer knows something Jerry should know. I can be critical of Jerry Jones, but thank God he isn't that freaking stupid. Not even Dan Snyder is that damned dumb. Do you get the depths of stupidity that this "article" has sunk to?

So what is the reason for it to be written at all? Simple. Wade Phillips is a polarizing figure and he is being given an extension. This will create a buzz. Those who don't like that he is coming back will read this and think "damn right." They don't stop and think about the lack of thought. All they want is validation for their own thoughts and the spew provides it. They love the buzz.

A couple of days ago I shared a laugh with dcfanatic over an article that was negative about bringing Wade back. There was nothing inherently wrong with the article. What struck me as funny was who authored it. A man who just a few months ago announced his retirement and paid homage to Blackie Sherrod as he compared himself in riding off into the sunset.

First of all, he couldn't carry Blackie Sherrod's notebook. Him alluding to Blackie and then surfacing to write for ESPN Dallas is a sad insight into how important these writers think they are. Hey, his article created a buzz. Mission accomplished.

Louis Nizer was a famous barrister in New York City. He wrote the Foreward of the Warren Commission report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He was a brilliant man. He once said this.

"A man who works with his hands is a laborer. A man who works with his hands and his head is an artisan. A man who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist."

We have laborers feeding us information on our favorite team. We are missing out on the artists.

Keep the flame burning, brother.

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