Where have all the sportswriters gone?

Can we play the Nationals every day? That would be nice. Stealing home was Werth it this week. I love it when bunts lead to two runs, including the go-ahead late. Be sure to check out a Philadelphia Union soccer game this year – I expect them to have a striker-heavy attack. Why does Roger Clemens continue the charade? W.C. Heinz, Red Smith, Granny, where have you gone?

Very interesting post over at Iggles Blog yesterday, all stemming from a Gary Cartwright piece in Texas Monthly about the decline of sportswriting in the Big state. Pretty good conversation in the comments, the gist of which I will paraphrase now.

Most people agree with the sentiment that the form has lost its creative luster…we have so many forms of media with which to get our information that the newspapers simply carry less water now…the good ol’ days of sportswriting are dead because society as a whole is faster and 3000-word profiles make Generation ADD’ers go cross-eyed…we already know so much about the event and the athletes and the behind-the-scenes that we aren’t all that taken by it anymore…blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Seems to me as though we’re not having this conversation if sportswriting hasn’t in fact gotten stale.

As a means for raw data, that isn’t the case. You want stats, you can get stats friggin’ everywhere. Ever been to titforstat.com? Probably not, because it doesn’t exist. But it should. The newspapers are chock full of analysis and meaning; problem is, the Internet has that, too. Your grandma likely has a blog analyzing her favorite sport, and your grandpa is surely breaking down YouTube film. Might be less intelligent then what the sportswriters offer, but it is out there, and it is certainly taking some of the focus off of the beat guys. You can get the man-behind-the-player info from the newspaper, but not exclusively. Sportscenter is slowly turning into Access Hollywood, PFT.com dabbles in National Enquirer fare on occasion, and athletes NitTwitter about their feelings during games.

It’s information blitzkrieg, and there is a laser dot between your eyes. Take cover.

And so, Generation ADD doesn’t need to read the newspaper. It doesn’t want pieces that will explore new depths and experiment with new styles to describe what happened, mostly because Generation ADD already knows what happened. Or, they saw the highlights and heard somebody describe the meaning of the events for them.

Mix one part highlight, one part sound byte, one part blog reaction. Shake (try not to stir, stirring can upset the heavy tones of Ego the drink produces) and pour into shot glass. Garnish with one 20 mg Adderall XR capsule. Serve immediately, and for God’s sake, don’t present in a boring fashion. Presentation is everything.

So that’s it – bust out the bugle, shoot a few rounds into the air, throw a flower on the grave of the Sportswriter-as-Artist. “Here lie the men and women who put the spin on the men and women who put the spin on the ball.”

That’s the fear, that the art of sportswriting has been lost. A clever turn-of-phrase became a sterile puff of statistical dust; an intriguing perspective became an angry-mob diatribe against a coach or player. Where have you gone, Hunter S. Thompson? Laying bets in Heaven, I’d imagine.

“What’s the over/under on the war in Iraq. Eight years? Give me the cot-damned over!”

Of course, Hunter S. Thompson never really wrote about sports at all. He wrote about betting on sports, sure, and he wrote about the Kentucky Derby once. Damn good piece. But mostly, Hunter wrote about his experiences while trying to write a story about an event. He gave you the story by giving you the tale of the inept reporter trying to uncover the story, often failing in the conventional sense, but nonetheless giving you the essence of the experience and event he was sent to cover, his kaleidoscopic frills thrusting your imagination from one sentence to the next.

Style.

It’s all about style. In an age of billboard information, only style can set you apart. It’s what has made Bill Simmons so important – he became the writer of the fan. Sure, he analyzes the games, he talks with players and coaches and GM’s, but mostly, he watches the games like we do, judges fan behavior like we do, is fanatical for his hometown teams like we are.

Style.

There will be a sportswriting renaissance, just like there will have to be a general newswriting renaissance. Post-New Journalism? Heh. Though maybe the daily newspaper will have to adopt more of a magazine feel. Give the raw information on the Internet, and the in-depth interviewing and analysis the next morning in the paper. Find a way to give the reader something he/she can’t get on the Internet. If something doesn’t change, the Internet will crush the newspaper business as we know it. Pay-per-click reporting frightens the living byline out of me. Accountability will become a Publie Relations  endeavor. We will all become robots, which will be terrible when all of the oil runs dry and we can no longer grease our parts. I can see the headline now.

Vroom-Vroom for Doom, Gloom.

Horrifying.

So come one, come all ye brave sportswriting souls of the night. Fear not the media overload, for your probing pens shall overcome their sanitary stats, cliched analysis and schoolyard gossip. Do not back down to the Internet, but rather learn to tame it. Break that philly.com in. Give me what I can not get anywhere else – a fresh, creative, thought-provoking, sublime spin.

Give me creativity, or give me death. These are the stakes.

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1 Comment

Filed under "Broken News"

One response to “Where have all the sportswriters gone?

  1. James Fayleez

    WTF happened to this website?

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