Friday, May 9, 2008

The future of Sports Journalism?

I saw a neat segment on Bob Costas’s sports show on HBO a few days ago. Costas was discussing how sports blogs were changing the way sports journalism worked. The reporters on the program, experienced professionals with credentials, and degrees from prestigious universities, lamented how the tone in the sports world had become more crass, profane, angry, and confrontational, and how the next generation of readers wasn’t going to appreciate their craft.

Bloggers on the program felt that newspaper columnists were just worried about the new influx of competition, and that one didn’t need to have a degree from Northwestern to write “the Indians should have pulled Carmona in the 8th”.

Athletes on the program worried that the now 24/7 news coverage of mundane activities make it impossible for them to function (an adult can’t go out and have a beverage without it appearing on the next day).

Clearly, these issues are not restricted to just sports journalism, but the way we cover the news in general. Is the proliferation of blogs a good thing for sports journalism (or journalism in general)? Can the interests of the traditional media and that of the blogsosphere be reconciled? Can we filter the crap? Lets find out.

Is it inevitable that blogs and newspapers have an adversarial relationship? I’m something of a rarity, in that I’m a 21 year old who loves to read newspapers. One of the absolute highlights of living in Washington DC for me would be getting my Washington Post every weekday, sitting down with my tiny breakfast, and reading some of the best sportswriters (like my man Michael Wilbon), Washington beat writers, and columnists. Even when I’m back home, I make an effort to read the Columbus Dispatch or Newark Advocate when I can, even if they may pale in comparison to the mighty Post. Something about having the paper in my hand, instead of on my tiny monitor…

Most of my peers don’t do that. They get their news from the internet, like, or CNN, or the DrudgeReport, or any of the thousands of other small blogs, or what have you. Internet news is quicker and cheaper, and plays right into our short attention spans. We don’t have time for painstaking analysis or flowery prose. I need the facts, and maybe a clever one liner now, so I can get back to my super busy day. When it comes to spitting out information quickly, and to a large number of people, the internet is the best option.

That may be well and good, but what about the quality? Many point out (correctly, in my mind), that internet blog writers have no credentials, no editors, and little to any accountability. If people are unable to ascertain my identity, tracking me down for a libel suit would be expensive and difficult. Many writers take advantage of this, and dedicate their websites to content that might shock even the hardest radio shock jock. Perhaps most importantly though….a lot of blogs, be they sports, political, teenage livejournals…they’re just awful. They wouldn’t get a C from any self-respecting teacher at Granville High School.

Does this matter? I don’t have any formal press credentials, although I’ve taken journalism classes in college, and I’ve had my work published before. Because of this, I can’t get in to anybody’s locker room, or press box, or campaign bus. But does this mean that I can’t contribute? Certainly I don’t need courtside seats to see that Delonte West might be missing a defensive assignment, or that a particular political strategy may not be working.

Plus, there may be something to be said for having that freedom. I don’t have to be objective, or pretend that I’m not a part of the story. I’m a big Cleveland Cavaliers fan, and if I’m going to write about professional basketball, I’m going to write from that perspective. When I blog, I have the freedom to insert my own personal feelings, experiences and emotions into a story, something that flies against everything you were taught in print journalism 101. Does this mean that if a newspaper gave me a press pass and 10 bucks, and asked me to cover a football game, or a council meeting, that I wouldn’t do it? Of course not, I’d go in a heartbeat....I’m just saying that you can provide quality information without that. If you want to see what I mean, check out, and compare it with the Newark Advocate sports coverage. I think you might find some useful info at LCS too (although in the interests of full disclosure, I admit that I do contribute to that site).

To me, this means that smaller, nimbler, internet-based news sources, and larger, more conventional news sources, ideally, should work in concert with one another. I think the best blogs bring in both their own individual analysis, and the best of other sources. My absolute favorite sports blog is Henry Abbot’s TrueHoop, which you can read on In addition to writing his own stories, Abbot links to what sportswriters across the county are saying about basketball issues. Its great for the fan (like me), because I get a whole lot of different perspectives on issues, and I can get a chance to read stories that I might miss if I only read national sources. It’s great for the writers, because they get a chance to expand their audience. Popular political/news blogs, like the Drudge Report, and Tegan Goddard’s PoliticalWire, follow the same format.

Some newspapers are starting to incorporate blogs as well. The Newark Advocate (my hometown paper) has recently set up a function to allow readers to write blog entries, hosted on the newspaper website. Maybe this sort of thing can help papers without a lot of resources to greatly expand their news coverage. Maybe it can help launch writing of quality readers. Maybe it’s a waste of bandwidth. Who knows, but it’s an experiment that I approve of.

So hopefully the future of media isn’t all doom and gloom. Everybody knows, there is a ton of crap on the internet…but its also a meritocracy. The best (or funniest) writing usually finds itself an audience, and the worst stuff is doomed to hide in a tiny niche, or disappear, just like regular newspapers. Hopefully, all kinds of writers can see that there is a partnership between the two media formats will give us the best coverage, and the best information.

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