Om Field: A Hostile Look at the Lost Art of Sports Journalism

One of many experimental iterations ...

Om

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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 ...

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servumtuum

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Magnificent, Om, simply magnificent.

This kind of thing is why I hold you in such high esteem. Your friend Hostile expressed things I have thought and felt, things I have sensed even outside the field of sports journalism-to all journalism, and to how and why we are the way we are...and why I so often am bothered by it. He also is an excellent wordsmith like yourself.


By the way, I watched Secretariat run in the Triple Crown-it is still one of the most unforgettable things I have ever seen.

You did yourself proud, my friend...you did all of us proud. :claps:
 

Om

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Too kind, brother. Thank you.

Some random thoughts on the writing part ...

- there is still good writing out there, even in sports. You just have to go looking for it a bit harder than back in the day. Rick Reilly at SI jumps to mind. And Thomas Boswell at the WP.

- there are so many NON-writers covering sports (reporters masquerading as writers) that the good writing is too often lost in the noise.

- To me perhaps he single biggest contributor to the problem is that mainstream sportswriter/reporters all seem to have sworn an Oath of Cynicism in order to be welcomed in the brotherhood. I have never been around any group in any profession that affects such contrived jadedness and cynicism. If I'd had any real interest in pursuing football writing as a vocation instead of an avocation, having to check my heart and passion at the door would have kept me from taking the plunge. Life's too short to go through pretending you just don't give a damn in order to get paid.

Here's a post from Hostile's thread that goes right to the heart of that:

http://cowboyszone.com/forums/showpost.php?p=3249345&postcount=24

I got into sports journalism because I loved sports and writing; it seemed a marriage made in Heaven to me.

From a young age I loved to read and from seventh grade loved the craft of writing. I began to write poetry, short stories, and made the obligatory attempt at a novel. I also wrote with heart. I liked and always searched for the human element of sports. When I became a sports columnist my editors thought this to be quaint and even endearing, but ultimately wouldn't publish articles with heart, or edit them heavily if they did. I would open the magazine to read an article with my name on it that was unrecognizable compared with my submission. They would almost literally pat me on the head affectionately, saying I wasn't jaded enough yet, and then smile amongst themselves.

When I became the sports editor, and an associate editor of the magazine, I had more say. But the managing editors, and editor-in-chief, still kiboshed many of my articles or ones I'd helped develop with other fledgling sportswriters.

Behind-the-scenes they openly requested articles that attacked players or coaches. They didn't follow sports, so only knew the headlines, and would make wild assumptions based on the little they'd heard, and direct me to exploit an angle I knew to be spurious. My protestations would fall on deaf ears, so I'd write the article but attempt to find a way to make it balanced, which was next to impossible without being completely contradictory. Inevitably, they'd edit out anything that didn't fit with their angle, and the result would be a hack piece... not so much written by me, but edited by them. It was often an embarrassment.

I asked for a meeting with the managing editors, and chief-of-staff, and stated my position, and said I wasn't willing to compromise it. They felt it was cute, the guy with the heart was standing up for himself. I mention this to let you know the culture, how showing heart in the industry is often seen as weakness, and diminishes your credibility. Cynicism is the modern day art form amongst many in publishing.

The end of the story is predictable. They said I made good points and would allow me to write with more freedom. It lasted for one or two issues and then returned to normal whereupon I submitted my resignation and went back to school for Sports Psychology.

The players themselves responded to heart because it's as elemental to competition as good grammar is to writing. But then we'd all read the sports columns, and shake our heads at the disconnect, the skewed perception of the writers (or editors). Somewhere along the way heart disappeared from print but it will never disappear from the playing field.
- I still tear up when I watch the '73 Belmont. "... he's moving like a magnificent machine!"
 

Sassy Gretsch

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Mediocrity is easy, in terms of production and consumption. It is cost-effective. It requires little to no effort. It can be fabricated on a mass scale, homogenized and packaged and ready-to-eat. It is the production line in the factory--it is the soulless, grinding machinery produced and consumed by automatons.

The only art today exists almost exclusively outside of the mainstream, where it can be protected from harmful corporate influence, a job that is increasingly more difficult. We don't want anything extraordinary or special or that might challenge our view of things.

Sports journalism is, by and large, meaningless. It is background noise, an ambience designed to maximize our chip eating experience, at worst, and at best a feel-good Sandra Bullock movie.

It is amazingly, beautifully, poetically ironic that as our access to information increases our knowledge decreases, and even more frightening, our curiosity, our thirst for knowledge.

(And maybe that partially explains why the Noosphere is a ghost town.:))

Anyway, it is Friday, and reading your post, Om, made me think. And for that I cannot forgive you.
 

servumtuum

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Life's too short to go through pretending you just don't give a damn in order to get paid.
That little gem now resides in a list of quotes I add to from time to time as I run across those truly excellent bits of pith and poignancy I happen across in my digital wanderings.

I will give credit, Om, when-as inevitably happens, I wind up using the thing because it expresses an idea better than I could. :)


It is amazingly, beautifully, poetically ironic that as our access to information increases our knowledge decreases, and even more frightening, our curiosity, our thirst for knowledge.

(And maybe that partially explains why the Noosphere is a ghost town.:))

Anyway, it is Friday, and reading your post, Om, made me think. And for that I cannot forgive you.
And, Sassy, after having enjoyed your bit of humility-inducing eloquence, I'm struck by another irony-this particular discussion would fit perfectly into TN.


Which gives me an idea.....


Geez...I hope Om can forgive me......(tee-hee)

:new_idea:
 

EatSleepRedskin

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As a print journalist, I see many of the possible reasons.

First off, I can tell you straight off that most newspapers don't have a big enough staff, and can't allow a good writer to spend a week or more working on one piece. Most of today's newspaper writers are overworked and underpaid. Magazine writers are mostly the same. Now, the Washington Post, L.A. Times and S.I. are the exception. They're still heavily staffed. (Though, I'm sure if you ask them, they'll say they don't have anywhere near the staff they want.)

Another issue is that, as Hostile points out, people want their information now. Right now. Writers are encouraged to write shorter. Long-form features are out the window because some poll done by someone says people no longer have the time to read these features and they also no longer want to read them. Again, there are few exceptions. WaPo still does great long-form features. As does SI and ESPN's magazine.

But by and large, yeah, the mainstream print media is struggling to keep doing that kind of writing. Most outlets these days are understaffed and underpaid.

And hey, when in doubt these days, blame ESPN for the lack of good writing.
 

Neophyte

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As a guy with a front page blog on this site, I struggle with this very thing. I am not the wordsmith that Om or Hostile are. It is, simply put, not one of my talents.

I strive to engage the reader, provide them some information they may not have had while at the same time offering some entertainment value. I view it as necessary reimbursement of the valuable time they have offered me by reading what I have to say.

Sometimes I succeed. Often I fail.

I have to disagree with something Hostile seems to me to be implying (if I am wrong, I hope he will correct me), namely the idea that for writing to be good it needs to be long. I fail to see the connection. I think there is a fine line and the real artist uses the words necessary, no more and no less, to tell the tale at hand. Length should become a function of finishing the story and not a goal in itself.

Not that I don't struggle with that too. I get obsessive about Word counts and some blog entries even today languish on my NAS in cold storage because I don't view them as long enough to be worth posting. Perhaps I should revisit them (although the subjects are likely far from relevant now).

A large part of the problem, in my humble opinion, is that our society requires some sort of quantitative measurement to gauge our work, hence long equals better.
 
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riggins44

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We've become a microwave society. Everything needs to be quick and convenient. I must say I am guilty as anyone looking to read quick burst of information. Glance at the news so as not to hold me up from whatever else I am doing.

When I was in college you wrote letters home and made the occasional call by reversing charges. Today kids send text messages or an email home. Parents respond just as quickly. With text messages we're losing the art of conversation. Now just send a note loaded with shortcuts.

With the economy will see writers spending less and less time at their craft. The goal will be to get as many stories out the quickest with fewest doing so.

Good peice, OM. Made me stop and think. Time to take time out of my busy life and actually spend some quality time with family. I might even take the time to write a friend.
 

Elephant

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My first reaction to this piece was to be a smart aleck. I was going to infer that since Hostile was a Cowgirls' fan his writing could not possibly matter, jokingly of course. All too often the humor intended comes off the wrong way on the interwebz, so I refrained. I was also going to suggest that the story that was written about Secretariat was an easy story to write because of the subject matter. Let's see how the writer would have done writing about a subject like Earl Johnson, perhaps the greatest bowler of all time, and see how well he kept the reader's attention. Of course I was going to follow those statements with some sort of smiley to attempt to achieve tsome levity. But it would have been inappropriate in my mind.

The reason I even bring that up now is because I am glad I refrained. One thing I think is important to mention at this point in the post is my appreciation for the subtle demand for informed and intelligent discourse. This type of discourse has never been demanded in writing, but inferred by the respect and quality writing of the owners and even administrators (including you Neo).

I often find myself reading an entire article thoroughly before jumping to immediate conclusions from the first several sentences or paragraphs in large part because I see it done by many of you. There are many on this site whom have shown me with their actions the importance of being well-informed on a subject before I go blurting off at the mouth to sound funny or intelligent.

I am not now, nor do I ever intend to be a journalist. It is not my desire. I do not intend to be a paid writer, I do not believe I possess the talent to get paid for it. What I do intend to do is write informed and respectful posts on the interwebz and by participating on this message board, I believe I am getting much better at it.


So to those on this board who have really made me think and are teaching me to take the time to thoroughly review my writing and consider my thoughts before blurting out my first thought, thank you! Thank you for making me think.

And OM, thank you for bringing to my attention the writing skills of others, even if it only equates to my participation on a few social networks.
 

hail2skins

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Nice piece of writing by Hostile. I'd like to see the article on Phillips that set him off.
 

Jimbo

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I, for one, simply don't have the patience to wax poetic the way many of you do. It's rare for me to throw down a long post unless I'm really feeling it but I DO love to read.
Not sure how much time I just spent reading Om's Daily, Hostile's piece and the entire magnificent Nack article but I've come away from that feeling almost euphoric. Good writing does that.

"Sound bites" probably have their place in this hurry-up world but there's definitely a huge lack of real sports journalism. Besides guys like Boswell at the Post, I also seek out guys like Rick Reilly, Wayne Drehs and Wright Thompson at ESPN because they make you "feel" as well as think.

This is definitely my favorite thread of the week.
 

Yusuf06

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Great re-post Om and great writing Hostile. All too often it seems that those of us desiring substance and quality are left out in the cold the mass production, give it to me yesterday, disposable everything, speed over quality economy, heck, society we've built. Very often I feel like an anachronistic vestigial appendage, capable only of helplessly witnessing the devolution of our society into an atavistic "new order".

I would only quibble with one of Hostile's points. Where he says
It's the fate of a generation scared to learn anything for fear it might actually inspire them to learn more.
I'd say it's probably more like a generation scared to learn anything for fear it might actually require effort or even worse, *GASP* reading. :(
 

sonofDC

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That's one of the reasons why I want to be a journalist. I hate where journalism is going in this country and I want to be a part of something new...or at least a return to a time when stories were carefully and thoughtfully reported.
 

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