Doing (Sports) Journalism Right

Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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14 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    While I disagree with some of the nitty-gritty with regards to the effectiveness of secrecy… this is an OUTSTANDING piece. These are the types of articles I want to right, instead of just firing off what comes to my head with a handful of edits to make sure it’s actually English.

    Fortunately, there are a few other sports journalists out there doing outstanding work, though most seem focused on broader sports commentary (or at least their best pieces are). LZ Granderson has been on a roll lately and I recommend checking out his pieces over on He also did a fun TEDTalk on “The Gay Agenda”, which had nothing to do with sports, but showed that the intelligence with which he approaches his topic and the broad goals of his writing.

    TEDTalk here:

    Most recent piece on Michael Jordan’s political involvement (or lackthereof):

  2. greginak says:

    That is a great job by that reporter. Really if everybody didn’t know god’s very own qb wasn’t going to be running the wildcat they would have to have never watched football. Its not like the WC is all that complicated. Keeping secrets is a habit that people can’t break even when its pointless.Report

  3. Tod Kelly says:

    My favorite line from the WS article:

    “they don’t have an elite quarterback like Tom [REDACTED] or Peyton [REDACTED]”

    My favorite line from this post:

    “Here’s an actual wildcat, although I don’t think it is related.”Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I was actually thinking that that was exactly how I would have redacted the article.

      “[REDACTED] Tebow took a hand off and ran a sweep left before cutting upfield behind a pulling guard.”

      And that second line… yes, the clincher. I literally snorted. That is rare for this one.Report

  4. DensityDuck says:

    The point is not to protect secrets from other NFL teams or coaches.

    The point is to create a Mysterious Air Of Mystery, thus hyping up the excitement–for the audience. It’s such a secret play style that we’re not even allowed to know anything about it! Isn’t that exciting? Doesn’t that make you want to rush out and buy season tickets right now?Report

  5. James Hanley says:

    Great post, Sam. If I could make one quibble, iy’s not necessarily that the journalists ar awestruck by power and status, but that their job absolutely requires access, and it’s too easy to find themselves cut out of access if they offend those they’re reporting on. Of course that means they often can’t write anything worthy. Political journalists face the same problem, with the same result. Of course most probably don’t really care, since the access itself is fun, and whatever status comes along with it. But for those who want to do rel journalism, it’s a catch-22.

    So I have some sympathy for them, not just disdain. But that said, you’re absolutely right that it’s gret to see someone break out of those strictures and do such a bang-up job, and openly reveal the small-minded stupidity of whatvhe’s observing.Report

    • Sam in reply to James Hanley says:

      Let me ask (and this may be its own conversation worth having): you believe the journalists who use lost access as an explanation, or do you think that is a convenient way to get around the fact that they’ve abdicated their responsibility?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Sam says:

        I think it is definitely the latter, especially now. With so many people having so much access and information being disseminated so widely and quickly, a quality sports writer can lose his access and likely still do the vast majority of his pieces. And they will be of better quality because he won’t be bound or hampered.

        Part of the issue is that “sports journalism”, just as any genre of journalism, covers a wide variety of approaches. You have basic reporting: who won, who lost, who hit a HR, etc. This might be coupled with some sound bites from the post game news conference or locker room interviews. The former requires no access, the latter only some (since most of that stuff goes into the public record). You have analysis, which may or may not require access depending on how detailed you want to get about motivation or intent. A seasoned analyst can work exclusively off game film and tell you why a given play or system or approach did or didn’t work; they can likely infer the specific game plan from that. If they want more, they’d likely need direct access to coaches and players, though that is the type of stuff often kept under lock-and-key until well after the fact. Investigative work is another approach, which certainly requires access but for which their are often various avenues to pursue. Maybe the player in question won’t talk, but teammates will, or former teammates or coaches or friends or opponents or employees, etc.

        I think a follow-up question is how have we gotten to the point that teams, coaches, players, etc. are so quick to cut-off access (or at least threaten to… I don’t know how often guys actually lose access) because they are unhappy with a journalist’s work. I see a bit of chicken-and-egg going on, with the cycle becoming self-reinforcing.

        Lastly, I think James hits the nail on the head with regards to what might motivate many journalist to seeking and maintaining access: it makes them feel special. Many (certainly not all) sports journalists were failed athletes themselves, often petering out at a young age. They missed out on the chance to live the athlete lifestyle. But, hey, if fawning over the guys in pieces lets them dip their toes in that water… alot will go with that. They’d rather be friends with the athletes and live vicariously through them than actually do their damn job.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Sam says:

        Sam, I think most don’t have the sense of responsibility, but to the extent any of them do, the risk of losing access is a reality that has to be taken seriously. It’s not unknown for sports reporters to find themselves frozen out by coaches or players who are offended by something they’ve written. I say it’s a catch-22 because if you just write fluff you’re not really doing your job, but if you lose access you really can’t do your job. Sure, lots of them probably use it as n excuse when they have no interest in actually being tough, but that doesn’t change the fact that if they did become tough they really could face that problem.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to James Hanley says:

          Fair enough. I don’t give journalists nearly this level of credit, mostly because I think the withholding of access could be just as easily reported upon, but maybe in today’s world, where everybody can write about a team, access is the only thing protecting the old world journalists from the fate many of them might deserve (obsolescence).Report

  6. Diablo says:

    My personal view is that sport journalism has basically descended into a troll style, as personified as Jim Rome. With the change in media format, most journalist are obsessed with page hits. Writing a detail, in depth article with thought and nuance is difficult, especially in regards to meeting deadlines. But printing something controversial or borderline offensive is a great way to not only generate hits, but also angry comments, which in turn gives the impression that the writer is bringing in views. And it takes little time to write up something to piss off readers, especially sports fans.

    My local paper has long gutted their sports section (along with pretty much their entire staff). They kept their weakest sports writer and now have him writing multiple articles a day. And he pretty much tries to be a low cost version of Jim Rome. It saddens me because a lot of journalism seems to be doing this (especially on TV). Rather than create content of substance, it is just fake or manufactured controversy.Report