Are glory days of newspaper sportswriters over?

By Hunter Ford

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it…
but I probably will.
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of… well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of…
glory days.
-Bruce Springsteen

Are the glory days of newspaper sportswriters over? Are newspapers in general irrelevant in the Internet age? I believe the answer to both questions really depends on individual perspective.

On the matter of sportswriters, I believe the model for what they do has been changing dramatically for decades now. Televised sporting events, all day sports networks like ESPN and talk-radio made a big impact long before the Internet. Now, with the proliferation of “blogs” a sportswriter or columnist for a large newspaper is just another face in the crowd.

I’m old enough to remember a time when Alabama and Auburn football games were not televised every Saturday during the season.

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If you didn’t have a ticket to the games, what you did was listen to the radio. You hung on every word from John Forney or Gary Sanders and you woke up the next morning to get the Sunday paper so you could read the quotes and look at the extensive spread of photos.

The sports editors and columnists (usually one-in-the same) were very important to fans. The editor/columnist was in a unique fraternity of people that worked closely with the coaches. Often times these old-time sportswriters were cheerleaders and mouthpieces for the coaches and the programs they represented.

Nowadays fans have little problem watching every game. Even games not televised by a major network can be easily accessed by pay-per view. Talk radio and Internet sites break down every aspect of the game down to what the quarterback had for breakfast…so reading the Sunday paper is much less the event it used to be.

All of the columnists and beat writers for the big daily papers cross over into TV, radio and Internet commentary.

There are so many more of them too. In the old days it was usually one prominent editor/columnist at each paper who was the gatekeeper of information and formulator of the “opinion of record.”

Now you have a couple or three columnists plus beat writers at every big paper. Each of them have regular gigs on TV and radio shows and all of them have some sort of Internet presence.

The market is flooded with people yapping and typing about sports. Some of them have informed opinions, some don’t. Some have access to, and good relationships with, the coaches and players they cover, and some don’t.

It is kind of hard to tell the difference sometimes.

The key to standing out in the pack is to be as provocative and creative as you can be, it’s not necessarily a virtue to be objective or to have any relationship with the subjects (actual people) being covered.

There is, however, a kind of reversion back to “homerism” going on in the Internet world. Before people like Paul Finebaum, the aforementioned editor/columnist was unlikely to make enemies with the coaches they covered by being critical. Finebaum helped change the “homer” style of writing, but it’s actually making a comeback on the web.

Now, fans are using the Internet to respond to critics of their favorite school.

The biggest schools like Alabama and Auburn, and even the “minor” programs like UAB have both officially sanctioned web sites and fan created web sites. There are sites dedicated to the “official party line” and then there are sites created by fans that form communities of interaction especially for their specific audiences.

If you are like me, and you grew up with the ritual of poring over the Sunday paper, you will still value the experience. But more and more people, especially younger ones, don’t need to or want to read a sports page to get news or opinions about their favorite team.

I enjoy reading sports news in any form whether its magazines, newspapers or the Internet. Until they stop printing them (and I don’t think they ever will) I will always be among the readers of newspapers both big and small.

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Add Yours
  1. 1

    People don’t want to read responsible reporting — they prefer unsubstantiated gossip. That’s why blogs like this one publish nonsense by people like that idiot “Shane from Centerpoint.”

    If you’re a responsible journalist, you know that your newspaper won’t publish even a tiny fraction of the garbage that gets posted on blogs. And that’s why people like them. About two-thirds of the population is certifiably nuts anyway, so why wouldn’t they prefer gossip that reinforces their freakishly weird thinking over boring old facts?

  2. 3

    Comment #1 is an example of the mainstream
    press and comment #2 is the blog.

    If #1 didn’t write anything, #2 wouldn’t have anything to talk about.

  3. 4

    Actually, there is a good deal of original reporting on blogs too. Blogs run the spectrum from hard news to opinion to satire.

    But I think your point is a good one. If you read the newspapers or watch tv news—you’ll see that blogs have an amplifying ability. And vice versa. If you read or consume the mainstream press then you’ll find blogs, message boards or blog-like sites are the arbiters of content. Just look at the Drudge Report. It has become the shaper of the nightly news today the way the NY Times was a generation ago. Also, sports reporters monitor the Internet too—Rivals and Scout and other message boards have redefined how issues are discussed and reported.

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