Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dater's ESPN rant

In case you missed Denver Post hockey writer Adrian Dater's rather entertaining rant about ESPN last week on his blog, the local publication Westword has a good runthrough of all the particulars:
Dater recently penned "Here's a Shout-Out to ESPN Sports Reporters, Another Name for Leach or Lamprey or Something Much Worse That I'll Have a Little Class and Won't Say Here," a classic online rant in which he blamed ESPN for a slew of sins, including undermining the newspaper business in general. At one point, the piece asks, "Wanna get mad at me for saying that, my bosses out there and anybody else in this business we call newspapering?" The answer to this question was "Yes."
Lesson learned, I imagine, and it's no surprise to see this story being spread around despite the fact the blog post was pulled down shortly after it was born.

They say things are quickly forgotten online, but these stories tend to have legs, especially when they disappear.


At 2:06 AM, June 28, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I find myself caught in the throes of a wave of deep ambivalence. On the one hand, I agree with a lot of Dater's criticisms of ESPN. Bristol has become the source of an amazing amount of glitz and is where style clubs substance to death like a baby seal. The trajectory of ESPN's quality can be closely tracked by the ratio of useful information to complete blather that comes out of the mouth of Chris Berman. For the kids in the audience it may be hard to believe, but Berman used to be interesting.

In a lot of ways, I think that Dan Patrick and Keith Olberman, as brilliant as they were and still are, were the worst things that could possibly have happened to ESPN. They were followed by midgets like Stuart Scott, who thought that The Big Show was simply an exercise in schtick, rather than containing actual content. Fortunately, Olberman has finally found a long term home, and I can watch him regularly again. His appearances on Dan Patrick's afternoon radio show are great.

So, Dater is right about his target. Still, am I supposed to believe that ESPN is responsible for the collpase of newspaper sports journalism? How the hell could the network have caused the collapse of something that wasn't readily apparent to begin with? There are some notable exceptions, but sports reporting in general is the playground of writers who don't want to think about their jobs very hard. James, of course, is a saint that walks upon water. Peter Gammons actually does real reporting and is informative, but he is primarily *cough* on ESPN. Joe Posnanski in Kansas City is a must read.

To the extent that there was sports journalism to collapse, it departed before ESPN was such a huge player. Once upon a time, there were people like Red Smith, A.J. Liebling, Jimmy Cannon, Damon Runyon and Grantland Rice. Hell, Hunter Thompson was a sports columnist for a while. This may not have been great journalism, but it sure as hell was great prose writing.

I guess I look at the defining figure in the decline of sports writing as Dick Young, derided by Cannon as a "chipmunk." He lost the great prose, and substituted the idea that simply dishing dirt constituted journalism. I know several New Yorks Mets fans who would cheerfully disinter his corpse and do unspeakable things to it for the way he drove Tom Seaver out of town.

Look, folks, journalism isn't simply getting close to a bunch of people in the sports business, and repeating to your readership what they tell you. It requires putting some actual thought into what you have been told, and analyzing things, and giving your readership the results of that thinking. Examination of conflicts of interests helps, too.

Far too much of what passes for sports "journalism" consists of either repeating what the local executive tells you verbatim, or relentlessly bashing the people against whom you hold a grudge. Perfect examples of this are Bill Plaschke with the LA Times, or, to pick on James' competition, Richard Griffin. There don't even manage to be useful by being wrong all the times, so you can simply conclude the opposite of what they are arguing; by accident, they are right just often enough to ensure that no valuable information can be gleaned from their product.

Look to the beam in your own eye, Mr. Dater, before taking a blowtorch to the splinter in someone else's.


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