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Death of the general sports columnist?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Oz, Aug 24, 2009.

  1. derwood

    derwood Active Member

    Mr. Gee hits it out of the park.
  2. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    Have said that forever, Michael. I didn't want to read another "me" or someone like me when I was in my teens or twenties. I wanted to read someone who told me something, who knew where bodies were buried, who had perspective, who had wit. Regardless of age or any other criteria currently applied so diligently in newsrooms. Older white males didn't have to apologize for being older white males, for starters, if they were good sportswriters. Now it seems they do.
  3. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Ahh, old, white male victimization. I was wondering when we were going to get to this point in the discussion. You knew it was coming. ::)

    Of course they didn't have to "apologize." They were the only ones around!
  4. Michael_ Gee

    Michael_ Gee Well-Known Member

    No, Buck, even back then they had young white male sportswriters. It was a two-party system.
    You'd have to be an idiot not to think that race, sex, and age diversity don't add to the "voices" concept of which I am such a firm supporter. But I still judge writers of all kinds on the immutable grounds of personal preference about their work.
  5. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    As do I, MG. Believe it or not, I even like a lot of old white male columnists, too. ;)

    Just don't like the victimization crap. And I say that knowing I'll be an old white male myself someday.

    Anyway, carry on.
  6. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    Didn't mean to turn the discussion in that direction, per se. But it's there in the underlying criticism Chass gets from some on this board. And for some who clamor for "fresh" voices, it's code.

    One thing we haven't seen, if we're being honest, is that broadening the voices has done one darn thing for broadening the audience in any countable circulation or revenue streams. Is it better journalism? Maybe. Does it support better journalism? Apparently not.

    And it would be nice if this profession ever -- even in the good times -- figured out where senior journalists who didn't climb the management tree should go. If they happened to be tolerated as institutional-memory types Michael_Gee wrote about, that was fine. But it's never been a business in which one's late career lived up to one's early career, and now it's more so. Then again, it's never been like runway modeling or field-goal kicking, where you make big enough money over the first 10 years to get the hell out later.
  7. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member


    But let's not act like there's any causation with "broadening voices = lesser revenue streams." One has very little to do with the other, as Frank_Ridgeway and others have shown many times. (Columnists of any demographic or stature just don't have anything to do with the bottom line. Neither do redesigns.)

    It doesn't make diversity any lesser of a goal. Old white males generally have more experience and perspective as columnists largely because they were the only ones allowed to gain that experience and develop that perspective for so long. Period.

    That doesn't make them better columnists. It just means they were given more opportunities. Give that opportunity to other people -- not because of their demographics, but because they've earned it -- and I bet you get to read from writers "who know where bodies were buried, who have perspective, who have wit."

    Many of the old white males who are in their positions now may have earned it -- but there's a lot of stale perspectives and stale wit, too, which leads me to believe they're only there because of their opportunities, not because of their merit.

    Chass earned it on merit, for a long time. But these days? Yeah, his voice has become "stale." That's not code. He's earning that, too.
  8. AD

    AD Active Member

    boy, i don't think any of the criticism about murray here stems from his whiteness. it stems from his own writing portraying him as angry ego gone sour....
  9. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    The older columnists also had the advantage of being one of one or two columnists on a sports staff. Six is just way too many. I worked on one staff that had six and another that had, for a brief time, four. They were all talented folks. But in a given week, how many stories are truly worthy of commentary? What happens is that you begin to have several commenting on the same topic, some of them having to take a contrarian stance just for the sake of a different angle, and thus they are writing with a lack of conviction that I believe becomes obvious to readers. They are like pitchers throwing something that the catcher calls for, only they deep down believe it's a bad idea when they throw it.

    So the biggest change, in richer times in the 1990s, was newspapers expanding the number of opinion voices on staff. It was done with mostly good intentions -- a desire to increase diversity, a wish to keep writers happy by offering them that chance for advancement, a plan to appeal to readers who didn't necessarily care for the one or two existing voices. But it watered down the product. You can't have six columnists without a pecking order of some kind. One of them gets dibs and the rest get scraps. That is a different animal than when you have one or two voices who have their choice of angles and subject matter.

    It's not that the older columnists were more talented. But they had the ability to be more discriminating in the choice of column topics. They also had the advantage of their once-rare status being magnified in the readers' minds. If you are one of two sports columnists in a town, you have more clout than if you are one of six. That will be true no matter your age, gender or race.
  10. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    Great post, Frank, and definitely true.
  11. Screwball

    Screwball Active Member

    Bingo. The Brooklyn Dodgers left 50 years ago and these guys still write about them.
  12. Michael_ Gee

    Michael_ Gee Well-Known Member

    Frank, believe me, your post rings true out of my own bitter experience. The Herald had AT LEAST three columnists at every Patriots game. There aren't that many points of view to be had on a ball game. But we had a boss (very talented in many, many ways) whose idea of good game coverage was to have story on every participant.
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