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Death of the general sports columnist?

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

  1. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    I find this to be quite reasonable.
  2. JohnnyChan

    JohnnyChan Member

    OK. I feel like I need to pony up my $.02 here, since this debate only concerns whether what I'm lucky enough to do for a living is at all relevant any more, so I'll make two points for my two cents:

    1) I'm reminded of a phone call I got the first day I ever was named a full-time columnist, years ago, at the Middletown (N.Y.) paper. Buddy in the business, who'd done the gig for a long time (and still does) leaves me two messages. First one: "Hey, congrats on writing four columns a week! What are you going to do with the other 36 hours of your work week?" A few seconds later he left another message, with the punch line: "You'll hear that from a lot of people. And the thing is, you COULD do the job that way. Writing a column is actually quite easy. Writing a GOOD column is quite hard, and if you do it right, your paper will be grateful they don't pay you overtime." I still feel that way; the difference between a column and a good column is about as vast as the sea.

    2) Are we really to succumb to the belief that talk-radio hosts -- most of whom really don't go to the ballpark, most of whom really do rely on the newspapers for their info, most of whom really never talk to a coach or GM or player outside of a paid appearance -- honestly need to become the only ones in a marketplace who cover a diverse range of subjects? Have we really reached such a self-loathing place where we don't think newspapers are capable of finding people with enough chops to handle that kind of job well? And one last thing: the Times doesn't seem likely to silence the likes of Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman any time soon; you think maybe that's because, I don't know, THEY HELP SELL THE PAPER? Notice I said "help"; columnists are, and should remain, one thing that makes our product unique. Count me as one who's going to cling to that notion, even if it's only as a life raft.

    Mike Vaccaro
    New York Post
  3. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    Mike, of course both points are outstanding.
    I'm certainly not going to disagree with you.
    Jolly's stance is odd, because some of the institution's personality if formed by their columnists. Faces of the paper, like it or not, are the opinion makers in many cases.
    Sports columnists and their papers need to market them as covering the city. There for the reader. Not the guy who parachutes in once a month for a fly-by.
    I love me a good column. But, the problem I have -- and many on this site have -- is the thin column. It's become all too regular because of TV and radio appearances, the blog posts and the tweets. And reader notices.
  4. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    In my town you don't have to necessarily read the paper's sole columnist, he'll be talking about the piece on his afternoon-drive radio show. The column is still good, but the exclusive nature of his voice is gone. And you're right, there are others who mail it in. A lot of papers should have nipped that in the bud early, but they figured the paper would get more eyeballs by "their guy" being spread all over town or nationwide. I think the reverse is more likely.
  5. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    Vac - you will always be relevant as the best sports columnist in the NY area.
  6. Twoback

    Twoback Active Member

    Oh, this is a joke.
    Beat reporters go into many a news conference and treat it like it's an inquistion, an opportunity to show off who can ask the "toughest" question. They will climb over each other to be the one to say, "Do you think your job is in jeopardy?" And we're supposed to worry that writing a column that says the manager maybe should have called for a sacrifice bunt is going to imperil his ability to report? You cannot be serious.
  7. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    I don't know that they do -- TimesSelect didn't do well enough. I would guess that the reasoning is that being a major player in political dialogue is an essential part of that paper's identity, no matter if it makes business sense. Years back I worked on a paper that had an edition that circulated in Central and South America. To my knowledge, it was never profitable to fly the paper down there, and when I was there, the news (and commentary) was two days old by the time it reached its readers. But having that edition and the clout that went with it was a big part of the paper's identity: This is what we do and no one else really does it on this scale.

    I would guess the NYT does not see sports columns in that way. Amdur used to say that they were the only part of the paper that was truly "on the tabloids' playground." He knew the tabs dictated the game and that it was their bat and ball. I can't fault his successor for deciding the paper ought to play a game on its own terms.
  8. Twoback

    Twoback Active Member

    From what we've been able to gather, Jolly isn't saying the Times is giving up sports analysis/opinion.
    He appears to be conceding what those of us who are in the business have long known but rarely said out loud because we all wanted those jobs:
    The kind of expertise required to have a worthwhile opinion demands much greater attention than a general columnist can spend on 4-10 subjects at once. That's not to say that a great columnist -- Vac would be a terrific example, or Wilbon, or Ratto -- can't have something meaningful or interesting to say about a variety of subjects based on exceptional writing skill, excellent reporting contacts and years in the business to help put it all in context.
    But in this media world, if you're hiring good people on a beat -- people who can write and report -- their opinions are going to be of greater value than the average general columnist and, because of access and context, they should be superior to the bloggers that have become the biggest competition.
  9. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    Twoback, can we at least concede that a beat person who opines publicly risks burning bridges with the people he covers? Or that, with his opinion known in all its glory to his audience, he loses credibility on the scale of fairness or objectivity?

    When I was pounding beats full-time, I liked having a general columnist to come in as a "hit man" to handle the really rough stances, so that I could continue to work the locker room. As a columnist, that's what I tried to provide for our beat people. Nothing fancier than the ol' good cop, bad cop routine. Where I got fed up was when the person in the bad cop role was more interested in schmoozing and maintaining buddy-buddy relations himself, or was running off to do some electronic gig after a half-assed effort.
  10. shockey

    shockey Active Member


    beat guys doubling as analysts is risky business every which way.
  11. Twoback

    Twoback Active Member

    No. We do not agree on that. That's always been the dodge, but it's absolute crap.
    A respected beat person taking a stand on an issue might find disagreement with some of the subjects he covers. It might even get extremely heated. Who knows? Most often, if the person is really good, he'll find that the people in the organization know he's right about it. Hal McCoy being the perfect example. Ostensibly the Reds beat guy for Dayton, but he has written some scathing columns about their organizational ineptitude. Think he's compromised in any way? No. He's just great.
    An opinion doesn't make one less objective. That's more crap. If somebody on the USC beat writes that Matt Barkley is the proper choice to start at QB, how does that make him or her not objective? Or not fair? If the column is well researched and well presented, it just means the writer has taken a position based on what he or she knows. Those are the pieces I want to read most often.
    A beat person doing a good job is going to tick off the subjects he covers just as much -- if not much more -- with a well-done news story the coach or GM doesn't want to see printed. Angering the subjects might happen under either circumstance. We don't have beat guys shy away from news stories because we're worried about that reaction, do we?
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