Remember a time before smartphones? A time when when getting your information meant perusing a box score and your source for perspective on your team’s fortunes meant devouring the beat writer’s column?
If you’re of a certain age, these memories are warm reminders of what sports coverage was. Each paper had their own tastemaker – the Daily News had Mike Lupica, for example – and those folks drove opinions, and ultimately their words could elevate or destroy a player, team, or even an owner. They were the vox populi.
Today, that model of sports consumption is effectively dead. Now, everyone has a voice thanks to the internet and the proliferation of blogs. There are more sports writer jobs than ever. But this is both terrible and great for journalism and sports writers, in general.
The great thing about blog proliferation is writers have a chance to establish themselves more organically in jobs as a sports writer. Instead of having to work in a newsroom and hope for a shot, now you just open up a blog and begin opining. For people who may lack the traditional training and internships, this is a great way to get noticed.
Having an active social media presence promoting your writing allows you to grow an audience much quicker than starting in smaller markets and gradually making your way to bigger ones as they build their sports writing careers. In fact, you can visit many sports blogs today, and you will find lots of writing – some good, some not so much – but these writers are active and engaging on social media.
So, the good about the proliferation of blogs thanks to the internet is allowing the people to have a more authentic and unfiltered voice.
What’s the bad part?
To make that point I’ll reference Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” Just as those who left the cave are now blind to the inside of the cave, so are we with the privacy of our athletes.
The rise of bloggers along with social media has led to more access to athletes than previously seen. Journalists generally kept their commentary between the lines on the field – with some exceptions. Today, if a blogger has a smartphone and some luck, they may find an athlete going to a place they shouldn’t be visiting and doing things they shouldn’t be doing.
Soon after, it gets shared online.
And we are all worse off for it. If the media, who are bound by traditional rules of journalism, doesn’t cover this story, they risk losing readers. If they do cover the story, they may compromise their journalistic principles. This speaks to the idea of what’s newsworthy.
Journalists view being newsworthy as writing about events within the public forum — for sports writers, that’s what happens between the lines. Because bloggers are unencumbered with this ethos, anything to them is newsworthy. Now the traditional journalist is in trouble – on the one hand, clickbait headlines help sell advertising. On the other hand, standing up for your principles can mean losing readers, which affects the availability of sports journalist jobs.
The technique of writing is different, too. Gone are the days where profanity is verboten. The blogs do enjoy being profane, but more than that, the crudeness of the internet has drawn the sports writer from doing two things they did back in the past:
- Use hyperbole
- Use sports as a vehicle for societal change
Regarding hyperbole, if a writer engages in that, there’s a good chance a blog will pick it up, mock the writer, and the writer’s social media will have a field day. Apparently, figurative language isn’t as valued when you can drop an F-bomb.
Today’s established writers are afraid to touch social issues – an exception being Dan LeBatard. In the mid-20th century, sports and sports writers lead the charge for civil rights. Famously, writers generated such a backlash against Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman for horrifically racist comments during the game that when the Phillies played the Dodgers again, Chapman had to essentially apologize to Jackie Robinson because the media was unimpressed with his behavior.
Howard Cosell famously referred to Muhammad Ali by his chosen name, and that started a larger conversation about the treatment of African Americans and Muslims. Sadly, this conversation started to take place long after Ali was unable to speak. Many other writers also tilted at civil rights windmills as well.
Today, talking political doesn’t pay – in fact, it’s a quick way to get fired from a newspaper. As sports are apolitical in nature, bloggers seek to blur that line – and it doesn’t need to be a racial epithet. It can be as simple as an arrest or an incident where an athlete displays poor judgement.
The clickbait culture ultimately has changed the sports writer game.
How else has the internet and the proliferation of blogs affected sports writing?