There’s an elephant in the room. It’s you and I.
As TSG scribbles–apologies–types or thumbs words on this page, it’s that very role that’s becoming redundant and antiquated as sports reporting, soccer reporting, hurtles through the Mobile Era.
Back in the day of immovable typeface, sports reporting was the very essence of what a newspaper is. Events would transpire the day or evening before, and a dutiful scribe would take notes, describe the action, and hustle it to the press so that it would be set for morning delivery.
Newspapers traveled in small circumferences around their city’s epicenter and were purchased “on the way” somewhere, serving fodder for water cooler talk later that morning. The sports report, unless you listened to the game on the radio or watched it with friends, was your lifeline to understanding your team.
A sports writer’s account was invaluable. He was on the ground, at the action and had the resume of past experience to qualify him to add his opinion on team.
In my own childhood, a favorite Sunday pasttime was the post-church, pre-sports day combination of brunch and the New York tabloids. Box scores galore, authors like Vescey–George, not Peter–Frank Isola and Filip Bondy.
Fast forward the Delorean to 2011 and, as any person reading this piece can tell you, that world has been shaken up, turned upside down, picked back up and spilled out into a million pieces.
Sports “reporting” is no longer what it used to be and in fact has almost “positively regressed” to the simplest of communication: signal, receiver, feedback in a near lightspeed-like loop.
Today, no one waits for the daily. That daily comes out instantaneously as the game concludes. Having sat in the press box, it’s a sad yet necessary scene: reporters–through no fault of their own, but the dynamic of “internet news”–are forced to write their game summary as the game is going on. If you’re paying attention at home you’ll see a decrease in tweets and or late description of events that transpired after the 75th minute or so.
For the USA vs. Chile game in January, I watched as the multitudes of those around me furiously typed their notes, seeking to “publish” as the game concluded for “maximum hits” and then scurry to the mixed zone to get quotes to add later or to another piece.
The necessity of textually describing a game once it’s concluded is extinct; not endangered, extinct. That’s what YouTube and ESPN are for these days.
Recently, TSG’s Jay Bell went to the USA vs. Paraguay match. As he “tweeted” out the action, I encouraged him to describe instead “what the audience couldn’t see or feel on TV.” Things like: who is toeing the touchline and may be used as a sub or what does the crowd look or feel like.
With the advent of widely-adopted HDTV and instantaneous replay, you at home are better qualified to describe what happened on a play, not me up in the box for the most part. There’s a good chance your camera angle better captured that handball rather than my 20/20 nosebleed. (The lone exception here being full field player location or deployment.)
After a play happens in the press box, eyes typically shoot up to a small TV in a corner that shows a replay–the same one you see at home–at the same time everyone is furiously giving their opinion on Twitter.
Many of the most respected US reporters that went to the World Cup took in the games in the venue that gave them the best opportunity to watch and opine on the action, the living room of their rented villas.
Sports “reporting” really is becoming just a technology and rights game. I don’t mean rights as in a company like Attributor attempting to police the internet for illegally pilfered content. I mean rights to statistical or “count” data, quotes (or access) and photos.
Who is compiling how many shots are “on goal” in the 2nd frame? Who is taking the pictures that in the age of immediacy and quick attention spans root the reader to the story?
And, in fact, quotes or obtaining quotes may be less and less valuable. Twitter now is the preferred medium for quotes. Why? Because it is an environment of ambiguity (“I didn’t really mean to say that,” “My tweet was received incorrectly”), brevity (how direct can I be in 140 characters) and deletion (I don’t like what I said it’s gone just as quickly as I wrote it.).
Athletes are ever so slightly less conditioned to give canned responses on Twitter.
However, put them in the mixed zone line or in front of a camera where they are aware there is a permanent record of their account–one that they can’t typically and adjacently respond to–, one that can be replayed or etched in web annals and you get your favorite one-liners like “Nobody believed in us,” “Well we gave 110% today” or Bob Bradley’s favorite “We need to be sharper.” (And really what the hell does that mean because it seems to be the “solution” for everything.)
(Yes, this too can happen on Twitter, but again the brevity and ambiguity give a certain sense of protection.)
Ever so often you get a moment of engagement with an athlete, but that takes real work, the right relationship and most times their response is not pressing.
The biggest relative danger (sports guys are not covering oil-initiated strife in Nigeria) is the advent of the leagues controlling the medium and, because of the deluge and cacophony of everyone talking at once, that humans are now conditioned not to question what they’re consuming.
I love ExtraTime Radio and MLSSoccer.com coverage. I do. Their smart and good guys that know their stuff. However, they’re also compromised, no matter what they spin.
They are funded by the same league who they are supposed to critique.
Now, the challenge is for them that they position themselves as a “news” and oppose to “sports lifestyle” or “an online talk show.”
Recently ExtraTime Radio had Shalrie Joseph on and the circular gushing on his leadership abilities was palpable. Where was the questioning of what he was doing getting himself in trouble late night during training camp and how that impacted his leadership abilities going into the season?
Mind you, there are exceptions, Simon Borg challenging Oguchi Onyewu’s leadership in the wake of his no-comment press job after the US-Colombia match last year. But what happened there? Other soccer media luminaries came to Onyewu’s defense? Either to curry favor with fans or perhaps the player’s agent.
I have never seen a Postcard from Europe that does not have a positive slant to it. Did Sacha Kljestan expect to get more games when he moved to Anderlecht in Belgium? You bet he did.
TSG is guilty of it too mind you, though we also make a concerted effort not to let it happen. Our Michael Bradley coverage almost seems quite zealous at times as we quixotically have pursued the reason why his spot on the national team is never challenged.
We’ve dubbed Alejandro Bedoya as “the Ambassador to Brazil” although his spot on a potential Brazil 2014 US World Cup team is certainly not assured.
And therein lies the challenge for sports reporting going forward.
This is not about the evolution of the sports reporter into some new news beast.
It’s how can an independent and objective source can compete financially and maybe just survive in a world where one, everybody now has the ability to broadcast, two, access to sports figures is determined by how you interact with them online (that’s really nothing new though, but on hyperdrive) and three, the professional leagues themselves–MLS, NFL, MLS–have a financially vested interest to control and distribute the message.
When it comes down to it, anybody can layer a report over just data and photos. That’s both the opportunity and the challenge.
Oh and I’m sure about a quarter of TSG’s audience just asked, “They’ve got sports coverage in newspapers?”
Other required reading on this topic:
(Mavericks Owner) Mark Cuban: What’s The Role of Media For A Sports Team