Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sportswriting? rejoinder

To tell the truth, I was with you for a while on your argument (original post below). I agree that much of what passes as sportswriting these days is downright awful, for a lot of reasons. There's a lot I could add to your general thesis, but I'll save that for another day. The bottom line is a lot of bad writers are being employed to write stupid and uninformed things.

I do take some exception, however, to your pitting sports writing against other forms of journalism, and then literature. Beyond the fact that (as you admitted would probably be the case) your argument is a little scattered and loses it's cohesiveness, I think you reach a little too far.

First, the state of journalism on the whole is pretty sad. We have saturated the market with media outlets, between television and the internet, not to mention the more traditional print outlets (perhaps the only area of the media that's actively contracting), and that has had distinct repercussions on the quality of the reporting and writing. This problem is just as pronounced in news reporting as it is sports, and while I agree that sports is generally facile and should be treated as such, I fear that most news outlets take the same approach to reporting on "important" issues as they do to those within the world of sports. You see this as an inappropriate elevation of sports' significance; I would posit that the opposite is the case, and people are treating the "important" with no more care than they do games.

Even the best of the SI features -- say, for example, the Darling twins piece from a few years back -- follow a formula. Introduce motif early on, reintroduce after each page break/subheading, come back to it in the conclusion (ideally in the last line). It can be done well, sure, but even then, it's formulaic. And formulas make for bad writing.

Beyond the fact that I think you're speaking a little too generally here, I also think you're making an unfair comparison between journalism and literature. Yes, both involve writing, and both should involve good writing. But good doesn't mean the same thing for one as it does the other. Journalism is a patently commercial enterprise, and in order to sell something you must have it appeal to the widest possible audience. Formulas exist because they are proven to be effective at getting people to read. While it would be nice to think there's a coming movement of creativity, the truth is that anyone who wants to be all that creative doesn't really have a place in journalism. If you want to break rules, go into writing books. If you want to write for a newspaper (or a magazine, or a major website), be prepared to exist within the confines of the tried-and-true. This works to the benefit of the reader, who can expect to receive a product of consistent quality and effectiveness when they expose themselves to a particular medium.

Literature has none of these constraints, nor should it. It is art, and should be treated and respected as such. And that also directly correlates with sales; the market is not really there for high-concept writing. People like mysteries, suspense, and cop thrillers. Students in grad school like Susan Sontag. It is a testament to our society that both can exist at the same time, so people can choose to read what they prefer.

Lastly: Of course sports aren't actually significant. But they are still important enough that we spent a half-hour talking about baseball and football last night on the phone when we could have been discussing ballot propositions and the potential ramifications of the Mark Foley case on internet privacy. We're both fairly intelligent, well-informed people. We probably spend more than half our time talking about sports. Are we so decadent ourselves? I think you're being a little breathless by bringing Rome into the conversation, my friend.

There's lots more to say, but I'll leave it at that for now.

- Diesel

p.s. — Hunter S. Thompson had a column on Page 2 for, I think, more than three years.

1 comment:

AnEasyMark said...

you do a lot of thinking