As a retiree, I have abundant spare time. One of the ways I spend a little of that time is to be part of an online message board for sports journalists. There are three general categories of folks there:
- People who are actively involved in sports journalism.
- People who used to be involved in sports journalism who have “moved on.”
- People – like me – who are consumers of sports journalism.
I am not an active participant by any means; I may make one comment every two weeks. However, I did pose a question there hoping to start a discussion involving people who know more about the business of journalism than I do. It did not work; the topic never gained much traction. But I keep thinking about it and so I want to present it here – – not for discussion because that is not the nature of this place, but just in case someone has a cogent insight that has escaped me. Here is what I posted to try to start a discussion:
- In the past – – say 10-15 years ago – – there were more than a handful of what I will call “controversial columnists” in various sports sections around the country. By controversial I mean that they took on topics and said things that most other sports columnists would not. I am not saying these are the only examples but let me throw out a few names in alphabetical order, so no one thinks I am prioritizing here:
Randy Galloway (Ft Worth)
Jay Mariotti (Chicago)
TJ Simers (LA)
Jason Whitlock (KC)
All of them have moved on either to retirement or to some other endeavor that is not “sports focused”. And if there are “replacements” for them and their pointed style, I guess I have been unable to find it. There is a difference between the sort of “controversy” that Pat McAfee or Clay Travis might generate, but it is not nearly the same as when the four gentlemen listed above were writing 4 times a week.
So, has that genre gone out of fashion or are sports editors steering away from it or what?
Frankly, I miss the work of all four of those guys because it was interesting to be able to have a discussion with a friend that began with, “Did you see what So-and-So had to say about Whatever two days ago. Man, he took no prisoners…”
One thing that has changed over the past 10-20 years is the availability of journalists on the Internet. When I began this “enterprise” back in 2001, I could read sportswriters all over the country on a daily basis. That is how I discovered those 4 gentlemen listed above among other folks whose work I came to admire. That open availability is much more restrictive today. For example, one of the responses I got to my posting was to inform me that Patrick Reusse at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune belonged on my list and that he was still “stirring the pot” in his columns. That may be true, but his work is now behind a paywall where an annual subscription is $129. That is no bargain for someone like me who would have zero to marginal interest in just about anything else that might appear in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune besides his aperiodic controversial columns. The fact that he is “stirring the pot” behind a paywall only makes me change my question slightly:
- There are plenty of “nationally focused” sports entities that employ columnists where no subscription is required. CBSSports.com. SI.com, Yahoo!Sports, Sporting News.com are just a few examples.
- None of them have anyone writing on a regular basis who could rightfully claim a seat at the same table with Galloway, Mariotti, Simers and Whitlock.
- So – – why not?
Please do not misinterpret or add a negative layer to my question that is not intended to be there at all. I am not insinuating in any way that good sportswriters are nowhere to be found today; there are lots of very good ones including my two favorites:
- Sally Jenkins
- Scott Ostler
However, neither of those two top-shelf sportswriters – – in my universe anyway – – should be categorized as “controversial” or “pot-stirrers”.
Finally, since my question of the day involves a genre of journalism, let me close today with these words from the English journalist, Rebecca West:
“Journalism is the ability to meet the challenge of filling space.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………