Sunday, March 02, 2008

What's at "Play" this issue?

I subscribe to only one newspaper and it arrives one day each week - the Sunday New York Times. It is too bad that only once every four months Play Magazine arrives with it. Great writing and unique perspectives on sports. It's a refreshing break from much of the drivel of today's Cold Pizza sports media. This issue's highlights include:

Joe Nocera writing about why owners of lousy pro sports teams refuse to sell and Jonathan Mahler writing "Oedipus Bronx," a profile of the Steinbrenner family.

But the article of interest to many of the readers of this space should be Bryan Curtis's analysis of the Rick Reilly from SI to ESPN and Dan Patrick from ESPN to SI "trade." Curtis discusses how each will contribute to multiple platforms (.com, magazine, radio) and offers the following observation at the end of the article:
"the Web has changed something about the essential nature of sports journalism. For the better part of a century, we sports fans lived in a media universe ruled by swaggering, outsize voices — from Royko to Reilly, from Howard Cosell to Dan and Keith. But the stars of the new frontier, the Web, are not what we would recognize as general opiners so much as experts on particular niches: statistics, college recruiting, major-league farm systems and other forms of advanced sports studies. of’s John Hollinger, fantasy savants like Matthew Berry, gossip outposts like Deadspin and the Big Lead, recruiting gurus at (A notable exception is Simmons, a general columnist with broad reach.) ... The Web is not, at its heart, a place for nihilistic attitude-mongering but something that feels more like sports academia. In the face of all these bits of information, Patrick and Reilly, of course, are offering up what is essentially shtick. You can lead a sports fan to a smart-alecky, middle-aged white guy, but can you make him pay attention?"

Sports academia?! Clearly there are many reputable "sports academia" web sites (e.g. Sports Law Blog, Sports Economist, maybe even this one). However, I would argue the sports Web feels more like bar debates, fan forums, and gossip than academia. Don't get me wrong, I love Deadspin and The Big Lead as much as anyone (must reads for my RSS feed), but I do not consider them academic and it strikes me that Curtis does. I think they perform an important function as a quasi watchdog of sports media and frequently they alert me to things I would not otherwise have paid attention to.

I think Curtis's best observation was earlier in his column, where he stated:
"What looks like a small masterpiece on the back page of Sports Illustrated might seem somehow smaller on the Internet. But where some of us gaze at the Web and see a delightfully shaggy form of journalism, Reilly sees too many sloppy, overly indulgent meditations."

Perhaps so, Rick. But that seems to be what people want right now and what seems to be working. I understand why traditional mainstream media resist the Web and blogging (it runs counter to their education and upbringing), but it does not appear this new form of sports journalism is losing momentum.


Blogger sportsbabel said...

Not only is it not losing momentum, it is opening up journalistic opportunity for previously "fringe" sporting pursuits and/or the grassroots aspects of "mainstream" sport. This is not a trivial issue: I'm not so sure I want 10-year-old Little League games to be captured by the ESPN media machine.

2:54 PM  

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