Sports reporting and journalism have changed more over the past five years than probably any period of time as long as the written word of sports results has been available to the masses.
Newspapers -- in one form or the other -- have been around since the 17th century, however the newspaper format that we know and understand has been informing people about wars and other ongoing events since the 19th century. That's a long time when you consider that the internet has only been the preferred method of the masses for information gathering for less than 15 years.
It's a great lesson in the belief that "nothing is forever." No one thought newspapers would ever die, but in the last five-to-seven years it's become apparent that many publications continue to print only because they have extra paper and they don't want it to go to waste. Why else would you spend one dime printing a newspaper at this point?The only markets that make sense to print a paper is your small, weekly paper whose target audience continues to hold on to the belief that cell phones will never make it in America.
I'm still amazed when reading Tom Browning's accounts of football fans from the 1930s and 1940s heading into town to gather around a telegraph waiting for updates of the Alabama-Tennessee game in his book Third Saturday in October.
[caption id="attachment_479" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Fans in Tuscaloosa would gather here in the '30s and '40s to simultaneously welcome home the 'Tide... and find out who won the game. "][/caption]
He also wrote how fans would arrive at the train station to hear the result of the biggest game of the year -- WHEN THE TEAM GOT OFF THE BUS! Funny how today we are so inundated with information that we have to turn off our mobile devices to AVOID hearing a score of a game we are trying to DVR.
There was an innocence in the deferred gratification of that time period, I'm sure. Granted, in the '30s and early '40s, much was deferred and very little was gratifying.
With the ever growing changes in sports media, it's evident that we are finally seeing a shift into meritocracy as well as a "give the people what they want to read" approach. People want much more than just "I used the proper AP Style format for that player quote."
Thanks to pioneers like Howard Stern in radio and ESPN in television, broadcasting has become entertaining and somewhat fulfilling for the audience. I remember sitting in a 2003 meeting with a few radio goobs in suits bragging about how their talk show talent got in and out of breaks on time and they got to the news at the top of the hour.
The Arbitron ratings later proved that no one in their cars cared if a show host went to break at 12 minutes after the hour or two days later. They wanted to hear good content and not be interrupted every 11 minutes with four minutes of commercials. The audience is more intelligent today than ever. There aren't many secrets left in media. With Twitter, every listener is aware of breaking new at least as fast as the show host.
Unlike music on the radio, sports media is more than merely background noise. It's the sports fan's voice. Or at least it should be.
Back to the Howard Stern and ESPN reference. Howard made it ok for the audience to experience the show. It was more than just news, traffic, weather, and birthday/anniversary announcements between the same 12 songs that were rotated on every station in town.
ESPN made it ok for the anchor to have personality. Media consultants in suits may want to cover their ears and eyes for this next line, but the audience can be informed AND entertained at the same time. And here's another spoiler alert: THE AUDIENCE IS NOT STUPID.
I want to send a sincere apology to those who are forced to sit in meetings with close-minded goobs who only see the bottom line.
So we've had Howard Stern for radio and ESPN for television. What about written media - print or online?
In sports, the fan has a voice on the radio. The team play-by-play guy/gal is not sworn to unbiased, cookie cutter commentating. The late University of Georgia play-by-play man, Larry Munson, was the epitome of the perfect homer broadcaster. He was the voice of the Bulldog fan. He was a fan. When Georgia did something, "we" did something. The fan trusted him and Munson didn't try to be objective or rationalize something bad happening to the 'Dogs. He pounded his fist against the table and advised the fans that they were justified in their anger. On that same token, when Georgia did something great and unexpected, he would break a chair or run out of the press box and celebrate, leaving the background noise of the crowd's pandemonium to tell the story for him. That is what the fan wants.
Where do we have that in the written world of sports media? The Internet has finally opened the door for the fan to blog about the team for which they live and die. We are finally seeing the door open for fans who have an ability to write with journalistic integrity to have an opportunity to write about their team. To give opinions about their team. To actually get press credentials and ask questions a fan would ask. A fan agent or representative, if you will.
This is my dream. This is my plan. I want to one day sit on press row inside Bryant-Denny Stadium and cover the Crimson Tide as a FAN. Without apology. Free from the limitations of being unbiased. I can follow the AP Stylebook. I can blend in with a room full of reporters. These reporters have a job to do as well. They bring the facts, tell the story, and go places the fan cannot.
I want to take it a step further. To view the game from the eyes of the fan, but do it rationally. I don't want to stand and cheer in the press box. I know better. But to be able to tell the fan what I saw, what I heard, why the play call that seemed so obviously wrong at the time was actually the correct call. I want the ability to sit in the post-game press conference and tell what I saw from the coach of the team I've followed as a fan for my entire life. I want to provide the full context of a Saban a quote while some national honk takes one line from the press-conference and vilifies him. The same objectivity should and will be given if a quote merits criticism.
[caption id="attachment_480" align="alignright" width="300" caption="His writing rivals Faulker, but his ability to summon the lowest common denominator of Alabama to call his show every weekday afternoon is uncanny."][/caption]
I don't want to walk into a press conference and ask Saban to sign my 2009 and 2011 National Championship hats. I also don't want to isolate myself from the "real" reporters. I could never hold a candle to these guys who are tops in their field. Izzy Gould, Don Kausler, Jr., Tony Barnhardt, Kevin Scarbinsky, Joe Biddle, David Climer, Paul Kuharsky, Ian Rapoport, Gentry Estes, and Paul Finebaum. These are a just a few of the great writers I enjoy on a daily basis. They are great writers with great perspective because they are unbiased journalists covering a team.
I'll never stop reading these guys and neither will anyone else. Only now, we have yet another perspective as readers -- the fan blogger. Whether you like him or not, many bloggers that get a chance to write for money owe Clay Travis a debt of gratitude. Yes, that Clay Travis.
Travis, who also co-hosts one of the most popular sports talk shows in the nation in Nashville, has broken
into through the field as a former attorney with no seniority at a large media outlet. He just writes about what he loves and it works. No, he didn't graduate with honors from an ivy league school, but he's an intelligent guy that understands demographics, grammar, and how to drive in internet traffic.
The fact that his writing sounds less like a guy in his parents' basement and more like a guy who gets the audience that he's targeting as much as the subject he's writing about gives writers like me a chance to prove that we, too, know the difference between "your" and "you're."
The person covering our teams has become as or more important than the voice of the team because we don't rely on our radio play-by-play guy as much as fans did at one time. We now watch the game on television, but we still like to turn to our team's beat writer to see what he or she tweeted about what we saw and maybe about what they saw that we couldn't. Especially if we attend the game.
Never has attending a game placed a fan in such a black hole as it does today. With Twitter, we have immediate access to our favorite writers to find out how many yards Trent Richardson had rushing or whether or not the injury that forced a player to limp off the field was season-ending or just a strain.
Now the fan blogger can be that guy/girl. If you want to know the score or stats you can go to ESPN.com. If you want to know the info that only a fan would know to look for, you can go to the fan blogger. Hopefully, I'll bring that to you.
I want to entertain. I want to inform. I want to provide information that speaks for the fan.
Giving fans a fan's perspective breeds well-informed fans. Yes, I understand that well-informed fans and Alabama football in the same sentence summons Verne Lundquist-like chortles from your belly, but why not try?
Al Michaels believed in miracles. Why can't I?
Back to the Alabama Crimson Tide Newsfeed