We wrap up our run of guest columns and posts with a second contribution from former Herald columnist Michael Gee. Bruce will return tomorrow.
Too Many Outlets, Not Enough News
By Michael Gee
The main problem in the journalism business is and always has been that there’s more news media than there is news to put in them. It’s getting worse, too. Mankind has been on a spree of inventing mass media lately, but nobody’s out there generating the additional news needed to keep up.
A veteran TV news executive whose name I forget wrote in his memoirs decades ago that there are many more slow news days than other kinds of news days. He was worried about filling up a 15-minute, then 30-minute, evening news program. Today, journalists toss material into the gaping, insatiable maws of the Internet and social media, where there’s a perpetual deadline and all news is assumed to be breaking news.
News seldom breaks. Even in sports, where there’s games every day to generate new information for journalists to send out to their audiences, the supply of information cannot meet the demand generated by what, let’s face it, is an ever-increasing supply of media, big, small, professional and amateur.
For example A of how this gap functions, we need look no further than coverage of the NFL lockout. A posse of pro football reporters, many excellent and all experienced, were on this story day and night. Too bad there was news worth reporting on only five of those days and nights. The rest was all the spin, speculation, and outright lying by the principals that make up news coverage of negotiations in all fields from sports business to international relations.
A few months back, Bruce Allen, the proprietor of this establishment, wrote an outstanding guide on the use of Twitter by sports reporters, his basic point to reporters being “don’t make a fool of yourself.” Wise advice, that, but Bruce didn’t mention one dynamic affecting those reporters. They aren ‘t on Twitter for their health. Their bosses put ‘em there, and by golly, if they know what’s good for them, they’d better tweet. So NFL fans are treated to dynamic mini-messages on who’s attending a meeting, what they’re wearing, etc. Even for a devout fan, such non-news is easy to ridicule and even easier to ignore.
The same dilemma affects all sports media. Talk radio’s maddening flaying of defunct horses is because it can’t find any live topics in the stable. Trade speculation in all sports fills space in all media because there’s just so much one can say about any single ball game, team or entire sport in a given day. Making something up, which after all is what speculation really is, comes as blessed relief.
As a working columnist at the Herald, I would joke that my motto was “don’t be afraid to grasp the obvious.” The big story, the best story, the story most people will read (not always the same thing, those three, but usually), is more often than not the one conveyed in the headline. Your job is to fill it out. There’s no place for contrarians at, say, the Super Bowl post-game press conferences.
When I was in the business, I read everything about sports I could find. It was a professional responsibility. Now, I’m a consumer, and I think like almost all consumers of sports journalism I pick and choose. I read what interests and/or entertains me, which is still a great deal of material, and ignore the rest. I can’t tell you how liberating that feels. My enjoyment of reading about sports has rebounded to the level it was at before I got into the business.
There’s no money and few readers, but on my blog, I write only when I feel I have something to say that might not have been said elsewhere. I know that liberation alone has made me a better writer, or at least a more fulfilled one. If a topic is important to you, you’re very likely to do a better job of discussing it.
The Globe, the Herald, sports talk radio and ESPN can’t just come out when they feel like it. But I can’t help believing they would do better work, and more appreciated work, if they did less work. It’ll be a great day for sports journalism and a greater one for its consumers, when the editing process always includes the question, “why do you care about this?”
It’d be the second question in the process, right after “And this is news because?”