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?”

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13 thoughts on “Guest Column: Too Many Outlets, Not Enough News

  1. I really hate to do this because in general I appreciate Michael's opinion but…this has to be the dumbest column I have read in a long time. If I understand the point correctly; the problem with sports media coverage is that there is too much competition and too little news. The bigger problem with the article is it gives no solution other than editors asking…is this really news. I don't want to go back to the days where all sports news was disseminated by the Herald and the all Mighty Globe. It was precisely because they controlled all access and all news that WEEI was able to make such huge in roads so quickly when it was launched. The advent of ESPBoston.com, CSSNE.com, WEEI.com has made the Herald and Globe work harder. We get better news.

    The problem Michael identifies but he does not elaborate on is that we are also getting a lot more "opinion" to fill space. He calls it speculating. George Will in the fabulous Baseball Book "Men at Work" wrote that baseball was all about thinking about the "what if". Sports talk in general is all about discussing the "what if". There is nothing wrong with it. Its why we watch and then talk about sports…"what if it had been ruled a fumble, what if he had not been caught looking, what if he had made the shot or taken the body." This has nothing to do with reporting. This falls clearly in the realm of opinion or commenting.

    I want as much news competition as possible. I want the different outlets to have to work hard to get something unique. To look at something differently. To talk to someone new. A few years ago Tom Curran did a piece on Miguel Benzan…who is that…he is the guy who runs the unofficial patriots salary cap webpage at patsfan.com. Curran thought outside the box and gave his readers something new and different but more importantly he introduced us to a resource that if you are a fan of the business side of sports is really cool. Perhaps the real problem Michael Gee sees is that some reporters are lazy and don't look for news. They just accept what is fed to them by teams' and leagues' and players' PR staffs. Well whose fault is that?

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    1. Late I agree 100% with you. More competition is always better. The toughest time for sports or any media is down time when there is not much going on. Writers or talkers who are able to find a topic like Curran and make it interesting will increase readership. Those who continue to bring out the same old tired drivel on most of their columns like Cafardo and Shaughnessy will be read less and less and eventually these writers will be replaced.

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    2. Please provide a list of Boston journalists who grasp the concept of "what if"? I think you named a few above. But really, "what if" is far outside the scope of Andy Gresh, Mike Felger, Mike Mutnansky, Mike Adams and Tony Mazz. If you asked them a "what if" question, they'd look at you as if you asked them "what's the square root of 97". Can you imagine asking Fred Smerlas, Steve Burton or Butch Stearns a "what if" question?

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      1. My list would include Bob Ryan, Tom Curran, Sean McAdam, Joe McDonald, Bob Neumier, Dale Arnold, Damon Amedolara (although he has taken some rather bizarre turns lately), Ian Rappaport, Peter Gammons and Bill Reynolds. I think all of these people are great at exploring the what if's raised by their perspective sports. I can think of a few more but there are plenty in the market.

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  2. This Saturday with MLB and NFL deals galore, 98.5 & EEI spent their entire day bashing Haynesworth for failing a conditioning test that we later found out he did not take. There is plenty of news and interesting stories out there, and talented members of the media (or message boards) find them. Instead, the local market is flooded with talentless hacks who hyper-focus on the easy sports soap opera of the day while ignoring more interesting topics.

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  3. Sports journalism has become the same as "news" journalism.

    If you can explain it in one or two sentences – "Haynesworth's a fat bum!" "The Tea Party is in charge!" – then it's an easy story for generally uninformed reporters to write about.

    There is no shortage of reporters and writers…there is a BIG shortage of reporters who actually understand their subject and have legit sources that they are willing to stand up to and actually question, vs. simply writing down exactly what they say with no context. Twitter allows zero context, just space for detail that's supposedly important but is basically just proof that the reporter has a pair of eyes.

    "Grantland," is another great example of a place with clearly skilled writers who seem very impressed with their ability to write 2000 words about almost anything – while really reporting nothing at all.

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  4. One thing I agree with Mr. Gee on is Twitter. Jason Lisk of the Big Lead shows two great examples of how media members on Twitter can be pretty irresponsible. The examples are from Adam Schefter at ESPN and Peter King of SI. Schefter put out a statement on Twitter on the Eagles saying, "Eagles are already considering themselves "a dream team"". It was never said. King did what he seems to do a lot and that is inject himself in a story. King put this beauty out on Twitter on Cam Newton, "Interesting but not too surprising: Just got stiffed at Panther camp by Cam Newton. Chose not to talk to me post-evening practice"
    Really. Of course, King just had a one-on-one a few months earlier with Newton. King's indignation is phony at best and a flat out lie at worst. Here is the full story from the Big Lead: http://thebiglead.com/index.php/2011/08/01/the-ic

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    1. I still think it is much whining about nothing. I don't think there is anything I hate more than listening to media members complain about how hard it is to their jobs. Mike Reiss, Ian Rappaport, Tom Curran, Sean McAdam, Joe McDonald, Jackie McMullin, Bob Ryan these people never have problems finding interesting stories or takes or side lights. I don't care whether it is on Twitter, on a blog, on the radio, on TV or in print…if you complain about not getting a story or interview then you are not doing your job.

      Years ago (because I am really old) I went to a symposium for college newspaper editors. The main speaker was the Wall Street Journal's editor in chief. He said that we report news. If someone will not talk to us we notate that in the story but we gather the facts and report the story anyway. We never complain that we did not have access. To listen to Peter King, Tony Mazz, Tom Jackson, Dan Shaughnessey, John Tomasse and a host of others complain about access or not being in the right place at the right time is the equivalent to nails on a chalk board for me. Its not that hard to do your job. The problem for these guys is they have to work for it. The fact that King thinks a 140 character forum is an acceptable place to air his dirty laundry tells me a heck of a lot more about King and what his bosses are willing to accept than I ever really wanted to know.

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  5. Too Many Outlets, Not Enough News is right. Right now for example if you watch CSN tonight or whatever they could lead with the main Patriots or Red Sox story then go into the main story of the other team and then what ? You still have to fill 15 more minutes and there's nothing else espceillay not with Bruins/Celtics offseason. 30 minutes of SportsNet Central + 30 more minutes of Mohegan Sun Sports Tonight is just too much overkill. If you can one of those shows it wouldnt be a bad thing.

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  6. " …but nobody’s out there generating the additional news needed to keep up."

    You've never heard of FOX news?

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  7. Though we are Boston-centric, I think the problem with radio and TV lies in the fact that local media outlets relegate national topics and discussions to the back burner. By doing so we get invented topics du jour because it happens to be a quiet day in Boston sports. Other than ESPN there is no national perspective. Why can't we hear about something going on in another part of the country if it's interesting enough? Or maybe a major college matchup coming up? I rather hear that than another day of "Albert Haynesworth is a bad guy".

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