The continually changing face of sports journalism

I still cringe when I look at that old photo that my father snapped of me. I suppose I was about 14 years old at the time, sitting at a table, wearing a sweatshirt, a baseball cap on backwards (Oscar Madison style), pecking away at a typewriter. The caption could have read, “Future sportswriter at work.”

It wasn’t until much later that I would seriously venture into the career path I have chosen, but in thinking back, those were the days when the seed was planted for my interest in sports journalism.

Actually, I have sports to thank for driving my interest in reading. As a youngster I eagerly read sports books, sports magazines and sports sections. It wasn’t a big leap to imagine how great it would be to write about sports for a living. I mean, getting paid to watch games, how great is that?

My father, who often worked nights at Kennedy Airport, encouraged his wannabee sportswriter of a son. I would watch a game on TV, bang out a story about it on my old typewriter — for those young people who do not know what a typewriter is, just imagine a primitive, noisy word processor — and leave it on the kitchen table for him to read when he got home from work in the wee hours of the morning. He graded my stories, which were surely god-awful, with a generous eye.

Newspapers captured my imagination. I realized back then what a minor miracle a newspaper is. For example, how amazing is it that a story about a New York Knicks game in Los Angeles that ended well after midnight New York time could appear in the following morning’s paper in neatly lined columns with photos? For a kid in the 1970s, well before Al Gore’s Internet had become established, that was a wonder.

Who was to know how many more wonders awaited us in the years to come? In a media world that is changing at an astounding pace, so has the job of a sports reporter. Even well before I first started pounding on a typewriter, sports reporting for print underwent significant change with the growth of televised sports. Suddenly, it wasn’t sufficient to merely report the facts of the game. Readers who had watched the game the night before knew who won. They needed more. The who, what, when and where of journalism’s five Ws were still important, but a new focus was placed on the fifth W, why, and an H, how? How and why things happened on the athletic field became ever more important because of TV’s influence. As Frank Deford, the senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated, put it, there is a tendency to “endlessly analyze, dissect and predict, to enlarge minutiae.”

With the proliferation of televised sports and Web sites, sports today are covered like never before, and the competition is fierce. Even high school sports, which can be easy to overlook in a pro sports market such as the New York metropolitan area, are being covered in greater detail by traditional and non-traditional media.

It has been an interesting adventure for a sports editor, who has learned to shoot photos and video for posting on the Internet. At times I feel like a walking electronics store, juggling a video camera, photo camera, digital recorder and a cell phone.

Because of the Internet, weekly newspapers have become digital dailies, and daily newspapers that once had a few daily deadlines are continually pressed to feed that voracious beast, the Internet.

All of this can make for interesting challenges, but one thing that hasn’t changed about sports reporting is you’re dealing with people. Because people are different, that means some are a delight to deal with, and others less so. Regardless of technological advances, that has not changed. Some coaches, for example, are media friendly and recognize the value of news coverage to their team. Others aren’t and don’t.

Sports reporting isn’t all fun and games. What readers don’t see is you slumped over your laptop, putting the finishing touches on a story at 1 a.m. (or sometimes even later) or trying (sometimes in vain) to reach a coach for information. Readers don’t see the lengths reporters go to sometimes to obtain information.

The North Shore Sun sports editor, Joe Werkmeister, recently provided a good example of this when he made a long drive to Sachem North High School to track down a girls lacrosse coach for a preview he was working on. He had been granted a five-minute interview. On the drive to the school, Werkmeister encountered construction on one road that slowed him down and another road that was partly closed because of flooding. Altogether, the escapade took three hours out of his day. That’s right, three hours for a five-minute interview!

I could offer similar examples myself. All in all, though, I can’t complain. Sports journalism has been good to me. We wonder what new adventures this brave new media world has in store for us.

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