Mainstream sports media: Don’t blame them if they don’t get the whole story; blame the system

I don’t think I could work in mainstream sports media today.

Oh, I could write in MSM. I would love to write in MSM again. But I couldn’t work in it. Too many inconveniences. Too much protocol. Too many 140-character bites that say nothing. Too much in-house video. Too many scribes tweeting and texting instead of telling it like it is. Too much thin skin. Too much distance between scribe and subject. Too little respect.

I suppose this might come across as the banal bleatings of an old bag burrowed in a time warp, but that simply isn’t so. Yes, I’m old school. Cripes, man, I’m so old school they should name a wing of the old school after me. That, however, does not mean I’m the anti-Steve Jobs. More to the point, I’m all for the new-fangled gadgetry. It just isn’t for me.

Give me a notebook, a pen, a tape recorder and a keyboard and I’ll get ‘er done, as Matt Dunigan is wont to say.

I find myself in ponder of such matters this day due to a recent pilgrimmage to Winnipeg, which, thankfully, fell shy of living up to its slanderous nickname of Winter-peg. It was warm, welcoming and, much to my delight, several springlike celcius above zero upon my arrival, thank you. That made for rather slushy snow-shoeing, but nary a discouraging word shall be heard during a January thaw.

At any rate, during my three-day escape to good, ol’ Hometown in the middle of nowhere, I had occasion to chin-wag with numerous MSM sports scribes and talking heads, each of whom I hold in great regard. They are talented, clever, humorous, witty and oh…so…cynical. (After one gum-flapping session, I retreated to my hotel room and wondered aloud if I had been as derisive during a three-decade stretch as a jock journalist. The answer, of course, was “yes,” although I like to think my 15 years removed from that biz has served to mellow myself and my musings.)

There is, of course, very good reason why sports scribes are cynical—they work on Planet Pinnochio. That is to say, people are always lying to them. Every minute of every hour of every day, an athlete or coach or manager or team owner is telling a news scavenger a big, fat fib and his/her nose grows longer than a Winnipeg winter. This breeds cynicism and leads to spillage, like mistrust.

Here’s something else that sports scribes are up against: Access that really isn’t access.

I have often wondered why there is a dearth of personality pieces in our sports pages. You know, feature articles to remind us that we’re dealing with people first and athletes second. Time was (sorry, I’m going old school on you again) when we would write about the people who played the games, not simply the score, the goal collectors and division standings. We hadn’t even heard of Corsi or Fenwick. We got to know the players, coaches and managers. I had John Ferguson’s home phone number. And Chris Walby’s. And Cal Murphy’s. I could call them and let them tell fibs day or night.

Well, we don’t read personality pieces because the scribes aren’t granted the time. It isn’t their editors holding them back. It’s the system.

Yes, news scavengers have access to team personnel. Very limited access. Some players actually monitor the number of times they face the press. They document the number of questions. The minutes. Players do it in Winnipeg. They do it in Toronto. They do it in Vancouver and Calgary and Edmonton and Montreal and Ottawa. A one-on-one chin-wag is as rare as a Grey Cup parade on the downtown streets of River City. It’s all so structured and team dictated now. And if a player doesn’t appreciate the tone of a question, sorry, time’s up. Gotta go. That’s why we’ve seen and read about those unfortunate Phil Kessel-reporter scenarios in the Republic of Tranna.

Why do you think you hear so many dumb questions? It isn’t because the scribes and talking heads are dumb. It’s because they don’t have the time to sink their teeth into meaty subject matter. Hence, you get dumb questions and even dumber answers.

Bottom line: Don’t blame mainstream sports scribes for any absence of what I call “people pieces” in our news sheets. How do you write about people if you can’t get to know them?

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

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