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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Frank Deford laments the passing of journalism that Frank Deford likes (and which hasn’t passed)

I have trouble enough wadding through Grantland...I’d be Agent Sebso’ed sunk at Defordland. Calcaterra looks into it.

The legendary Frank Deford spoke at an awards ceremony on Friday, and during his acceptance speech he lamented what he believes to be the death of sports journalism.

He was somewhat vague on what he thinks is causing the death, but he goes after sports writing that is primarily about statistics and “texting,” suggesting that he believes internet writing, sabermetric-style analysis and social media based stuff like Twitter are killing sports writing.

This, he says, is creating a class of readers and reporters who are “optionally illiterate.” Those who can read and write weighty things, but choose not to.

And what is lost?

  Like everyone else, I have no idea what’s going to happen to the future of our profession. The great thing about sportswriting is that it’s about storytelling. The drama, the glamor …. I don’t want to see sportswriting be overwhelmed by statistics. I want to read about the heart and blood of athletes and their stories, which has made sportswriting so special.

  I worry who is going to pay for the expensive stuff. The long, expensive, investigative pieces, the enterprise journalism. The work that matters more than anything else and justifies the whole experience as journalists.

I understand what Deford is talking about, but I think he (a) misidentifies who the consumer of sports media is; and (b) identifies a false choice with respect to what sports media can be.

Deford has obviously enjoyed the hell out of his career, but since when is sports reporting — or any reporting — about that which “justifies the whole experience as journalists?”

Repoz Posted: June 26, 2012 at 08:33 AM | 56 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, media, sabermetrics

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   1. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: June 26, 2012 at 09:27 AM (#4166415)
Old man is old.

In other news, Craig is still bald.
   2. bobm Posted: June 26, 2012 at 10:12 AM (#4166463)
Frank Deford laments the passing of journalism that Frank Deford likes (and which hasn’t passed)


FTFY
   3. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 10:38 AM (#4166498)
Let's see.

Frank Deford, an accomplished man who's written millions of literate words on a wide-ranging list of topics, or

...

A bunch of fourth-rate snark.

Pretty easy choice.
The drama, the glamor …. I don’t want to see sportswriting be overwhelmed by statistics. I want to read about the heart and blood of athletes and their stories, which has made sportswriting so special.

I worry who is going to pay for the expensive stuff. The long, expensive, investigative pieces, the enterprise journalism. The work that matters more than anything else and justifies the whole experience as journalists.


Of course this is insightful and right, which makes it prime fodder for fourth-rate snark. The lesson here is that some people actually are more talented and literate than other people.(*)


I understand what Deford is talking about, but I think he (a) misidentifies who the consumer of sports media is

Actually he understands it all too well, thus the lament.

(*) Is that less than 140 characters?
   4. Morty Causa Posted: June 26, 2012 at 10:53 AM (#4166513)
This seems on first impression to be an instance of Old Man Yells At Cloud.

Who was funding Bill James when he was doing his early research and "investigations". People like Deford and places like SI were fighting it. They gave James and Palmer et al no venue. It's like with scientific development. First you deny and belittle. Then when it proves right, you claim it's trivial and, besides, "it unweaves the rainbow." It takes the mystery out of it. Ignorance is sacrosanct. I always like Deford, but he's on the losing side of history and doesn't feel he should have to accommodate.
   5. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM (#4166527)
People like Deford and places like SI were fighting it.

No they weren't.

People like Deford and places like SI were fighting it.

SI published a long profile of James in May 1981.

James had some great insights, but he's something of a crank and wasn't good or versatile enough to write consistently for SI in its prime.

I always like Deford, but he's on the losing side of history and doesn't feel he should have to accommodate.

I don't know that this is true, but it says more about "history" than it does Deford.
   6. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:02 AM (#4166531)
I wish Deford would just keep writing beautiful prose about things that interest him, instead of railing against people who either can't or won't write beautiful prose about things that interest him. There was plenty of bad writing back when Frank was young, too, and it wasn't because people were obsessed with new-fangled statistical analysis.
   7. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:04 AM (#4166537)
DeFord's objection, if I'm interpreting it correctly, is to the "Player with 5.3 WAR is better than Player with 5.2 WAR" type of coverage. It's not as if DeFord didn't use filthy numbers to make a point. From his excellent SI article about Bill Russell:
The only thing we know for sure about superiority in sports in the United States of America in the 20th century is that Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics teams he led stand alone as the ultimate winners. Fourteen times in Russell's career it came down to one game, win you must, or lose and go home. Fourteen times the team with Bill Russell on it won.
...
Unashamed, he sought to play the perfect game. "Certain standards I set for that," he says. "First, of course, we had to win. I had to get at least 25 rebounds, eight assists and eight blocks. I had to make 60% of my shots, and I had to run all my plays perfectly, setting picks and filling the lanes. Also, I had to say all the right things to my teammates—and to my opponents."


But he's interested in how statistics reveal the athlete, rather than how they delineate the athlete. The drawbacks to DeFord's personality-driven approach to sportswriting are generally seen in writers other than DeFord.
   8. Rants Mulliniks Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:05 AM (#4166541)
I don't know, I don't see whay there can't be both types of writing. If Deford had lamented the decline of journalism in general, featured in mainstream sources, I could see his point, but if there's been any steeper a decline in sportswriting in particular, I don't understand why he blames stats.
   9. Morty Causa Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:06 AM (#4166542)
SI published a long profile of James in May 1981.


Gosh, as early as that. And a profile, too. Esquire magazine posted an article and profile of James in 1978. You know, Esquire the flagship sports journal of the world?
   10. Jose is an Absurd Force of Nature Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:06 AM (#4166543)
Actually he understands it all too well, thus the lament.


I don't think that's true. There is a reason the "internet writing, sabermetric-style analysis and social media based stuff" is everywhere, it's what people want. I'm not saying there is no audience for the more in depth personal story type of thing, of course there is. But I think what Deford should be decrying is not the change in writing style it's the change in what the reader wants. Bill Simmons may not be what my 8th grade English teacher would have approved of but his style is immensely popular.

Deford is upset that his personal style is no longer in vogue. I don't blame him, I'm sure Mick Jagger wishes a new Rolling Stones album would shoot to number one on the charts but Rihanna and Lady Gaga are the in thing. Styles change, desires change.


Who was funding Bill James when he was doing his early research and "investigations". People like Deford and places like SI were fighting it


Sports Illustrated was one of the earliest mainstream places to give James an audience. I'm sure more than a few people there were unimpressed by this numbers guy but in 1981 I'm pretty sure James was still a self-published guy and they were pretty far ahead (thanks to Okrent).
   11. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:14 AM (#4166551)
But I think what Deford should be decrying is not the change in writing style it's the change in what the reader wants.

I thought it was.

Bill Simmons may not be what my 8th grade English teacher would have approved of but his style is immensely popular.

What a long, strange decline it's been.


   12. Morty Causa Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:25 AM (#4166562)
SI gave in to what it could no longer deny. It did not fund or support anything. And it never has. It's nothing but a People magazine for sports, with some soft-core porn attributes.. If you like that, fine. But that ain't where the unique and interesting developments have been coming from? Not by a long shot.
   13. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:28 AM (#4166570)
SI gave in to what it could no longer deny. It did not fund or support anything. And it never has. It's nothing but a People magazine for sports, with some soft-core porn attributes.. If you like that, fine. But that ain't where the unique and interesting developments have been coming from? Not by a long shot.

That's because the market for what it used to do has receded. Didn't you hear what Deford said?
   14. Morty Causa Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:30 AM (#4166574)
I heard what you said, and it's wrong.
   15. Morty Causa Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:36 AM (#4166584)
It's the same old crap over and over. Sir Isaac Newton (Darwin, Freud, Marx, Einstein, QM) is wrong, wrong, wrong. Okay, he's right, but it just spoils the whole poetry of it all--the poetry in the case of sports being third-rate doggerel for the most part. Deford is just pissed that he can't write with the old impunity--he gets called on it. Data, facts, reasoned interpretation as to those things--you can't get away from it. That sort of writing is the alchemy of sport's analysis and study.
   16. Morty Causa Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:38 AM (#4166590)
It's not just about substance--it's about a mode of thinking. The old thinking just doesn't cut it.
   17. Morty Causa Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:39 AM (#4166592)
The opportunity for EDITing now seems to be about 15 seconds.
   18. Stormy JE Posted: June 26, 2012 at 12:08 PM (#4166633)
Who was funding Bill James when he was doing his early research and "investigations". People like Deford and places like SI were fighting it. They gave James and Palmer et al no venue. It's like with scientific development. First you deny and belittle. Then when it proves right, you claim it's trivial and, besides, "it unweaves the rainbow."

Many members of the sports journalism/broadcaster world today spout revisionist history, claiming that they never bad-mouthed sabermetrics, but only objected to the use of stats as the only method of evaluation.
   19. Stormy JE Posted: June 26, 2012 at 12:10 PM (#4166636)
The opportunity for EDITing now seems to be about 15 seconds.

If that. (Geez Louise.)
   20. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 12:36 PM (#4166663)
Many members of the sports journalism/broadcaster world today spout revisionist history, claiming that they never bad-mouthed sabermetrics, but only objected to the use of stats as the only method of evaluation.

"Evaluation" is but a small subset of possible ways to write about and perceive baseball.

The economic imperative of modern sports journalism is to incite and capture arguments that were once typically relegated to the corner tavern. That's hardly progress.
   21. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: June 26, 2012 at 01:12 PM (#4166715)
This is a debate about style and method of delivery. Has the basic content really changed? Goose Gossage's classic rant ("Take it upstairs to the Fat Man," "turn it on, you greasy cocksucker," etc.) includes a wail about the dumb fans repeating the same negative lines they see in the newspaper. That was thirty years ago. Wasn't Jimmy Cannon's column a virtual transcript of tavern thoughts and arguments?
   22. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 01:18 PM (#4166728)
This is a debate about style and method of delivery. Has the basic content really changed? Goose Gossage's classic rant ("Take it upstairs to the Fat Man," "turn it on, you greasy ##########," etc.) includes a wail about the dumb fans repeating the same negative lines they see in the newspaper. That was thirty years ago. Wasn't Jimmy Cannon's column a virtual transcript of tavern thoughts and arguments?

Those things were a product of the NYC tabloids and the "culture" they espoused, and were merely regional. They've now spread far and wide and are, essentially, the default mode of the producers and consumers of modern sports journalism. Hardly progress.
   23. smileyy Posted: June 26, 2012 at 01:34 PM (#4166752)
Isn't sports analysis 100x better than it was 10,20,50 years ago? As opposed to current event analysis, which is probably 10x worse?
   24. smileyy Posted: June 26, 2012 at 01:37 PM (#4166756)
Followup to [23]: I get some of his points, but the rest of it suffers from, as Louis CK put it, "everything is amazing and nobody is happy".
   25. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 01:41 PM (#4166764)
Isn't sports analysis 100x better than it was 10,20,50 years ago?

Yes, but it's devolved from knowledge to knowingness -- which is extremely boring.
   26. Randomly Fluctuating Defensive Metric Posted: June 26, 2012 at 02:08 PM (#4166804)
The worth of a great journalism piece is still great. It's not going away because other avenues of discussion and analysis gain traction. If anything the two compliment each other.
   27. Loren F. Posted: June 26, 2012 at 02:11 PM (#4166813)
I do agree with Deford that Ray Romano was not believable as a sports columnist.
   28. jack the seal clubber (on the sidelines of life) Posted: June 26, 2012 at 02:16 PM (#4166822)
Sports Illustrated is terrible now (particularly the 25 pages of pictures of nba players preceding the letters in every issue) but still superior in every way to ESPN the magazine. (do they still publish that?).

There are no print sports magazines I know of that are worth reading anymore.

In terms of Deford's comments, "the drama...the glamor (sp)", that is what ESPN's tv version gives you every day. Reworked commentary, depending on the previous day's events, of what they think their core audience wants to hear (along with atonal hip hop music and screaming announcers). I don't see how that is good for anybody.
   29. Dan Szymborski Posted: June 26, 2012 at 02:23 PM (#4166830)
Sports. Is. Entertainment.

Complaining about the lack of gravitas about today's sports journalism is like bemoaning the recent dearth of Sonic the Hedgehog related fiction. If sportswriting consisted mainly of serious investigative journalism, the entire industry would have enough work to employ maybe 20 sportswriters. There's still plenty of investigative journalism, what's been dying is the sepia-tone, saccharine-stilled "Bart's People" type treacle. We're not writing about genocide in Darfur or undercover investigations of government corruption, people, we're covering stories about a popular form of entertainment.
   30. Rants Mulliniks Posted: June 26, 2012 at 02:31 PM (#4166844)
we're covering stories about a popular form of entertainment.


And the rise of TMZ, USWeekly, ET, etc., has more than compensated for any decline in the same type of drivel about sports figures. But I will say, at least athletes are good at something other than being available to paparazzi.
   31. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 02:40 PM (#4166854)
Complaining about the lack of gravitas about today's sports journalism is like bemoaning the recent dearth of Sonic the Hedgehog related fiction. If sportswriting consisted mainly of serious investigative journalism, the entire industry would have enough work to employ maybe 20 sportswriters. There's still plenty of investigative journalism, what's been dying is the sepia-tone, saccharine-stilled "Bart's People" type treacle. We're not writing about genocide in Darfur or undercover investigations of government corruption, people, we're covering stories about a popular form of entertainment.

I dissent from the proposition that "sepia-tone, saccharine-stilled "Bart's People" type treacle" accurately describes either the editorial stance or the content of Sports Illustrated from, say, 1973-90.
   32. Moloka'i Three-Finger Brown (Declino DeShields) Posted: June 26, 2012 at 03:02 PM (#4166897)
social media based stuff like Twitter are killing sports writing.


It kinda is, in a way, at least what I've seen. The baseball writers I follow on Twitter mainly either (1) spit out team press releases or (2) interact with their followers/readers as if they are friends. The effect is a forum where the writer is vaguely less detached and "professional," which I find a little bit disturbing for some reason. I suppose it could be because the writer could be "interacting" with the team's fanbase in better way (like an illuminating blog post or something), rather than spending time retweeting a note on the team's minor league player of the month or agreeing with some random doofus that something or other is funny.

But this probably isn't responsive to Deford's criticism, which seems to stem from being old and wearing Depends all the time.
   33. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 26, 2012 at 03:12 PM (#4166910)

It kinda is, in a way, at least what I've seen. The baseball writers I follow on Twitter mainly either (1) spit out team press releases or (2) interact with their followers/readers as if they are friends. The effect is a forum where the writer is vaguely less detached and "professional," which I find a little bit disturbing for some reason. I suppose it could be because the writer could be "interacting" with the team's fanbase in better way (like an illuminating blog post or something), rather than spending time retweeting a note on the team's minor league player of the month or agreeing with some random doofus that something or other is funny.


Is it (a) affecting their writing; and (b) are these writers that you think would be churning out high-quality sportwriting otherwise?

I think there is still good sportswriting out there, you just have to find it. And with the internet, more people have access to it. There are also a ton of hacks that write garbage and tweet, and there are those that write stat stuff doesn't have the kind of narrative DeFord likes. There is just a lot more writing period now, because there are more writers - amateur and professional. To compain about sportswriting now because of Twitter reminds of Buzz Bissinger's rant on the internet. Yea, there's a lot of crap out there - there is just more STUFF in general. But he quality still remains, it just comprises a smaller percentage of the overall amount of product out there.
   34. Jim Furtado Posted: June 26, 2012 at 03:13 PM (#4166911)
I came across this while reading the thread.
The opportunity for EDITing now seems to be about 15 seconds.

The time limit should be fixed. EE (which includes more and more bugs with each update), changed the variable name for comment edits but did not include the change in the docs.

Please email me directly if you continue to have problems. (I am at work and won't have time to test this with my testing account.)
   35. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: June 26, 2012 at 03:15 PM (#4166916)
This is a debate about style and method of delivery. Has the basic content really changed? Goose Gossage's classic rant ("Take it upstairs to the Fat Man," "turn it on, you greasy ####suckers," etc.) includes a wail about the dumb fans repeating the same negative lines they see in the newspaper. That was thirty years ago. Wasn't Jimmy Cannon's column a virtual transcript of tavern thoughts and arguments?

Those things were a product of the NYC tabloids and the "culture" they espoused, and were merely regional. They've now spread far and wide and are, essentially, the default mode of the producers and consumers of modern sports journalism. Hardly progress.


Perhaps citing two examples from the same city was a distraction. What about Ted Williams' knights of the keyboard? What about Grantland Rice's pantheon of heroes and villains-- in verse, no less? What about the various sportswriting excerpts posted every day in the "Primer Dugout" threads? New York City fandom never won the copyright to "Ah, get lost, ya bum."

It's impossible to defend the premise that a few years ago, some tweeter on the internet invented shallow Joe Sixpack analysis and ruined everything. If anything has changed regionally, it's that Boston fans are now subjected to Jay Mariotti, while Chicago fans have to fear Dan Shaughnessy.
   36. Moloka'i Three-Finger Brown (Declino DeShields) Posted: June 26, 2012 at 03:20 PM (#4166922)
Is it (a) affecting their writing; and (b) are these writers that you think would be churning out high-quality sportwriting otherwise?


(a) Unknowable; (b) Some writers yes, some writers probably not. This is more of a personal annoyance, I'll admit.

I think there is still good sportswriting out there, you just have to find it. And with the internet, more people have access to it. There are also a ton of hacks that write garbage and tweet, and there are those that write stat stuff doesn't have the kind of narrative DeFord likes. There is just a lot more writing period now, because there are more writers - amateur and professional. To compain about sportswriting now because of Twitter reminds of Buzz Bissinger's rant on the internet. Yea, there's a lot of crap out there - there is just more STUFF in general. But he quality still remains, it just comprises a smaller percentage of the overall amount of product out there.


I don't disagree with any of this. I enjoy a good, detailed, layered article or essay piece. Thanks to the internet, I can still get those and know where to find them. Others like the punchy, mainly contentless HBT type of stuff. If so, that's great, and people can find that too. Computers are great, and they help because clearly available print space isn't suddenly going to expand again.
   37. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 03:39 PM (#4166954)
I don't disagree with any of this. I enjoy a good, detailed, layered article or essay piece. Thanks to the internet, I can still get those and know where to find them. Others like the punchy, mainly contentless HBT type of stuff. If so, that's great, and people can find that too. Computers are great, and they help because clearly available print space isn't suddenly going to expand again.

The Sports Illustrated of yesteryear also filled a "Paper of Record" function for the thinking fan, replacing the labor of trying to find things in a bunch of different places and not being sure you've succeeded.
   38. Dan Szymborski Posted: June 26, 2012 at 03:42 PM (#4166955)
The effect is a forum where the writer is vaguely less detached and "professional," which I find a little bit disturbing for some reason. I suppose it could be because the writer could be "interacting" with the team's fanbase in better way (like an illuminating blog post or something), rather than spending time retweeting a note on the team's minor league player of the month or agreeing with some random doofus that something or other is funny.


I like Twitter. It's good to connect with your audience. I've found Twitter (and stuff like Cover-it-Live chats) to be great networking tools as well.
   39. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 26, 2012 at 03:42 PM (#4166956)
But does Frank DeFord like "Everybody Loves Raymond"?????
   40. Moloka'i Three-Finger Brown (Declino DeShields) Posted: June 26, 2012 at 04:14 PM (#4167023)
I like Twitter. It's good to connect with your audience.


Well yeah, but you're a blogger! (Or something like it?) Actually, you're good on Twitter, and Adam Kilgore (to name one sportswriter) is good on Twitter. This is the problem with posting stuff based on vague feelings, rather than reasoning.
   41. Morty Causa Posted: June 26, 2012 at 04:23 PM (#4167038)
There are some fine pieces in Bill James's HBAs that combine both a emotional texture (a human story_ with hard research and analysis. What comes readily to mind are the set pieces on Hal Chase and on Ernie Lombardi. That should be the standard journals seek to emulate. The one on Hal Chase could be pitched as story for an interesting movie about the corrupted and the corruptible. Chase comes across in many accounts as a highly charismatic figure.
   42. smileyy Posted: June 26, 2012 at 04:28 PM (#4167048)
Twitter is great for people who are right a lot.

At the same time, the people who aren't going to be right about their Twitter thoughts probably aren't going to edit or fact-check their longer slower pieces either.
   43. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 26, 2012 at 05:29 PM (#4167123)
The Sports Illustrated of yesteryear also filled a "Paper of Record" function for the thinking fan, replacing the labor of trying to find things in a bunch of different places and not being sure you've succeeded.


No, it didn't. Sports Illustrated has always been about the splashy photos and the great writing. It never made any effort to be some kind of "Paper of Record," as the Sporting News did.
   44. -- Posted: June 26, 2012 at 06:09 PM (#4167148)
No, it didn't. Sports Illustrated has always been about the splashy photos and the great writing. It never made any effort to be some kind of "Paper of Record," as the Sporting News did.

Sure it did. It may not have been "about" them -- whatever that means -- but it published reports of games and standings that happened in the last week ("The Week") for at least baseball and football from at least the 70s until sometime in the 80s. It also included the splashy photos and great writing; thus the reader could miss a week of paying attention, pick up the magazine, and be confident he held in one package a representative report on the biggest events and stories in sports ... plus other things. Their editorial staff could be trusted to make those decisions wisely, and they did.

There's no place to turn now for that mix.

   45. The Chronicles of Reddick Posted: June 26, 2012 at 06:17 PM (#4167155)
Frank DeFord is at the age where he should be happy if any passes about now.
   46. phredbird Posted: June 26, 2012 at 06:42 PM (#4167174)
i have to side with sugarbear about the paper of record thing, but in a qualified way. as a kid, i read SI cover to cover because it had the great articles and photos but also because of 'the week' and 'for the record' sections, where i could be assured i'd catch up on anything i might have missed because i didn't see the newspaper or wasn't able to see something on tv -- which was pretty often in the days of 3 networks and no espn.
   47. bobm Posted: June 26, 2012 at 07:34 PM (#4167214)
[44] There's no place to turn now for that mix.

Well, not since The National died.

I wonder what happened to its dashing and plucky editor-in-chief, a man who certainly had his finger on the pulse of Sports Journalism.
   48. Walt Davis Posted: June 26, 2012 at 10:53 PM (#4167405)
I worry who is going to pay for the expensive stuff. The long, expensive, investigative pieces, the enterprise journalism. The work that matters more than anything else and justifies the whole experience as journalists.

Dan's the only one who's touched on this but this egotism (maybe elitism would be better) is annoying. It is freaking sports. There are, what, maybe 5 papers who still run a foreign bureau and we're supposed to be concerned about the death of (give or take) 50 literary sports essays per year?

Also, how long ago was it that DeFord sold out to TV for his little 60-90 second "essays"? That goes back at least as far as CNN/SI doesn't it which really predates the internet explosion. Plus, any of those things I've ever seen have been pretty awful.

There's no place to turn now for that mix.

For the same reason there's declining demand for newspapers only moreso. C'mon, who needs a weekly review of sports now? It's almost impossible not to keep up on the daily sports doings if you care about the daily doings ... and if you don't, who wants a weekly review? A weekly review that has to go to press 2-3 days before you get it? Technology has made that part of SI's former purpose non-existent.

And that's been a long-term trend in print journalism (well predating the internet) and I'll go out on a limb and suggest that the SI swimsuit issue was needed to fund all those essays. Those essays never had enough readers to justify the magazine. The demand hasn't changed, the underlying business model has change. Regarding "expensive", the difference is that the rest of the magazine can no longer subsidize those essays because there's less demand for the rest of the magazine.

As to the aesthetics issue, to each his own. The "market" doesn't support a lot of the stuff I find aesthetically appealing, at least not to the point where the creators can make a good living off of it. I could ascribe this to the fall of civilization but I try to avoid it since pretty much everything I like (especially musically) was at one time or another derided as the result of a horrifying decline in society's standards.

   49. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:11 PM (#4167416)
his lament is that of a chandler when electric lights were introduced
   50. The District Attorney Posted: June 26, 2012 at 11:12 PM (#4167418)
his lament is that of a chandler
No, that'd be like "could these articles BE any worse?"
   51. Walt Davis Posted: June 27, 2012 at 05:48 AM (#4167471)
the result of a horrifying decline in society's standards

Which reminds me. In freshman year high school english (1975), we were required to read a weekly of some sort (Time, Newsweek, etc.). Somebody asked whether SI qualified and our teacher went on a wee rant about how sportswriters didn't write properly, etc. Apparently somebody must have challenged her outside of class. A couple days later she came back and said SI would be OK because "they use compound sentences and dependent clauses."

So she had thought sports writing was sub-standard, not that an occasional compound sentence is a very high standard of writing. Of course in this age of single sentence paragraphs, etc. maybe compound sentences are unheard of.
   52. Cris E Posted: June 27, 2012 at 09:29 AM (#4167512)
I'm going to say SI was never detailed enough to fill an "of record" publication, especially when TSN was really doing a good job with a similar schedule. On the other hand, SI was the source of outstanding sports photography at a time when that was expensive to print and not a lot of magazines bothered. ("Illustrated" was kind of a big deal for a very long time.) But now with the internet making all kinds of media very available, and a multitude of writing sources that are far less demanding to read providing alternatives for readers who don't care that much or don't want to work that hard. (Sorry Frank: there's a good chance some of your readers in the Goode Olde Days were a captive audience who didn't really read all the articles and quietly hoped for something a little easier.) Walt made similar points in #48.
   53. CFiJ Posted: June 27, 2012 at 09:31 AM (#4167513)
SI published a long profile of James in May 1981.

Right. A year after a fact checker spiked it.

James had some great insights, but he's something of a crank and wasn't good or versatile enough to write consistently for SI in its prime.

I'm not sure I could disagree more. James was a fantastic writer, combining cogent analysis with a lively, funny style. That style influenced a generation of writers, and for good or for ill gave birth to the modern genre of snarkalysis.
   54. GregD Posted: June 27, 2012 at 09:37 AM (#4167515)
Which reminds me. In freshman year high school english (1975), we were required to read a weekly of some sort (Time, Newsweek, etc.). Somebody asked whether SI qualified and our teacher went on a wee rant about how sportswriters didn't write properly, etc. Apparently somebody must have challenged her outside of class. A couple days later she came back and said SI would be OK because "they use compound sentences and dependent clauses."


I'll cut your teach some slack. She thought it was written at a low grade-level, then saw it wasn't.

Writing at the major magazines was, if not better, at least written at an overall higher level in those days, I believe(though I could be wrong.) Certainly the high arts coverage in places like Time & Newsweek was quite different than it was by the mid-90s.

Sports Illustrated was a mixed bag, as they all were. Some solid up-the-middle sports reporting, some investigative stuff that was fine but not immortal, and a couple of pieces a year that were self-consciously artistic. Sometimes by outside big-name writers (McGuane on cutting horses, etc.) sometimes by the 1-2 guys inside the house whom they called upon for "arty" stuff--Gary Smith filled this role after the big names were gone.

The market poses a conundrum. I reject the idea that the market provides us with all that we want or need. For that matter, Milton Friedman rejected that idea. There are many fine things that people appreciate but can't/won't pay for. There's nothing surprising about that. Long-form creative nonfiction about sports was a nice, if not essential, part of what it meant to be an educated guy who also liked sports from the 1950s on. Grantland is trying to keep this alive, and in some ways is doing it. Maybe even finding a market for it, or at least, like the old SI, larding it among things (TV show reviews) that do have a market. The writing in Grantland is nowhere near as good as the heights of SI writing, but the average SI story wasn't a McGuane piece, either.

The problem is that DeFord's generation does think the market should reward everything they think is worthwhile. He's to the right of Friedman on this. He just doesn't know it. But it's a generational issue. Post World War II there was a moment where huge government funding plus a sudden broadening of the middle-class created a middlebrow culture that was actually profitable. That's not true anymore. Tastes fragmented; people have more choices; government funding dropped for cultural projects; the Cold War ended. Now you can still write long-form high-quality sports pieces; you just aren't likely to get paid for it. That's what he's really complaining about, not getting paid for it.
   55. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: June 27, 2012 at 09:46 AM (#4167528)
deford has long presented himself as the heir apparent to the runyons and rices of days past and npr and other media bought that schtick

frank is mad because nobody wants his fake title because it's fake and it has no meaning

his leroy nieman bit on the radio was pathetic as he tried to prop up one of his peers as anything more than a product of his time

   56. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: June 27, 2012 at 11:02 AM (#4167604)
Writing at the major magazines was, if not better, at least written at an overall higher level in those days, I believe(though I could be wrong.

Certainly the high arts coverage in places like Time & Newsweek was quite different than it was by the mid-90s.


If you really want to see the decline in TIME's standards, look at their Letters column from their first 45 years and then compare it to the 45 years after that. They've gone from highly literate multi-paragraphed reflections, often with a snappy editorial retort, to a hodgepodge of two or three sentence partisan talking points that are scarcely more coherent than what you can find on any website's "comments" section.

The problem is that DeFord's generation does think the market should reward everything they think is worthwhile. He's to the right of Friedman on this. He just doesn't know it. But it's a generational issue. Post World War II there was a moment where huge government funding plus a sudden broadening of the middle-class created a middlebrow culture that was actually profitable. That's not true anymore. Tastes fragmented; people have more choices; government funding dropped for cultural projects; the Cold War ended. Now you can still write long-form high-quality sports pieces; you just aren't likely to get paid for it. That's what he's really complaining about, not getting paid for it.

That, and the fact that good quality writing isn't so easily available in a widely distributed format that arrives in your mailbox every week. Of course there's writing out there today that's as good or better than it ever was, but unless you actively look for it, you're not as likely to be as aware of its existence. This is a symptom of the decline of the print media (and its supporting institutions) in general, and the loss is quite real whether or not everyone wants to acknowledge it.

Even the case of Bill James illustrates this. From 1982 through the end of the decade, Ballantine Books distributed his yearly abstracts to nearly every book shop in the country, reaching way beyond James's initial audience of a few hundred readers. And you could find inexpensive (meaning three bucks or less) back issues of these Abstracts in thousands of used book shops and thrift shops as well. Over the years I personally put James's books in the hands of scores of customers who were only vaguely aware of his name before they came in to my shop.

Today? You can still find his books on Amazon, but the point is that you have to already know about James to look for his books, and even more important, you have to make the active effort. You can't simply trip over him everywhere you went the way you could 15 or 25 years ago. And while his website may be thriving and his books may still sell to the SABR crowd, he's now pretty much reaching a larger version of the same hardcore audience as he was before Ballantine Books gave him his first contract. Whatever influence he has now is more indirect, through his followers in the MSM, whereas previously it was just as likely to come from James directly. And while his overall influence may be greater than ever, thanks to his MSM followers and the sabermetricians on team payrolls, there's still a "class" divide that was beginning to break down when his books could be found in every Crown Books and B&N in the country.

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