Erin Sheehan, former editor of the M.U. Journal and currently with guest relations for the Atlanta Braves, passed along a link to a column by Jason Fry at the National Sports Journalism Center suggesting radical changes in the sports game story.
She was correct in that the column was thoughtful and interesting. Its premise was that the sports game story – the mainstay of most sports pages – is outdated, dull and unable to compete with all the other ways sports fans have of getting information about a game (or other sports event). Fry is correct; most game stories are all of the above. However, as a sports fan (and former sports writer in a bygone era), I think the game story is still the most important story in most sports sections.
First, let’s deal with that pesky competition angle since that’s what most new media folks have used to convince newspaper editors to commit seppuku by saddling beat writers with tons of other stuff. Yes, we know who’s won; we probably look at the box score or other statistics before reading the game story; we may well have seen the highlights on “Sportscenter.” So? We’ve long known one fact that seems to get lost in all the speculation about competition – people who have gone to a game are more likely to read a game story than those who didn’t go to the game. So much for the competition problem. People don’t care about the competition; if the story’s any good, it will be read.
Second, Fry suggests four tactics – two of them are the surrender mode adopted by most newspaper editors, but the others, reinvigorate and reenergize them, are worth following. The reason sports fans who have been to a game want to read the game story is to put what they’ve seen into perspective. They want the quotes, the play-by-play of key moments, and the analysis. They’ll also seek out the best story they can find among all the stories. If it’s not in the newspaper but some new media form, that’s what they’ll find. One of the advantages of new media is that sports fans today have a lot of options, and I’ll bet they use them all. I read ESPN and The Sporting News online daily in addition to sports sections from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, New York Times and, sometimes, USA Today. And I sure read various takes on the same story. But I read them anyway. A good story works every time, and, frankly, I see an awful lot of smart young journalists like Erin Sheehan in classes and student media at Marquette (and lots of other schools). Give them time and opportunity and watch them do their own reinvigorating and reenergizing.