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Comment of the Day: newspaper readers don’t want long form stuff

Jun 26, 2012, 9:40 AM EDT


There’s a good conversation brewing in the comments to the Frank Deford state-of-sports-journalism post from yesterday. Some of it supporting Deford (and going after bloggy enterprises like HBT) and some of it not.

I highlight this post from a reader with first hand experience in all of this who says that the reason the kind of reporting Deford loves is hard to find in print anymore is that the readers simply don’t want it:

I am a sports reporter in a low-level minor league market in the Midwest … I readily admit I have never worked on a national level or in a major market (in 13 years, I’ve covered a grand total of 2 MLB games and 1 preseason NBA game professionally), so I don’t profess to have experienced first-hand the level of journalistic competition driving this debate. That said, I feel I do have insight to add to this conversation.

The space for the long-form human interest sports pieces Deford and his likes championed no longer exists in daily print media, and a large reason for that is the consumer interest in such pieces has largely vanished. As has been mentioned, there are places online to find such material and writers (Passan, etc.) who do excellent work providing that content. There are also outlets that provide the heart-and-soul stories Deford seems to keep himself fixated upon – one such outlet is the Real Sports program to which he frequently contributes.

Deford’s lament is merely the common refrain of industry veterans longing for the way it used to be. His point about “justifying” the journalists’ experience disturbs me. This career is not and should not be about justifying what we do or making ourselves a crucial part of the story. Instead it should be a selfless duty to disseminate information as we observe it. My readers are not interested my experience; they want to know about the teams I cover.

While I’ll defend the bloggy stuff because I have the most experience with it, I really think the key takeaway to all of this is not that one form of sports writing is better than another. I think it’s that, even if you really believe that the in-depth stuff is critical, it’s not, contra Deford, disappearing, rendering the readership “optionally illiterate.” It’s merely changing venues. It may not be in daily newspapers, but it’s on the web and on television.

  1. The Common Man - Jun 26, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    “It may not be in daily newspapers, but it’s on the web and on television.”

    And on NPR, Frank Deford.

  2. kayooger - Jun 26, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Ya know what’s funny? I stopped reading this post because it was too long. And I’ve got a master’s in journalism.

    • foreverchipper10 - Jun 26, 2012 at 4:23 PM

      Yay journalism degrees! (I have a Bachelor’s and Associate’s….so not quite a Master’s)

  3. danaking - Jun 26, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    Good follow-up. There are plenty of places to get in-depth profiles of athletes if one wants to read them. I enjoy this blog (and Pro Hockey Talk) because I can get a digest of a lot of stories I wouldn’t have time to get for myself otherwise. I can then follow links or do searches to find more detail if i want it. Deford makes a good point, though he buried his lede: it’s getting harder for traditional news outlets to do this kind of reporting. That is a problem, though it’s not the problem he seems to want to talk about, so it can be set aside here.

    There is plenty of room for both kinds of journalism. This blog and PHT are great additions to be, as I can check the headlines several times a day to see what might interest me enough to do a little digging into. Plus, I like the bits of attitude that get dropped. it’s sports, not the waiting room in a hospice. It should be fun.

  4. sdelmonte - Jun 26, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    The New York Times – which is not like other newspapers, I would say – has done a lot of long form articles even in its sports section. The very well written and gut-wrenching three-part feature on the life and death of hockey player Derek Boogard ran a total of 12 pages. I suspect that their response to the Internet is to offer stories that go way beyond what you can find at the run of the mill websites. I figure they assume that most readers of the Gray Lady will embrace this.

    I loved the Boogard feature. I don’t love features on obscure sports that take up three or four pages on a Monday when I really want to read what their beat reporters and columnists have to say about the weekend’s sports. But I understand their rather unique strategy.

    • seeinred87 - Jun 26, 2012 at 10:20 AM

      Oh man, that Boogaard article was amazing. I had to choke back tears a couple times. It was nominated for a Pulitzer for feature writing, and it should have won. Robbed blind. I say this only having read the headline for the winning article, and knowing nothing about the other nominees. Still, I demand a recount.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 26, 2012 at 10:20 AM

      Probably because writing is still a meritocracy, at least in the blogosphere. Write good articles, whether long or short, and people will continue to read them. Write a bunch of crap, and people will eventually stop visiting the site.

      Same is true with mainstream media. Why read all the negative crap on ESPNNY when there are plenty of yankee-centric blogs that are high on analysis and low on negativity?

      • sdelmonte - Jun 26, 2012 at 10:40 AM

        I actually like what Andrew Marchand writes, but I am not a Yankees fan. Mets fans are lucky to have Adam Rubin and Mark Simon’s relatively balanced coverage.

        But yeah, IIATMS is an amazing blog that even Yankee haters can appreciate. I wish there were a Mets blog as good.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 26, 2012 at 11:08 AM

        Only one I know of is amazinavenue which is occasionally linked from the Yankee writers I read. Marchand can be decent, but he’s dragged down by the clown trio of Wally/O’Connor/Parker.

  5. gogigantos - Jun 26, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    DeFord has long been a “get off my lawn” kind of aged dude. The prose and stories that he produced and I fell in love with are still very much with us.
    I really don’t get his grouchy old man stance for many years now. His beloved SI is fine. Maybe he has been bitter since “The National”, which I loved, faded away.
    Tugs at my heart a bit to feel that he has grown bitter and cranky when, it seems to me, that sports journalism is healthy and even on the rise. There is more quality, and shit, writing out there than ever before. How can that be a bad thing from his perspective. I love it for sure that there is so so so much quality writing, daily and long form, out there that I don’t really have to read much about the real world.
    Frank should be basking in the glow of being one of the early and prominent figures in the sports journalism world. Smile Frank DeFord, the world may be going to hell in bucket, but the world of sports is covered well and literately. You had a hand in making that true. So, chill old man, just taking a short cut across your lawn, eh.

  6. hank10 - Jun 26, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    Now get off my lawn so I can re-read the prose of Grantland Rice.

    • gogigantos - Jun 26, 2012 at 11:05 AM

      Amen to that, and so many more. DeFord should really chill and enjoy the lawn, maybe even share it, have a BBQ with some friends and neighbors,,,,,,

      • hank10 - Jun 26, 2012 at 11:39 AM

        Or as Jimmy Serrano would say: “Relax. Have a cream soda.”

  7. brian32556 - Jun 26, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    Hey DeFord, turn around is fair play! It was only a generation ago that you and the beat writers were said NOT to be true journalists by the hoity-toity writers of non-sports. Its just evolution.

  8. - Jun 26, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    Seems to me that there some in the “traditional” media that are still coming to grips with the fact that the internet has allowed the to consumer to more freely choose what they want to read.

    I have a scrip to SI and enjoy some of the longer articles that are written there. I don’t get to them every week, but often enough.

    I also enjoy the blogs that assimilate information written by beat writers & investigative journalists at more established news outlets. Without the blogs I doubt I would have found them myself.

    The one thing that concerns me about this Brave New World is that I question whether some in the general public can tell the difference between a reputable news source, or some jackass like that paid the $17 for a domain name and has no journalistic or writing experience.

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