Most every morning I make a short detour off the beaten path to the office and pull in to the local Dunkin’ Donuts. By now, the friendly team knows who I am and they can anticipate my order: large coffee, extra cream and sugar.
The stop seems routine and repetitive at times; sometimes, I suppose, I take its convenience and service for granted.
Day in, day out, five, six, sometime seven days a week, I have come to expect consistency and familiarity. That routine has bred trust and loyalty.
Why am I telling you this?
Because the experience is analogous to a compelling commentary on the future of sports journalism published by Bryan Curtis at The Ringer.
Over the last 72 hours, the world changed — again — when President Trump signed an executive order to ban immigrants from the United States. The decision led to more protests, more unrest and global division. The order has had a rippling effect on communities, business, economics, industry, faith, the legal system, politics and, yes, sports.
The reaction has sparked thousands of words on blogs and social media. As Curtis pointed out, and anyone who follows sports media knows, over the weekend sportswriters shed their professional tethers and pounced on the story. Curtis called it a possible “watershed” moment in sports journalism, suggesting that the line that once firmly divided sportswriters and politics has been leveled, writing: The era of “stick to sports” is over.
The internet has disrupted sports media. Blogs and social media has turned sports journalism into a series of op-ed columns, sans facts and original reporting. No fact checking. No sourcing. No originality.
Curtis wrote: The internet has made everybody into a de facto columnist. There’s no long apprenticeship before you get a column; at casually edited content farms, hot-taking is the first thing you get to do.
That’s what we agree on. The rest … not so much.
Curtis took a sharp left when he suggested that “a sportswriter doesn’t have to ‘stick to sports’ if the athletes don’t.” Seriously? That’s adolescent speak; like an eight year old boy trying to justify bad behavior.
Journalists are tasked with reporting the story. When did it become ethical for reporters to insert themselves into the story? When did it become ethical for sportswriters to pull up alongside the teams and athletes they cover and add personal commentary?
From college journalism courses through today I always remained loyal to Carl Bernstein’s creed: “Journalism is the best obtainable version of the truth.”
Curtis went on to say that, “the end of ‘stick to sports’ is a pleasure for writers who can flex their muscles …”
Wait. Time out.
Sportswriters are expected — obligated — to write about sports. When sports fans tap on the ESPN app, they expect to read about their favorite teams, athletes and games. When I see a Tom Verducci byline on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I expect to read an insightful baseball story. Sportswriters might like the opportunity to write about something different for a change, but what would their audience think? Why is Verducci writing 4,000 words on the the political climate in Russia? Doesn’t spring training start in two weeks?
Like it or not, Verducci (and I use him as an example only) is a brand, not to sportswriting in general, but baseball. For his regular readers — his core audience — anything other than baseball would be a disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things much more important than sports. Politics, cultural shifts, healthcare, poverty, all have a direct impact on our lives in some way. So, I don’t have a problem if Verducci, Wright Thompson, Chris Jones, Jeff MacGregor or Peter King have a passion to write about these issues, just publish that work separately. Leave the sports platforms to sports.
Which bring me full circle, right back to the checkout line at Dunkin’ Donuts. I expect coffee (and donuts). If I walk in tomorrow and the counter help says, “Sorry! No coffee today. All we are serving is juice.”
I am walking out, disappointed.