Thursday, September 13, 2012

Being David Halberstam in the Digital Age

I may be on the verge of becoming something I despise. The privileged sportswriter.

I'm arriving in to the sports journalism at the time of an upheaval. Old school sportwriters are being crowded out by fan-driven coverage of sports.  The megaphone that is the internet is becoming more ubiquitous among sports fans. Is this good, bad, or evil for the profession?

Thankfully, this revolution has been televised. This 2008 video from Costas Now shows an "old school" sports journalist, Buzz Bissinger vs. a "new wave" journalist and founder of, Will Leitch. (Braylon Edwards is also on there for some reason, but he doesn't add much.) It's a fantastic video.

Will Leitch On Costas Now by Machochip

If I hadn't read a single page of Deadspin before seeing this video, I would have thought that Buzz was the crass one who wrote a blog in his parents' basement.

I am caught in the middle of these two camps. I was born in to Buzz Bizzenger's world, but my coming of age was in Leitch's. My family subscribed to the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper and the sports page was the first section I went to every morning. Now, I love reading John Feinstein and Gay Talese. Frank Deford's recent book, Over Time was one of the best books I read all year. I have so much respect for these guys.

David Halberstam's Summer of 49 was the book that piqued my interest in writing about sports. It was a fantastic look at the pennant race of 1949 between the Red Sox and the Yankees. It is a story of a nation tired by war and finding something innocent and powerful in a baseball game. It's a story I only wish I could tell. Halberstam is the writer who made me want to be a writer myself. He passed away in 2007 in an auto accident. I wish I could have met him.

Unlike those guys, I didn't get my start writing for newspapers. (Well, I did write for my college paper, but that was just me spouting opinions and saying stupid crap for laughs, not doing actual reporting.) I read the the Bleacher Report on a regular basis. They always had ads on the site saying they were looking for writes and one day I decided to apply. I got the gig and soon had a vast digital soapbox at my disposal. I wrote what I thought about games and other just random funny stuff for the laughs. Most of the time I didn't pretend to be a journalist. I just liked to write. I hoped to be like those guys whose columns and books I devoured.

I wasn't crass or mean. I was just a guy who liked writing and sports, with no real journalism experience. Now I am in grad school training to do this thing full time.

The question is, can I be like my hero Halberstam and still respect blog world?

Yes, but I have to do my homework.

So on my journey to do this thing I love for a living, I need to remember these three things...

1. The fundamentals. I feel like a DIII college phenom whose now playing in the big leagues. Does the flashy stuff I do on my blog work in the pros? Not really. Work on the basics. Clear syntax, correct spelling, and showing, not telling.

2. After doing it right, do it well. I shouldn't try to do everything right now. I shouldn't try to be Rajon Rondo or Ricky Rubio. Right now, I need to be Bob Cousy. Simple, yet deadly effective. Former Celtics coach Red Auerbach sums this sentiment perfectly in the video, "Cousy and I had an understanding. I didn't care how he threw the ball as long as somebody caught it."

3. Tradition, tradition, tradition. The Sportswriter is a lauded profession. Many people think that anyone who has an opinion about sports can do this for a living. That's not true. Halberstam (and Leitch) put in the time and learned the right way to do things. However, as the video exchange showed, things are changing, quickly. Don't be afraid to innovate, but remember the others who have carried this mantle.

And one more thing, don't be a jerk. And while Buzz might be a perfectly nice guy, I refuse to read Friday Night Lights due to this exchange. I emailed Will Leitch after I read his book Are We Winning? And he responded. That increased my respect for him 100 fold. Don't be grumpy if things change, adapt.

Sportswriting has changed. Yet, there is one indelible thing that remains at the core of this profession, the power to tell a good story.

This year's for you, David.

No comments:

Post a Comment