Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The world according to sports

Imagine the work week involved strolling into the office at quarter-past four in the afternoon to rap by the water cooler about who’s the best left-hander in baseball until shipping off for some early-evening pizza a few hours later. Around seven, you click on the game and watch it for three hours or so before finally sitting down to do some real work: coming up with snappy anecdotes to describe how bad the game was or how good the home team played.

Yes, it’s a dog-eat-dog world in the realm of sports journalism; a real pressure-cooker. That’s why it’s not uncommon to see the beer-breathed sports guy sauntering into an otherwise white-collar office donning a bawdy Hawaiian shirt and a Jagermeister hat. Wearing any sort of semi-formal attire might push them over the edge while they’re watching the final seconds tick down in a dead-locked Knicks game.

But in the wide world of Lombardo, sports writers are the “A” line at deadline. These guys are the dry-browed chaps who stare with cold eyes at the deadline clock, then coolly pull together the sports section as though they were blindfolded, she marveled while pulling together last week’s election results; the true clutch hitters of the newsroom.

Clutch hitters indeed.

This is not to say most sports writers don’t face a certain level of difficulty. Seldom is there a sight more pathetic than watching one of these normally jovial reporters get a brutally tempered tongue-lashing from a scorned parent whose kid got blasted in print for blowing the lead in the big game; it’s sort of like witnessing a pair of golden lab puppies get repeatedly flogged by an oafish redneck wielding an oak switch. Not to mention, extracting plausible quotes from the rantings of low-level coaches who never mentally left the football field after high school can be quite a challenge in itself.

But to suggest that these guys face more difficulties than the standard news reporter is almost laughable. While the rules of baseball, football golf or any sport remain fairly static, the landscape faced by the standard general assignment reporter is fraught with incongruities that are impossible to quantify when the element of deadline is added in.

Most low-level reporters are faced with getting a crash-course in state law, local politics, county history and statistics; environmental issues, health code, building code and town ordinances; all while watching the minute hand of the clock spin like it’s gauging seconds. This is why veteran news reporters often begin to take on a haggard look, almost like they've had spent one too many years entrenched in the unforgiving mines of the news business.

As anyone who has tried to churn out 600 words of prose digestible at the seventh grade level while leafing through a book that’s standard Albany Law curriculum could attest, being a sports writer, while not a menial task by any means, is not exactly the definition of pressure cooker job. In fact, it’s a job that just about any sports aficionado would probably kill to have. Come in late, watch sports all day, then take a set of creative liberties with writing that are often not afforded to other reporters, but necessary in sports journalism to make the musings of some high school jock sound elegant.

No, covering sports doesn’t sound that bad. That's at least until the first paycheck comes from the Journal Register Company.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horatio,

I used to think of this blog as a forum where the true shortcomings of the news and life sections of the Saratogian were rightfully pointed out.

Then you lobbed this shell across the bow.

How dare you lump the sports department in with the ineptitude of the news section and especially Barbara Lombardo.

In the very column you are talking about she spelled the name of one of the members of the sports department wrong.

The sports department is easily head and shoulders above every other section in that paper.

Journal Register Company places a huge burden on the sports department to be filled with local copy every day of the year, including the summer when nothing is happening.

If you actually looked at the section then you would notice that there is very little national sports in it. Therefore, if you would think about it a little bit, instead of just spouting off on what Lombardo said, then you would have to think that watching games on TV has little to do with their job and weathering freezing temperatures and rainy afternoons has a lot more to do with it.

To speak of your stereotypical preception of the guys that work in sports...you have obviously never worked in a newsroom and like to just play next day quarterback on the news side.

You are at your best when you stay away from things you know nothing about so stay away from sports.

"But to suggest that these guys face more difficulties than the standard news reporter is almost laughable. "

That statement is laughable.

Compare the length and sheer number of sports stories in any issue of the Saratogian compared to what the news department produces.

Also the news reporters don't paginate...at all. Sports reporters aren't only asked to know the ins and outs of local teams and write game and feature stories about them everyday.

They have roll up their sleeves and hti the desk 2-3 times per week.

Horatio, stay away from the sports department and just because they work in the same building as a news and feature department that should be taken out back and shot like Old Yeller doesn't mean they are as incompetent.

You credibility is worthless now. The Saratogian sports section is the only section in the paper that even competes with competive papers. If you knew anything about sports you would see that.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Such vitriol.

Friend, I'm not implying that the sports guys are worthless —far from it. I must say, you've taken this post quite wrongly as a wanton attack on the Saratogian sports desk itself, which, as you correctly assert, I know very little about. And allow me to correct you, never once was it asserted in this diatribe that the gents penning ANY paper's sports section are "incompetent" as you put it.

I will concede to you there is an element of pagination does put a sharp edge on things that most daily reporters don't face each day. What I won't give you is that they're the only ones that know the trade of pagination; any reporter worth their salt should have at least cursory knowledge of such skills.

I'll also stand steadfast by my assertion that a job in sports isn't any more difficult than on the news side of the deal. They too have to stand in the cold and the rain, only instead of watching the game, it's waiting for some less-than-enthusiatic cop decides to release details about the corpse lying in the road.

This is not to say that sports reporters are the lesser of the two per se, just that their general decorum on the job is less up tight than on the news side, which for some, myself being one of those people, makes all the difference in the world. There's a craft in language that sportswriters are allowed and even encouraged to use that is forbidden in even the most liberal of newsrooms. Analogies, cliches, colorful language and vibrant imagery are things that often face the editor's pen once a story makes it to the copy desk.

From what I know about The Journal Register Company, there is a huge burden on EVERYONE to produce, not just the sports guys, not just the news side. Worse yet, they pay hardly anything, which I'll note, makes a thankless job even more thankless. But given my druthers, I'd much rather spend such thanklessness enjoying what little that I can of the game in my Hawaiian shirt than chasing down Governor Protractor in a suit and tie.

Thanks for the insight and I hope this explanation pulls a few shreds of my credibility from the wood chipper.

1:01 PM  

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