I've thought about this for a long, long time -- almost a lifetime, really -- because sports journalism has been my business.
Is sports journalism today better than ever? Yes, it is.
Is sports journalism today worse than ever? Yes, it is.
You can have it both ways, and in my opinion, we do. And let me draw a distinction right away ... I'm going to talk about the written word -- newspapers and Internet -- not spoken ones.
That's because I am no fan of sports television -- be it play-by-play announcers, analysts, pregame/postgame analysis, newscasts (local, ESPN, whatever). More often than not I prefer to watch games without sound. To me, the announcers clutter what I'm trying to watch.
(I will make an exception for radio announcers, especially for baseball. Maybe because that's where I started, but it's still a neat way to take in a game. Thank Irv Zeidman in Shreveport and Gene Elston of the Houston Colt 45s/Astros for that.)
But I still love to read sports sections, and I'll read for news on the Internet. I am, however, pretty selective.
I believe this: There are more good writers today than there have ever been; they are more versatile, more educated, they had more opportunities early in their careers; they have the advantage of a lot more technology than ever; and there are more ways to find those writers (thanks to the Internet).
Look, I read for information and to try to stay current. I want to know what's going on with my teams. I do not read, necessarily, to be entertained.
But this is where sports journalism has gone. Where it was once a news/facts business, the emphasis is now -- as David Humphrey, one of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's deputy sports editors, like to say so often -- on being "edgy."
So columnists -- and even beat writers -- jump on any controversy they can find (with Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, that's easy). And while the columnists have the "in my opinion" tags on their pieces, I want to be able to form my own opinion. So put the arguments out there, but I resent the columnists who tell me what to think, who preach to me, who make it clear that their opinion is the only one that counts.
I'm sorry, but some of the things I read are so far out there -- just for the sake of being sensational -- that they're just ridiculous.
Don't tell me in August that the Cowboys are going to make the playoffs, period. Don't tell me that Dirk Nowitzki or Jason Kidd are washed up. Don't tell me day after day that the Rangers' starting pitching is going to be a problem (see spring training a year ago).
Don't tell me the BCS is a sorry system (because you telling me that is a waste of my time). Don't tell me that Mark McGwire/Roger Clemens/Rafael Palmeiro, etc. will never make the Baseball Hall of Fame. You just can't know what future voters will do.
Don't give me nicknames on every reference (Owner Jones, Cowsheep, Coach Wade, A-Fraud) or gimmicks (the infamous Bottom Ten, interviews with fictional characters) or abbreviations at every opportunity (GP, CGP, MY, VY, RHG) or references such as Dallas Cowboys of Arlington, Hated Yankees. When I see someone referred to as "dude," I know I'm in the wrong generation.
And I especially abhor seeing this in any form, in any section: The. Worst. Writing. Technique. Ever.
Instant turnoff for me. End of my reading that piece.
In summary, there's far too much "cute" in sections for my taste.
I still see many excellent beat writers who cover their teams thoroughly, who know how to write, how to give the readers information on the everyday business of sports, who keep you up to date on one team.
But I also see writers who can't find the best stories from a particular game, who are repetitive, who jump to conclusions, who have little substance in their copy, who don't make it very compelling to read, and who simply screw up the facts.
And I know from being a copy editor for many, many years, that far too many writers are weak on grammar and punctuation. Unfortunately, some of that gets into the newspaper. Because I'm a copy editor, I probably see those things more critically. My wife's theory is that most readers aren't concerned with that; that it is a copy editors' thing.
I can say that I wrote a lot of things over the years -- or edited them -- that I look back and regret, and offered some opinions that looked ill-advised afterward. So I shouldn't be too critical of today's sports journalism. It's changed, I believe, and "edgy" is in more than ever. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just not my thing.