The Endangered Art of Sportswriting

From the time I was a little kid, I dreamed of being a sportswriter. I remember reading the New York papers my father brought home, especially the sports section, catching up on the exploits of my favorite ballplayers.

I recall the evening papers, like the New York Journal American and the World-Telegram & Sun,  with the partial linescores for afternoon baseball games.

I wrote sports for the school paper in high school and college, majored in English, worked the composing room of the Worcester Telegram my senior year. Worked with hot type, learned to run a linotype machine and the proof press.

I’ve always had the notion that people go to spectator sports to have fun and then they grab the paper to read about it and have fun again.
— Red Smith

After graduating, I wrote a sports column, Scene and Heard, five days a week for five years for the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel & Enterprise. Then I worked the slot and wrote sports for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel for three years, where sports was known as the top department.

Eventually I left the newspaper business, after I got an offer I couldn’t refuse from IBM. I’ve spent the past quarter century doing PR and other communications for Big Blue. Great company, great career move. No regrets.

But the ink still flows through my veins. I love sports, I love to write. I’m a natural sportswriter. A SportsLifer.

A sportswriter is entombed in a prolonged boyhood.
— Jimmy Cannon

Unfortunately, those newspapers I used to work for, like so many others, are in trouble.  People don’t read newspapers anymore. There are so many alternative sources of instant information…ESPN, sports talk radio, and of course the omnipresent Internet.

The print guys are suffering. Circulation is down. Nobody’s reading the good writing. Sportswriters are losing their jobs.

No fan of bloggers, Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News recently wrote a brilliant yet bittersweet  piece on an industry that is struggling to find its way in the world today, and the impact on the sportswriting fraternity. .

As Conlin writes: “There are still newspaper readers who venerate the well-turned phrase, the bold analogy, the absurd premise that becomes believable because it is so well put. They are being intellectually punished by men in newspaper board rooms, bottom-liners who lacked the guts required to sack a hedge fund, bankrupt an auto company or approve a $1 million mortgage to a couple with $100,000 in credit-card debt. They lead to one thing: The dumbing down of America.”

Baseball is a game where a curve is an optical illusion, a screwball can be a pitch or a person, stealing is legal and you can spit anywhere you like except in the umpire’s eye or on the ball.
— Jim Murray

Conlin’s column in interspersed with famous sportswriting lines, from immortals Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon and Jim Murray.

Conlin weaves these lines — and some wonderful anecdotes involving sportswriters  — throughout is column, headlined: “Two-minute warning for our beloved sportswriters.”

Times are changing. Times are tough.


2 Comments on “The Endangered Art of Sportswriting”

  1. Mike Finneran says:

    Great blog, Rick. Sounds like you did the same thing I did … from newspapers to PR, no regrets, but that ink just won’t dry up, will it?

  2. […] See Related Blog: The Endangered Art of Sportswriting […]

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