One time, long ago, I attended an appearance by local writer/former 700 WLW employee Paul Daugherty as he was promoting his book of past columns. He made mention that he graduated with the worst degree possible for becoming a sports journalist.
Surprisingly enough, his degree was in journalism.
From listening to national sports talk radio recently (as there is very little local fare remaining), it is very clear that a majority of reporters nationally squawk on daily without the slightest integrity as journalists.
Too often national sports news doesn't surround what is truly newsworthy in the sports world, but rather what they believe is the most interesting angle to the majority of sports fans. The coverage of the NBA playoffs this year is quite the indicator of today's state of affairs.
To the casual fan, a Lakers/Cavs final would be splendid. Correction: a Kobe/LeBron final would be splendid. In fact, if they could find a way to pit 5 Kobes against 5 LeBrons then that would be something, wouldn't it?
Unfortunately, the teams that are playing more like teams, the Nuggets (who are tied in their series) and the Magic (who are winning theirs), are getting very little media love for playing well in the playoffs. You know, the one time in the NBA schedule when winning actually matters?
Case in point: on today's ESPN Radio Sportscenter, the lead went something like this: "Kobe Bryant scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough. The Nuggets beat the Lakers 120-101 to even the series."
Quick note: WHO CARES how many Kobe scored when they got spanked by 19? It should be an afterthought, not the first item mentioned out the shoot.
"In other news, John Smith is distraught over the loss of his favorite pen. That pen was one of many casualties in the apartment fire that killed 7 residents."
For the record, the internet counterpart ESPN.com does a better job of telling the story, emphasizing the injured Carmelo Anthony (y'know, the star of the winning team last night) and the efforts of the Nuggets to pick up the slack when Anthony couldn't contribute.
But what came over the radio airwaves is no anomaly, it's the rule. I've heard more talk about where LeBron's going in 2010 then what the Finals is going to look like if Orlando advances. Even in that context, it's assumed that Orlando is on their way to winning the series already, but not explicitly mentioned. LeBron's apparently what people would like to hear about, not the current season's playoffs.
As Michael Vick might say, I don't have a dog in this fight. (I figured I would throw the Vick reference in to get the casual fan in the door. Oh, and Brett Favre, too.)
It doesn't matter to me either way who ends up in the Finals, and I believe that likewise, sports journalists should just report. Orlando is dominating the Eastern Conference finals, and if you were a casual fan, all you would know is that LeBron hit a great game-winning shot in Game 2. You might even think, if you weren't paying attention, that Cleveland was already in the Finals.
That's where coverage needs to address what's really happening, not viewer's fantasies or the glitzier matchups. Cover what's happening, not what your marketing department would rather make promos for.
Basketball's not the only sport getting this treatment. Golf coverage has been vilified for it, and rightly so. Certainly Tiger's performance in any tournament is newsworthy, as it may be the only recognizable player many know. But keep the Tiger coverage in the "notable finishes" section, not as the lead.
Beyond the emphasis on the stars of sports, there is a considerable lack of accountability in reporting. From an overabundance of anonymous sources to straight-up uncorrected errors, it's a wonder the truth ever finds its way out.
Heard recently on those same useless airwaves, and as can be verified here, this wonderful fact:
"Albert Pujols hit his 333rd home run, passing Moises Alou and Bobby Bonds for eighth all-time."
Confusion sets in...eighth all-time? Really? Try 88th. In fact, the eighth-place player has 250 more homers than Mr. Pujols. And was also a Cardinal.
It can be written off as a mistake, but it's an 80-place mistake that was repeated (I heard it again in the newscast later that morning) and hasn't even been corrected on their website five days later. And even though Albert Pujols did indeed pass Bobby Bonds and Moises Alou for 88th place, it's not newsworthy. Let's begin talking about it when he hits more significant milestones like 400 or 500. Until then it's not even worth mentioning. Unless you really, really like Albert Pujols.
What is worth mentioning is that the Cardinals got a win against a strong division foe (the Cubs) behind a strong performance from Adam Wainwright (5 hits over 8 2/3 innings). Not what Pujols' mundane place on the career HR list might be.
You might be led to find ESPN's ombudsman to complain, but she is no longer employed by them. In fact, her parting shot made mention of how the elite teams received a disproportionate amount of coverage. So, yes, there is a solid basis for those Yankees/Red Sox gripes.
Unfortunately, in this day and age of instantaneous information, the real story is still not readily available. It still takes digging into the box score or, heaven forbid, actually watching the games, to find out what's really going on.