Some Thoughts on Sports Media

Those that know me, and I’m guessing that most of those reading this do, know that I enjoy sports. I enjoy sports media* almost as much as the actual events, I think in part because so much of it is pretty awful. This is particularly true here in Chicago, especially when considering everybody’s favorite team the Bears.

*I am loathe to call it sports journalism. What most sportswriters do is not journalism. They watch games (albeit from better seats than me) review what happened and offer their thoughts on what we all saw and make predictions for the next game. Unfortunately, they have become more sarcastic, pettier and more predictable in the last ten years. Also there seems to be a strong strain of gossip culture emerging in sports, thanks Deadspin.

To live in Chicago is to live with the Bears and their fans, which also include all members of the media. There is no hint of objectivity when it comes to Bears coverage and most of the people covering the Bears are as bad as the drunken fan at the end of the bar, believing that every win is proof of a Superbowl run and every loss is the end of the season. The worship of Mike Ditka is fodder for a whole other blog. What is even more galling about Bears coverage is how the writers generally tow the party line and suck up to everyone, coaches, players and front office. The most glaring example in recent weeks was the discussion of Cedric Benson, former Bear now playing for the Bengals. Benson did not have a good stay in Chicago, to say the least. Since being in Cincinnati he has really turned things around, somewhere in the top ten running backs in the league. Leading up to last weeks game he made comments about being blackballed by the Bears, made some less than flattering remarks about the coaching staff and the like. What did the media do with this juicy story? Investigate the allegations of blackballing? No. What the Chicago press did was parrot what the Bears front office said, in effect, “We didn’t blackball Cedric.” As a matter of fact the press took it even further. In two separate stories, the writers used this logic, “the Bears did not blackball Cedric Benson because Benson did not play well for the Bears therefore they did not have to blackball him.” As you can see this is a great fallacy, one doesn’t necessarily equate to the other. Yes, he played poorly for the Bears, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t speak poorly of him. The writers stuck with their logic and as far as supporting testimony, they interviewed “a member of the Bears front office.” Surprisingly that front office person also said they didn’t blackball Benson. It would have been nice if they would have talked to other front offices and see if there was anything to Benson’s claims, but that would have required effort and actually working against their favorite football team.*

* What is even more hilarious about the press coverage of the Bears is that sometimes the players, coaches etc. get mad at the media for asking relatively softball questions, especially if it is questioning a bad play or decision or prying into personal business, like you know, dating Paris Hilton.

An even sadder state of affairs is the Chicago sports radio landscape, especially now that the Bears are in full swing. All Bears all the time, unless the Bulls and Blackhawks are doing really well or really poorly. If the indoor sports are mediocre, don’t expect much from the local gabbers. Even the hosts get tired of talking football, but instead of moving on to other sports, they veer off into various directions, most of which are inane, ill-informed or just plain boring. The greatest offender, at least of late, is Dan McNeil and his Danny Mac Show on 670 WSCR. When he isn’t talking sports he tends to discuss his colleagues in the media and quite frankly how much he doesn’t like them. He does a particularly “good” job of ripping his former airmates on ESPN, especially Harry Teinowitz. I don’t necessarily like the guy either, but it has gotten old really quick. Speaking of Harry and his show “The Afternoon Saloon” all I can say is meh. They don’t offer much in the way of insight, entertainment, or even confrontation. It really is like a stop by a tavern, where most of the conversation is banal at best. Finally, the great hope of Chicago radio is Boers and Bernstein, 1-6 on 670 WSCR. They can be funny, informative and offer strong analysis. Unfortunately more often than not they are reduced to the lower beings of their nature, namely beating up their callers, which they cherry pick for the most insane callers. Case in point, Bernstein wanted to know why they didn’t keep a caller who wanted to argue that the Bulls would win 65-70 games this year. The only reason to have that caller on is to tell him how crazy he is. Unfortunately they do this far too often. It degenerates to a forum where the hosts are constantly telling the callers how dumb they are, in effect lording their wisdom over the audience. They don’t seem to get that by yelling at the callers, calling them stupid, is in effect calling all of their audience stupid. After a half hour of this, it just gets old and not worth listening too. I could mention the other big show, Waddle and Silvy, but what’s the point? It is even more tepid than the “The Afternoon Saloon” but credit must go to Mark Silverman for at least asking tough questions to guests and being the most interactive of the radio cohort in Chicago.

The internet, especially social media is really the future of sports media, unfortunately, not many in Chicago seem to get it. The Score basically have one feed to promo their shows on Twitter, and they don’t seem to do much on Facebook. Silverman is a demon on Facebook, commenting during games, bantering back and forth with other fans and sharing in the experience in general. The other folks in Chicago who are really good are the beat reporters for the respective baseball teams, but I have to say Joe Cowley covering the White Sox is the best. He makes some great jokes on Twitter as well as covering the games and developing stories in real time. It’s too bad he seems to have taken a break during the World Series. Speaking of the Series, it has been awesome to watch while logged on to Twitter. The quips, predictions and insight from some really good national writers has been great, especially Joe Posnanski. I think JoePo is the best example of how games are going to be covered. What I want more of, and Cowley does pretty regularly, is the press using their credentials to get more inside information, like injury updates, breaking news during the game and the like. So far the Series coverage has been lacking in this department. Of course there’s more to discuss about the internet and sports media, but I’ll leave the dark side alone for now.

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One thought on “Some Thoughts on Sports Media”

  1. Funny what you have to say about WSCR as my buddy is one of the sales managers there. I think CBS radio will get it eventually when it comes to the social media aspects as they have been doing a pretty good job with their new sports station out here in Boston (the sports hub). the key to maximizing the social media though is actually offering your audience something useful which is hard for most aports talk stations that as you say, get borning after 30 minues.

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