THE SPORTS PAGE (CONT.): LETTER FROM A SPORTING NEWSHEN
As the wife of a sportswriter, the friend of many others, a former newspaperwoman, the first to crack the sanctity of Denver's press box, I'm stung to a reply to your What's with the Sports Page? (SI, April 6).
To answer the managing editors point by point:
Tendencies to slant the news in favor of the home team....
This is an error? Who has the best team? The one in your home town or the rival 20 miles away? What sportswriter worth his salt would give the benefit to the neighboring team in his own paper?
To accept publicity handouts in place of digging for stories of their own....
So what? Many handouts simply give lineups, weights, previous ratings, etc. Handouts are rewritten in practically every instance, with slanted or objectionable material edited out.
Many good behind-the-scenes stories are killed because of untoward pressures....
Yes. And many times that pressure comes from management itself. Does the managing editor want his readers to know that the star of the basketball team has a father who's been jailed for drunkenness?
When sports becomes a hard news item...we assign a city-side reporter....
Few sportswriters of my acquaintance haven't at one time or another written for city-side and so are even better qualified to handle sports scandals or other "hard news" because they, being in the sports department, know the background and angles and all the people involved.
Don't tell me all the sacred cows are confined to the sports department. How about the candidate management is supporting for mayor? How about the publisher who refuses to allow publication of the picture of the home team's leading basketball scorer—just because his skin is black? Huffily yours,
MRS. JOHN D. ALEXANDER
Santa Barbara, Calif.
LETTER FROM AN EDITOR
The following editorial appeared in the April 11 issue of The Blood-Horse.
The late Thomas B. Cromwell, when he first went to old Latonia as a representative of the Cincinnati Enquirer, received an envelope from the management at the end of the week
"What's this?" he asked.
"It's a little check you've earned by your services to Latonia and to racing," he was told.
The young man returned the envelope.
"I don't work for Latonia," he said. "I work for the Cincinnati Enquirer."
This incident and some infrequent repetitions of it in later years were called to mind last week by a short article in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in which managing editors, answering a questionnaire, expressed "some frank opinions on the quality of sports reporting." (A devilish notion to solicit from sports reporters some frank opinions on the quality of managing editors came within tempting distance, but we put it aside.)
Among the managing editors' criticisms of sportswriters: Some are "damn near illiterate." Many stories remain unwritten because of the reporters' tendency to be "good sports," or in order to maintain easy relations with management and players. The writers turn out "booster stuff" because promoters fawn on them. Space given professional teams is traded for transportation and traveling expenses. Sports reporting is "almost entirely surface reporting, completely uncritical."
Apparently none of the managing editors went so far as to accuse promoters of direct bribery. But there still are promoters, in racing and elsewhere, who think that the only good press is an uncritical press; there are too few who understand that a controlled press, whether regimented through sweetness, subtlety, or subornation, represents a dangerous neurectomy.
J. A. Estes
READERS AND REPORTERS
Concerning your article What's with the Sports Page? There seems to be something about the profession which inhibits good writing. And we in New England, unfortunately, have some of the worst of the breed.
The day after I read your article the Minneapolis Lakers played the Boston Celtics in the first game of the final NBA playoff series. Elgin Baylor, justly acclaimed as one of the best basketball players in the league, played rather badly that day. He snared only 11 rebounds (five other players outrebounded him); he scored 34 points but missed 19 shots from the floor in 33 attempts (an average shooting percentage); he lost the ball on several occasions with poor ball handling, walking violations, etc. and he missed seven out of 13 foul shot attempts.
And yet, so hypnotized were the Boston sportswriters by Baylor's past performance and his 34 points that not one of them commented on his poor play.
All of this is mentioned to point out how badly our sports are reported. The sportswriters seem to be trapped in their own cliché-ridden verbiage.
The managing editor who declared that behind-the-scenes sports stories go unwritten because of pressures on reporters could not have been more correct.
While I was a college sports editor and, later, a small-town sports editor (Marietta, Ohio, Daily Times), I wrote and ran several articles which placed me in uncomfortable positions.
I detailed one of those PLAYER CUT FOR DISCIPLINARY REASONS stories, thereby entering a long-term doghouse hitch.
I went after reasons because my readers were entitled to know why a player was cut from the team, why the big game was lost, why the coach resigned, etc. For these efforts I was accused of "pumping" by sources or those with special interests.
Even the better sports staffs will have to get better yet.
PRIVATE ARNOLD MARKOWITZ
Fort Dix, N.J.
As a spectator who spent some 10 years in the sportswriting field before becoming fed up, I was touched by your article on one of my pet peeves—the nation's sports page. Perhaps I am a bit too critical, having spent some time on the other side of the desk, but I seldom pick up a sports page in my travels around the country that I do not burn from seeing someone bury a good story in a two-paragraph short or overplay some private or newspaper promotion in a manner which is designed to stuff the propaganda down the readers' throats.
However, I feel that at this time I must come to the aid of my former colleagues and place the blame where I feel it most belongs, on the stiff backs of the same managing editors whose comments you so prominently displayed.
I am sure you would get some interesting comments if the sports department was canvassed for criticism of management.
By and large the sportswriting field is the most underpaid group of journalists in the world. Even so, most sportswriters try to do a good job and very few are worth less than they are paid. I separate from this category the alcoholics, the pensioned police reporters who have put out to pasture in the sports department, the nephew of the stockholder who is determined to become a newspaperman and is stationed in the most harmless spot possible, etc.
With space at a premium, the sports column is another of my pet sports page peeves. I can see no reason whatever for running a column each and every day just because the sports editor or a top assistant has authority to do so and display his name and picture prominently. That space (in most papers, at least) is far too valuable to tie up with a column unless the columnist has something with enough meat in it to interest the reader. Few of the sports columnists outside New York, Chicago or Los Angeles can or will come up with more than one readable column a week.
Some of your correspondents write far better stuff for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED than they do for their own papers. Why? Many managing editors do not recognize good sports copy when they see it and if one of those pieces turned up in the morning page there would be nasty notes. Yet, the average sports reader loves it, as witness SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S rapid rise in popularity.
I must admit there are far too many free-loaders in the sportswriting field. Why? It probably stems from the limited budgets of most sports departments. Most of the larger metropolitan papers pay their own way but far too often it is necessary to travel at the expense of the promoter or team which the reporter is covering. At first glance this might be construed as money saved in the eyes of management. But the promoters themselves know when the first "fringe benefit" is accepted that they are "in".
I have seen many sports reporters work as many as 20 hours a day when overtime was forbidden by management just because there were stories which had to be covered. I have seen these same reporters dig into sensational and human interest stories which would brighten the eyes of most educated editors only to have the stories tossed into the wastebasket because some big advertiser or an influential local citizen might have his feelings hurt. This is journalism?
K. W. RICE
As a former sportswriter, I have watched with much interest the What's with the Sports Page? controversy.
It is my considered opinion that the managing editors hit a new high in stupidity.
The only good writing, the only imaginative writing in the average newspaper today, appears on the sports pages.
I suggest that every managing editor reread the chapter titled "Under the Guns" in Paul Gallico's masterful Farewell to Sport.
This paragraph tells why there are so few Rices, Gallicos and Lardners today:
Now they want that story. They don't want it fancy, they want it quickly. Every second counts in getting on the street with the complete story of the fight, to beat the opposition. Trucks are waiting at the delivery room. There are trains to be made at the big terminals. To hell with pulling a Joe Conrad or a Kipling. They want type. They must have type. If it is any good, so much the better for the man covering the story. But you cannot put beautiful but unwritten thoughts into a paper. You need that type....
Thank God for the sportswriters! The readers need them in these days when the front page carries nothing but bad news 365 days a year.
ROBERT L. RUSSELL
•For the views of one of America's most distinguished sports editors see page 28.—ED.