Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Defeating the cliché ...

It was a privilege last night to take part in a sports journalism seminar at Carleton University (thanks again for having me).

One of the questions that came the bright-eyed J-schoolers posed was how get away from the clichéd answers athletes usually give in post-game answers. Well, under the heading of, "Once again, things that could have been brought to my attention yesterday," Bryan Curtis is wrote a piece for The Times declaring War On The Locker-Room Cliché. (Is it not cliché to be declaring war on something?) His opening salvo is pretty direct.
"Let's ditch the hackneyed, almost-useless tradition of the locker-room interview. There’s plenty to write after a ballgame without interrogating the players. The whole ritual proceeds from the idea that the sports press has gotten so professionalized that it feels it has to enforce the same standards of accountability as the political press. This is nonsense. If a political candidate makes a gaffe on the campaign trail, reporters ought to wring an explanation out of him. If (Derek) Jeter flubs a grounder, he doesn’t owe anyone a statement.
It's kind of like what Barry Bonds said 15 years ago about the obligations of athletes to the public compared to other entertainers: "If people pay $8 to see Batman, they don't get to hang around to get Jack Nicholson's autograph." (Remember, like Chuck Klosterman once wrote of Bonds, what he usually says is true, and this usually makes things worse.)

Curtis is might have been playing off the chapter in Will Leitch's God Save The Fan, specifically the chapter on the reporters who have to go into locker rooms. It sort of hits at a big theme, at least for us Gen Xers: Defeating the cliché.

There is admiration for the sports journalists who go into locker rooms as part of their jobs, get what they need and turn around something quickly on deadline. To some extent, we want them talking to that half-naked man. We need them talking to that half-naked man. More to the point, the 24-hour news cycle needs it -- actual people, maybe not so much. Like Leitch says someone , you only need three things if you follow a particular major-league baseball team:
  1. Digital cable and the MLB Extra Innings package.
  2. A Web connection.
  3. A mute button ("Vital. This takes care of the hometown announcers.")
The point is valid. It's obviously of narrow interest, but if you're ever dropped a STFU after hearing another talking head go on about some team that is reeeeeellllling, you should understand why sports clichés are so noxious. It is also unclear how you get away from it, other than to change the entire model of daily journalism entirely as per Curtis' declaration.

That does not sound all that bad to a guy like me who is more of a features writer, which is newsroom code for "can't write on deadline to save his life."

Wake Me When You Say Something Interesting (Bryan Curtis, The New York Times, Nov. 2)


Duane Rollins said...


When it comes to improving the state of sports journalism, we just have to take it one day at a time and give it 110 per cent. You can't ever take a night off. The stakes are too high. But with strong leadership we can overcome adversity. We will do it for our fans. They are the best, after all. No one thinks that we can win, but that will just inspire us and when we win it we will know that we looked deep within ourselves and found that extra gear that allowed us to make it to the next level.I thank Jesus Christ for blessing me with the talent to fight this battle and you for giving me the opportunity.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Yeah, the cliches are a problem, and there's no way to entirely get away from that. I don't think that means we should ditch post-game interviews, though. There's plenty of room for the kind of insight and analysis you can provide without quotes and access, and I'm not advocating for all bloggers and columnists to give up their analysis for the sake of quotes, but I don't think that diminishes the value of traditional pieces with quotes and access. Both have an audience, and both are worthwhile in my mind. Quite often, you can get intelligent, meaningful statements out of athletes and players, and often they'll notice things you missed thanks to their on-court or courtside perspective. In my mind, it's just a matter of knowing the right athletes to talk to, knowing the right questions and knowing which parts of the interview are usable and which parts aren't. To me, that's an advantage of print journalism: the sideline or postgame interviews on radio and TV often have more of the cliches, because they're whole cloth, whereas in print you can sort the insight from the generic.

Gallivan said...

The big problem is, sports reporters are generally unfocused in a locker room situation and rarely ask the right question or ask it properly.
Having worked 22 years in the field, it was frustrating to witness the lack of professionalism demonstrated by these reporters, asking questions which enabled the athlete (or coach) to trot out the cliche answer.
Many reporters (and listen to the post game media sessions on the cable networks....they spend so much time and effort defining their position on a question or avoiding responisbility for a bad question that they confuse the subject and allow him to default to cliche just to get it over with)
are brutal interviewers.
I always liked talking to the players who weren't interviewed a lot...they hadn't been poisoned by bad interviews and actually answered what they were asked.

Duane Rollins said...


Thanks for that. Your paper hiring? (I kid...sort of...are they?)

I always try and talk to at least one defensive player or offensive lineman when I cover football. I find that you get better quotes and, strangely, you gain a certain degree of respect from the team. They understand the importance of those players and appreciate the media giving them some time.

Of course, you need some reaction from the star players or the coach--the public demands it--but you should always look for that colour.

God I miss deadline reporting. You sure your not hiring, Gallivan?