Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No Houston, no problem; consider it a challenge

There is much to be said for just watching sports on TV without reading about watching sports on TV.

Those who can manage that are ahead of the game. Chattering class types will no doubt feel some loss after getting something close to confirmation that William Houston is leaving The Globe & Mail after a 15-year run as its sports media critic (and before that, as a leader of the Ballard-bashing brigade in the '80s). It sort of flies in the face of the whole notion of invest in journalism or die.

No doubt a few people will say that this is latest harbinger of the death of media criticism, but that it too glib by half. Houston, who is apparently done Feb. 1, is owed an enormous debt of gratitude (the two books that he published about the Leafs in the '80s were an inspiration). By the same token, keep in mind that this is a Boomer, old media. There is an entire generation of journalists have come up knowing the media coverage of a sports event is part of the story, because they've learned from reading William Houston and others and know how to carry the illness forward. It's not so much about him leaving as it about someone else getting a well-earned chance.

Newspapers, if they're going to make it, have to shine their lights where radio and TV cannot. With regard to sports coverage, that includes a honest evaluation at how well they're doing at building and keeping an audience.

Written-word journalists are going to have to focus on increasing understanding or stimulating serious thought. Radio and TV already have the immediacy aspect covered off very well. They cover the games very, very well.

The question is whether the too concentrated-for-comfort Canadian media will see a need for sports media criticism. Along with Houston leaving The Globe, the Toronto Star had its sports media columnist, Chris Zelkovich on the CFL beat last summer, although he's still going strong with his Monday column (loved the line about Sidney Crosby being "as charismatic as a pylon.")

On the entertainment side, greater minds have pointed out that with all the cross-ownership, film/TV production bosses would rather have some functionally illiterate twitburger from eTalk Daily talk about their new movie than someone who betrays having a base of general knowledge.

A mature media culture needs critics, but if we lose that in Canada, it won't be for a lack of talent. The full of doom and gloom Boomers fail to realize, that it does no good to be negative. It's understandable to feel threatened. However, people born after 1973 are fully capable. They should think about what what David Letterman, said in late 2007 when a building was decided in his honour at Ball State University.
I am old media. I've done about as much as I can do. It's all up to everybody else.
That's David Letterman talking. Speaking personally, I look at Bucholtz and Kinger, and am blown away by the depth and range of their talents. There's no comparison between me at 21 or 22 years old and them.

It sucks to see the bottom line rule everything. It is hard to imagine The Globe without Houston, but there are a lot of hard to imagine things going on in the media industry. Hopefully, speaking as a complete outsider who works another media chain, hopefully someone will take on his beat, although it won't be easy.

Thanks again, Mr. Houston. Mahalo.

(Link via Cox Bloc.)


Kim Jorn said...

Great post Neate. I hope you are right.

Dennis Prouse said...

That's a shame about the Globe losing Bill Houston. I didn't always agree with him, but he always had something to say, and wasn't afraid to call it the way he saw it. He also had a unique niche in that he was the only one who commented on sports media. I don't hold out much hope that they will replace him with an equally as controversial columnist.