Bob Ryan’s parting shot

Posted: February 23, 2012 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
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One of the icons of everyday sports journalism, Mr. Bob Ryan, is calling it a career. He announced the decision last week, his final full-time assignment for the Boston Globe being the London Olympics. Not a bad way to go.

Ryan is 65, has had a long and distinguished career and made more bank than most of us ink-stained wretches could dream of. End of story, right? Not exactly.

See, before riding off into the sunset, he took a couple parting shots at the state of the industry (and not the failing financial part), hinting that this played a part in him hanging ’em up. Turns out, he’s not entirely on board with blogging and tweeting or the audiences who enjoy those formats.

It’s hardly news that an old-school guy isn’t a fan of new-wave journalism. But it is a bit of a bummer. Not insulting or devastating, just unfortunate.

What I mean is this: Soon, people will come to believe that the current way – immediate and short and too often smarmy – is the only way. Of course, that wasn’t always true. Ryan is from the long-form and single-deadline era when newspapers were king. I’m not going to pretend I grew up reading him every day. The few times I did read his stuff, it was online as I’ve never even been to Boston. Still, I once saw him speak as a panelist at a college journalism event at the Final Four in Minneapolis. You had to win an essay contest just to gain entry, and I was stoked to be included. In that short time, I picked up two pieces of wisdom that I carry with me to work every day.
1) You should collect way, way more information than you need for your story. That is, you should maybe even throw away more information than you use.
2) You should use quotes judiciously. As a writer, odds are you can say it better than the subject. That’s both true and sort of empowering.

Now, I use social media plenty – maybe too much. And I know where Ryan is coming from in terms of the negatives of the current system. There is pressure to be first and that sometimes trumps getting it exactly right. There is no downtime. And everyone is an expert, not just those with press passes and, you know, training, access and knowledge.

There’s good and bad in that. Just like there’s good and bad in the old way. It’s a case-by-case basis.

Bob Ryan is hanging up his laptop this summer.

That said, isn’t there room for all types of sportswriters right now? Some excel at blogging, some at breaking stories – maybe even via Twitter. Some prefer long form. I mean, is Gary Smith even on Twitter? I don’t know, and I don’t care, because his essays are incredible even at more than 140 characters.
I consider myself a beat writer above all else. That doesn’t mean I can’t handle a summer-long project; it just means I have to narrow my focus based on the requirements of my specific job. And given the lack of quality jobs due to the rash of layoffs, there’s no shortage of potential replacements.

Just like there are countless music genres, there are different factions within sports journalism. Nobody can be – or should be – all things to all audiences, at least not anymore. Especially as so many of us dabble in radio and TV and podcasting. Ryan should know that having made, rather successfully, the transition to ESPN via PTI and Around the Horn.

It’s just sort of disappointing, as naive as that sounds, that a legend would choose to go there on his way out. Most of us are doing the best we can in this meat grinder with no promise that we’ll be employed tomorrow. Heck, I’ve got another furlough coming later this month – my busiest of the year. And that week, I’ll keep blogging (I file them ahead of time) and Tweeting (because I’m an addict) because I’m dedicated to my job and my craft, hopefully, in some semblance of the way that Ryan probably was.

We wouldn’t have gotten to this point, doling out immediate and/or excellent information at all hours of the day from a million points on the Web, without him and so many others. This is a fascinating time to be a sportswriter, whether Mr. Ryan recognizes that or not.


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