Friday, August 7, 2009

Reporting Rapidly

Pete the Greek was a fixture at basically every Mercer County sporting event back in the ’80s and ’90s. Certainly TigerBlog saw him everywhere he went, including Jadwin Gym and Palmer Stadium, and it was impossible to be in the same room he was in without his letting you know.

From his familiar spot in his wheelchair, he'd reach up and grab you by the arm, pulling you toward him to tell you his latest funny story, of which he had an endless supply. Even all these years later, the mere thought of Pete the Greek makes TB smile; to talk to anyone who knew him then is to elicit instant laughter.

And yet, TigerBlog never really knew much about him, other than he loved local sports and talking. Never really knew much about him, that is, until the day Harvey Yavener wrote about a 50-inch story on the man everyone just knew as Pete the Greek. Yav told the Greek's whole story in an epic piece that TigerBlog ranks as the best writing Yav has ever done.

Gary Smith wrote perhaps two of the best sportswriting stories TigerBlog has ever read, his Sports Illustrated pieces on Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summit and former Eagles' coach Buddy Ryan. Each story was around 7,000 words.

TigerBlog, for his part, has written numerous features that ran past 2,500 or 3,000 words; he considers some of them his best efforts.

For that matter, the best book TB ever read was "A Prayer For Owen Meany," which went past 500 pages and took what seemed like a half-hour to read.

In other words, TigerBlog doesn't mind investing some time into reading something that is good, thought-provoking, informative, well-written and worthwhile.

But is TB alone in this thinking in the year 2009?

If you read, you might think TB is in the minority. The site itself is an excellent one, with easy-to-find scores, pretty good writing and a minimum of self-exultation. Recently, though, added something it calls "Rapid Reports" at the top of its pages.

As TB is writing this, the three items under "Rapid Reports" are these:
9:40 ET Ravens QBs Joe Flacco, Troy Smith and John Beck are looking sharp throwing 20-yard touchdown passes against an imaginary defense.
9:36 ET Browns WR Braylon Edwards, who led the NFL in drops a year ago, continues to snag everything thrown his way.
9:25 ET Rain has hit Vikings training camp in Mankato...morning practice begins at 9 a.m. determination has been made - yet - as to whether they will be indoors or outdoors.

TB's first response to this is "who could possibly care?" Yes, NFL football is the most popular sporting entity in this country, and yes, TigerBlog will do everything he can to watch all 16 Giants games this season.

Still, three NFL quarterbacks are looking sharp throwing against an imaginary defense from 20 yards away? Braylon Edwards can't drop anything in August drills? We're breathlessly awaiting whether the Vikings are going to go inside or not (as an aside, TB remembers watching the Vikings play outdoor games in December and January at the old Metropolitan Stadium; a little rain is going to slow down the Purple People Eaters?).

Next up is the issue that TB read about yesterday, that several NFL teams are trying to ban tweeting and other social networking from their training camps and practices. The concern is that reports of injuries, personnel decisions and strategies will be leaked for anyone to see. Don't the "Rapid Reports" play into that? And what does all of it say about the paranoia that runs rampant?

Getting past all of those questions for now, the real issue for TB is this: What do people in 2009 want to read? Do they want to read huge stories, or are they in too much of a hurry for that? Is it simply who won and what was the score and then move on to the next thing? Does the need for immediate information extend beyond being able to click on the video of the great play mentioned in the story and go all the way to knowing that three NFL quarterbacks can throw a ball 20 yards with nobody defending?

Certainly the rise of the phrase "social networking" seems to suggest that's the case. How many times have you heard someone in sports, politics, entertainment or even your own work place say "social networking" in the last few months? A few years ago - make that even a year ago - the words "social networking" would probably have had you thinking about how to get invited to better parties, not about getting faster information.

So is this where the collective attention span is right now? Do Princeton fans simply want: "Jordan Culbreath looks great in short-yardage drill?" Do they want to learn all about how Jordan Culbreath came out of nowhere to become one of the great Princeton backs of the last 20 years? Do they want both?

Or is it just easier to read (and for that matter, write) a 15-word sentence than a 2,000-word feature? Maybe it's just laziness?

TigerBlog can see the format for distributing information constantly evolve as the traditional newspaper continues to vanish. TB can't imagine that the desire for the in-depth content will simply disappear. At least he hopes not.

After all, TB has some good feature ideas in mind for next lacrosse season.

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