Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Well Written

The first scene of "Top Gun" includes the moment where Maverick and Goose invert their F-14 above a Soviet MiG at a rather close distance.

The two American pilots take a Polaroid (remember those? They were completely wiped out by camera phones) and give an different kind of salute to the rival pilots and then fly away.

Later on, when they're at Top Gun school in California, they relate the experience to the instructor - with whom Mav sort of predictably falls in love - though they fall all over their words to explain the nature of their salute.

Apparently there was no ambiguity to that same salute when it came from Johnny Manziel Monday night, when the Browns played the Redskin. Manziel, in Goose's words, flipped the bird to the Skins.

Raise your hand if you're shocked that he did that.

Anyway, it led to this great first paragraph on the story:
Johnny Manziel raised his middle finger toward the Washington Redskins bench as he returned to the huddle late in the third quarter. It was one of the few times a Cleveland Browns quarterback actually found his intended target.

Now that's really good.

You want more really good writing? Let's go back to October 1939, after Princeton defeated Brown in football 26-12. This is from the Daily Princetonian:
A docile Bruin squatted on his hams and let a sure-footed Tiger pummel him for most of their four-round bout Saturday afternoon. Pluck, wind and a woeful Princeton pass defense enabled him to register 12 points to Princeton's 26. When Bob Peters took the ball on the first formation and loped 67 yards to the paydirt in the year's most beautifully synchronized pay, many of Palmer Stadium's 15,000 spectators expected the Tigers to stage a wholesale Bear slaughter for the balance of the game.

How great is that?

Early sportswriting was nothing like what it would become. It was flowery, in many cases poetry.

Take "Casey At The Bat," a famous story about the Mudville Nine, which is what baseball teams used to be called.

As an aside, when the Trenton Thunder first became a Minor League team, TigerBlog's colleague at the Trenton Times Mark Eckel used to refer to them as "The Local Nine."

A few decades (four of them, to be precise) after "Casey At The Bat," Grantland Rice wrote this after a Notre Dame football game, in 1924:
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.

Hey, he's no Mark Eckel, but that's not too shabby either.

Fast forward to today. TigerBlog gets chills reading what Rice wrote about a college football game, still, 90 years after the fact. 

But do people want to read that sort of stuff again today?

What Rice wrote is 489 characters. That's more than three tweets. Who has patience to read that much today?

Suppose you oversaw a college athletic website. What would you think would be a priority for your readers?

Long, well-written postgame stories, with quotes and all? Or some bullet point facts about the game? Or an info-graphic? Or maybe just video highlights? Or something else completely?

TigerBlog has asked this question a million times before, and it's applicable again right now. What do people want to read?

He brought this up to a few of his colleagues and got complete, 180 degree different answers.

His question is simple: When was the last time you read a real postgame story? Do you already know everything that happened in the game from twitter or someplace else, so you don't really need that kind of in-depth recap?

Is it just a matter of providing a few tidbits about a game and them moving on to the next event?

TB isn't sure. He likes the challenge of writing a really good postgame story, but he doesn't want to invest time into something that is out of date.

So what's the answer?

He's still not sure.

Maybe the decline of newspapers hasn't been as much an economic thing as a reaction to the fact that people just don't want to read like they used to. Maybe the market for traditional sportswriting has dried up.

TigerBlog hopes not. He started out in newspapers. He writes this blog every day.

But he's a pragmatist. He'd yield to the wills of the audience - if only he knew how to figure out what those whims were.

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