Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Dead Poet

TigerBlog got an email the other day, an email from an address that began with "deadpoet."

It always takes TB a second to remember whose email that is, especially when the message itself doesn't say so. Then it comes to him: deadpoet is Paul Franklin.

Specifically, the dead poet asked if we had "a flat space and an outlet" for him to use for a few hours Tuesday morning.

TB's response was: "Are you going to come here and do your ironing?"

Franklin, for those who don't know, is a writer for the Home News-Tribune, a local newspaper in Somerset County.

As it turned out, Franklin was going to be on campus, and he needed a place to work for a little while. While he was here, he said that it had been years since he'd covered anything at Princeton. What was it, he tried to remember. Oh yeah. It was the day Sydney Johnson was hired as men's basketball coach.

Johnson, of course, will be entering his fourth year at Princeton.

There was a time when Franklin or someone else from the Home News-Tribune (Bob Nobleman? Tara Finnegan?) would be here several times per week. Hey, when TB was in the newspaper business, back in his Trenton Times days, he was in this office at least three times per week.

That's how sportswriting was back then. You'd hang around the places you covered, and you'd get to know the people. There was no web, no email, no cell phone, nothing like that.

It was all face-to-face. And, of course, without the web, the people who worked in athletic communications needed to have those kinds of relationships with the local writers to get coverage of their programs.

TB can't remember the last time, before yesterday, that a local sportswriter just stopped in to hang out and talk to the people here. The coaches. The athletic director. Athletes. Administrators. Just to put a face to the name in the paper and to earn some trust and credibility.

When TB first started here, there were sportswriters around all the time. People like Chris Thorne from the Star-Ledger. Brian Dohn and Rich Fisher from the Trentonian. The Home News people. And of course, the granddaddy of them all, Harvey Yavener from the Trenton Times.

Of course, when TigerBlog first got into the newspaper business in the mid-1980s, it was still thriving. By the time TB started here, it was all about to change.

Today that whole profession is different, changed completely and forever by the web.

So far TB has received way more requests for credentials for the NCAA lacrosse tournament (opening round and quarterfinals) from websites than from printed publications. Everything is about a website, a blog, etc.

In many ways, it's for the better. The amount of information available has skyrocketed. This information goes directly to those who want it. Nobody has a monopoly on reporting. There are any number of points of view, any number of approaches.

It's great for consumers. How many websites do you go to everyday? How many other choices are there?

At the same time, it's a shame for what sportswriting has become. At its top levels, sportswriters are now way more about getting on TV and radio (and screaming when they get there) than they are about writing good stories. On the local level, everything is about high school sports, because Mommy and Daddy will always buy the paper when their kid's name/picture are in it.

Back when TB was a sportswriter, there were few better jobs out there. Maybe you didn't get rich. Maybe you didn't drive the nicest car.

But you had a great job, one that you had a great time doing.

TB continues to be a big fan of the new direction that athletic communications is going. Still, every now and then, when a Paul Franklin wanders in, TB gets a little wistful for the old days, back to a time when it was all about the ink, and not about the web.

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