Povich Sports Center Director George Solomon issued his end of the semester report this week that offered an insightful look at the rise of robo-journalism that could well impact sports journalists.
The original piece was published on the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism website.
By George Solomon
The same week I started reading Bill Littlefield’s first-rate anthology of the work of the late sportswriter W.C. Heinz, I saw an item noting the impending use of some automated game stories by the Associated Press.
Over the years, A.P staffers, in my opinion, had for the most part mastered the art of covering a game by actually informing readers of which team won the game, the score of the game and how the game was won.
But times change. Sports fans know the score and details of a game from television, radio, online accounts, Twitter, Facebook, their smart phones and whatever new device happens to be the device of the moment. So the A.P. is reacting to the times.
The game story is outdated, I’m told, which would have saddened Heinz, a great sports columnist, war correspondent, magazine writer and novelist who died in 2008 at the age of 93. Heinz liked watching games, reading game stories, talking to players, as well as coaches. When he came back to the U.S. from Europe after covering World War II for the New York Sun, he was offered any job in the newsroom. He told his bosses he wanted to be a sportswriter and that’s what he became.
When the New York Sun went out of business in 1950, Heinz wrote books and magazine articles. Mostly he wrote about sports. Richard Goldstein, who wrote Heinz’ obituary for the New York Times on Feb. 28, 2008, quoted the late David Halberstam’s foreword in “What a Time It Was” (2001), a collection of Mr. Heinz’s sports pieces with the legendary Red Smith: “He (Heinz) wrote simply and well – if anything he underwrote — but he gave his readers a feel and a sense of what was happening at a game or at the fights, and a rare glimpse into the personalities of the signature athletes of the age.”
Shirley Povich, the man the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism is named, tried to give his readers that “feel” as well. Every fall, the students in the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s sports reporting class listen (I hope) to my reciting Povich’s description of Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series: “The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-hit, no-run, no-man-reach- first game in a World Series.”
In his 1969 memoir, “ All Those Mornings,” Povich remembered what it was like trying to write for his readers of The Washington Post about the only perfect game ever pitched in the World Series:
“When it was over, my frightening task began: How to handle this aurora borealis? I sat among four hundred other writers transfixed, my eyes staring at the Yankee Stadium turf, my mind trying to absorb and ponder the magnitude of the achievement, all the while knowing the clock is moving and the deadline is mocking. I shifted my stare to the empty white sheet of paper in my typewriter until snow-blindness threatened to set in. Then my fingers began moving across the keyboard of my portable and I was writing scared as the words began to come out.”
I’m sure my friends at the Associated Press will figure out what to do about game stories. So will the nation’s sports editors. Automation? Perhaps.
I shudder to think the great sportswriters of today will not have the opportunity Povich had that autumn day in 1956, or Red Smith had covering Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning home run for the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 or Jimmy Cannon sitting ringside when Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in 1938.
I hope some of the May graduates from the Merrill College of Journalism will get their chance, too, covering and writing their “memorable” games, whenever and wherever occur. And I hope I’m around to read them.
For those keeping score, during the academic year 2014-2015, the Povich Center provided Merrill students and the community these events:
Sept. 16- Freshmen reception.
Oct. 13 – Panel discussion on the name Redskins.
Nov. 11- Ninth annual Povich Symposium: “Racism in Sports.”
Dec. 6- Women in Sports Media, at the Newseum.
Feb. 12- Gary Williams visits student chapter of APSE.
Feb. 25- The changing landscape of college sports.
April 2-Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith luncheon and award to James Brown of CBS.
April 11-Shirley Povich Workshop for area high school and college journalism students.
April 25-Maryland Day panel on the future of sports media.
May 6- What’s next in the sports media job market?