The dying art of covering local sports

The talk of Boston media today is an article in Boston magazine in which media critic Alan Siegel dismantles the city’s sportswriters. It’s an article that could have been written in many media markets — including this one — where the traditional sportswriter provides game stories and nuggets while his/her national media competition provide the analysis sports fans tend to crave.

Siegel’s essay offers more questions — is the old style of reporting on sports essentially over? Change certain words accordingly in the following excerpt:

And it’s not just the city’s core sports personalities that haven’t changed much. The way the local media covers games is stuck in the past, too. Beat writers may blog, chat, and utilize social media now, but after games, they’re still churning out the same kinds of vanilla recaps that have long been a newspaper staple. While these types of stories have the capacity to be poetic–Gammons’s lyrical piece after Game 6 of the 1975 World Series is considered the modern standard–today’s versions rarely rise to such levels and, in the end, just end up rehashing hours-old events (as if the highlights weren’t immediately available online).

In most game stories, there’s a conspicuous lack of creative analysis, which is compounded by the local media’s apparent allergy to the type of advanced statistics that other outlets have used to shine new, interesting light on old sports. For instance, after the Patriots earned a spot in the AFC Championship game by beating the Houston Texans in January, the Herald dutifully recapped the series of events in the game, sprinkling in quotes like Tom Brady saying afterward, “I’m tired, man.” (One would think so!) Tight end Aaron Hernandez offered this enlightening bit of pablum: “We’ve still got one more to go to get to the big dance, so we’ve got to keep playing and come to play next week.” And defensive standout Vince Wilfork was captured saying, “It’s sweet playing in the AFC Championship.” Another big shocker. Meanwhile, the sharp minds over at the national website Pro Football Focus informed their readers that the Texans blitzed on 48.8 percent of their plays, a decision that allowed Brady to pick their defense apart. When Houston did get to Brady, he was 0 for 5 on completions, but those occasions, the site reported, were rare. The difference between the two approaches was night and day.

Siegel also suggests local sportswriters in his market are more interested in their TV and radio gigs than their newspapers. That’s got to be on the minds of Twin Cities newspaper bosses who can switch between the two all-sports stations in this town if they want to keep tabs on what their employees are up to.

But Siegel’s biggest damnation is one that is familiar in the Twin Cities too. When there’s a huge local sports story, it’s often a national sportswriter breaking it:

In a landscape where being loud and controversial is valued over being smart and insightful–and over doing the difficult work of investigative reporting–it’s no surprise that the Boston sports media keeps getting beat on genuinely important news, like Passan’s story about the Red Sox players meeting with ownership. That’s hardly the only example. If news breaks on the Celtics beat, for instance, chances are it’s coming from Passan’s colleague at Yahoo! Sports, Adrian Wojnarowski. Last April, he–not a local writer–reported that Boston had attempted to deal Ray Allen and Paul Pierce at the trading deadline. And when Allen signed with the Miami Heat in July, it was Wojnarowski who shed light on the behind-the-scenes friction that made Allen want to leave, and who scored the key interview with coach Doc Rivers.

Wojnarowski is the writer who got the Kevin Love interview in which the onetime Timberwolves star appeared to diss on his employer.