24 April 2009

If you want variety in the food, change the ingredients

It's always amusing to read sportswriters complain about the formulaic and repetitive comments they get from athletes and coaches.

But to date not a single writer has taken his media colleagues to task for the formulaic and predictable questions they ask. Now that the post-game press conference has become formulaic and predictable itself (with advertising hoardings behind the big table with its lone microphone) the likelihood of anything original, controversial or thoughtful being said is approaching nil as a limit. Leagues believe quite wrongly that spontaneous or controversial comments are bad for business when nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately the unblinking eye of round-the-clock coverage from ESPN et al have insured that platitudes are on the menu day after day with the occasional inflammatory comment surreptitiously recorded or reported to stoke the meager fires of so-called rivalries.

Spur-of-the-moment comments borne of excitement, anger or other emotions are the most memorable and often the best keepsakes of a particular team or game from Joe Namath's hey-wait-a-minute guarantee to Chuck Noll calling the Raiders' secondary a criminal element to Kevin Keegan's 'I would luv it' tirade against Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.

The US press need to take a long look at themselves and their questions. Press conference questions that practically answer themselves are lazy and frankly irresponsible considering the press' high opinion of themselves and their intellect. Watch any post-match interview in English football. There are some open-ended questions to be sure but often the reporter will throw a manager off-balance with a challenging question that addresses specifics and demands frankness. The managers usually play along despite the knowledge that their minor annoyance with a player or a referee will be converted to screaming headlines in the next day's tabloids.

Cynical beat writers and columnists need to increase the distance - literally and figuratively - between themselves and the teams they cover. They need to ask themselves if repetitive answers are actually the product of repetitive questions.

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