National Columnists Out of Touch

by Eric Gilmore

Print journalists are hardly celebrities. The dinosaurs of the Fourth Estate and their radio brethren aren’t recognized in grocery stores or heckled for autographs while walking down the street.

For the sake of the business, it should stay that way.

Do the names Jason Whitlock, Jemile Hill or Sally Jenkins ring a bell? Didn’t think so. What about ESPN affiliated writers turned TV talking heads Woody Paige or Stephen A. Smith? Ahh, the power of print’s worst enemy: television.

The nation’s best sports print writers and elite columnists have graced St. Petersburg, Fla.’s Poynter Institute for Media Studies for a three-day seminar. The sessions, put in place for lesser Joes, have been full of information and sage advice.

And plenty of ego.

The columnists (mostly over 50-years-old) and a few major market writers have placed their ‘glory days’ in their rear view mirrors. And some have deleted it from their memory.

Imagine the stereotypical business suit with that corner office that offers a penthouse view. At a point (probably many years previous), the suit either worked in the mail room or went to school for umpteen years.

But less glorious jobs remain vital. Cab drivers and painters have fewer opportunities to rise up the corporate ladder, but the worker bees are putting in similar hours.

Mix, bake at 450 degrees and apply to print journalism. The suit, err columnist, while very good at his craft is out of touch with reality. They fail to realize that the lesser the job prestige, more often than not, the have better feel for the community.

So I caution you, Mr. Columnist to not forget where you came from. The typewriting and printing presses have awarded you the life of travel and a degree of luxury. So don’t forget those stressful moments on deadline. Or the times when the copy editors and you argued the paint off the walls.

Instead, stop bragging about rubbing shoulders with Tiger Woods or ranting about how Kirk Heinrich will never become another Michael Jordan. You don’t want to break stories. But don’t come crying when the under-60 crowd won’t have anything to do with actual newspapers.

A town-hall discussion moderated by the elite writers revealed the naiveté of the profession. Dave Kindred, the Rick Reilly equivalent at the Sporting News, predicted that the print medium will continue to prosper despite the rise of the internet.

Earth to Dave, anyone home? Pardon my college cliché, but wake up and smell the coffee. Adapt and survive. Or mutate, however Darwin said it.

Kindred is an excellent poet of words and could form sentences I can only dream about. But his technological illiteracy shows that his time is passing…or worse has passed.

The columnists need to tone down their egos and get back to reporting actual sports news. Stop piggybacking the beat writers’ reporting. Why are you qualified to offer an opinion on the Duke scandal when you’ve never traveled to Durham?

Get back to the mindset of athletes or even the fans. Remember that the athletes are what make the story and the reason people continue to read. So, get over your Napoleon complex and deal with readers forgetting your names.

Don’t forget, opinions are cheap. Just because a mug shot accompanies some blabber mouthed opinion, then it doesn’t make you famous… oh wait. Isn’t that what this piece is? Dang it. Want an autograph?

Eric Gilmore