Sunday, July 20, 2008

“even if you don’t like sports, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in everything about the Olympics.”

I don’t get sports. It’s not even a cutesy “football-is-so-confusing-
can-you-explain-it-to-me-because-you’re-a-cute-boy” ploy; I’m just not really a sweaty fans/confusing stats/sticky arena seats type of gal. Which is why it’s quite surprising that my next two (or three, or four) posts will be semi sports-related.

Partly to thank for my change of heart is Kelly Whiteside, a sportswriter for USA Today who happens to be the only female reporter who covers national college football. As if this alone isn’t an extraordinary feat, Whiteside is headed to Beijing in a few weeks to cover the U.S men’s Olympic basketball team.

Though Whiteside prefers college athletes to the “zillionaires with senses of entitlements” that seem to frequent the professional sports scene, she is thrilled to be a part of the Olympics. “Even if you don’t like sports, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in everything about [the event]: the great stories, the athletes who have waited their whole lives for 30 seconds. It’s just the greatest thing.”

It’s true that even an anti-fan like me can get pumped up when the summer Olympics rolls around (although nothing is quite as amusing as the sequined butts of male figure skaters in the winter games). Whiteside feels lucky to be able to participate at all, noting that many smaller newspapers aren’t even sending reporters this year – a miserable side effect of fewer subscribers and employee cut backs.

Whiteside believes that one result of the Internet’s sudden coup d’état of the publishing world is the rise of its own reputation. To use a middle school metaphor (who doesn’t love those?), the Web, once the awkward wannabe in ill-fitting clogs, has become the queen bee in Juicy Couture.

“Earlier on, you would use your ‘B’ stuff online; we all thought, ‘who’s going to read this anyway?’ Now there’s a mentality shift, because that’s not necessarily the case anymore,” she says.

The Internet has provided stiff competition for print journalism in the past few years, but I realize that sports television provided (and has continued to provide) a similar opponent in the pre-YouTube days of yore.

Though USA Today doesn’t have a T.V component, and Whiteside has never personally been involved in this aspect of the field, she notes an interesting correlation between live broadcasts and female reporters.

“When you turn on ESPN, there are so many women, so there’s this perception that there’s more [female] representation in the field. It has changed – numbers have gotten better, but mostly in T.V and not in print journalism.”

Not to sound at all anti-feminist (I am female too, after all), but I’m wondering if when it comes to watching, not reading, the news, aesthetically-influenced ratings tilt more favorably towards a pretty blonde than a fat balding man with pit stains.

In general, news tends to be broken evenly between the Internet and newspapers. However, in sports there is one uncontrollable factor affecting this trend: absolutely psychotic fans.

“A lot of big stories about a coach leaving or a coach going for interview are broken online in chat message boards. There are these crazy fans doing things like tracking flights…the issue with that is all the misinformation.”

It seems that errors in random, illegitimate websites are an unavoidable bi-product of the freedom that the Web implies; but when do you not question what you read?

No comments: