Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why Teach (Sports) Journalism?

Why Teach Sports Journalism, or Journalism, for that matter?

Someone asked me recently how I justify to my students that they should go into journalism when the industry is being hit so hard by newspaper closures and industry-wide layoffs. What do I tell them?

Simply, that they have a chance to atone for the mistakes made by my generation of journalists. We did a lot of good stuff, yeah, but we screwed up for the most part and celebrated our sinners (Stephen Glass, Jason Blair) in sports and elsewhere. For instance…

Steroids: We let athletes get away with it and praised them and waited in line to interview them instead of getting the real story, from MLB to the Olympics.

Facilities: We praised our beauties of architecture, their sightlines, their creature comforts, their amenities, the jobs they supposedly created and the tax revenue they supposedly generated. Meanwhile, we forgot to check out the cost overruns until it was too late and the taxpayers got stuck with the bill. And when it comes to aesthetics, Soldier Field here in my Chicago resembles nothing else near it along the Windy City’s gorgeous lakefront, destroying an otherwise beautiful and consistent look there.

Meanwhile, financially, check out what Vancouver and London are experiencing now in terms of their budgets as they prep for their Olympics. Who do you think is gonna' pay the bill when Chicago gets the bid and the costs are way under-estimated? That has not yet been written about extensively enough and certainly wasn’t when the whistles should’ve been blown. Mayor Daley in Chicago is blowing smoke on this one.

Politics: Where were we while politicians were committing crimes? They're falling like flies now and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is going to take down as many with him as he can. He is going to taint President Obama. You watch. Believable or not, you watch. Where are the warnings? Where were the warnings? That's our job!

News priorities: Remember when you taught the six (yes, 6) ‘Dubyas’ and an H? Yet, Madonna, Shawn Johnson (Dancing With the Stars), American Idol, Survivor, et. al., continue to lead the newscasts. Wake up, America. We're in a war we aren't winning, we have a budget deficit that thousands of dollars per citizen couldn't erase and yet, Britney Spears was the leading name searched on Yahoo last year. Britney Spears!

So, all that in mind, I tell my students they have a lot of work to do in straightening out what's important in America, to America, while there is still an America we recognize.

I hope my rambling answered my friend/colleague’s question. But think about it, if you were an alien and you just landed in America from outer space and looked about, what would you think is most important around here?

In any event, see you at the Britney Spears concert. How about Britney and Paris in 2012...quite a ticket, huh? Can you see their campaign? Concerts and ‘A-list’ parties! Sign me up to cover that. At least they pay their taxes (don't they?). That's more than we can say for many in Obama's inner circle. No wonder so many of them are millionaires. Oops – we forgot to report that in a timely manner too, didn't we?


Howard Schlossberg is an associate professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago ( and a sports correspondent for The Daily Herald (, Arlington Heights, Ill.), the only Chicago-area metro daily not in Chapter 11. He also serves on the editorial advisory board of and contributes to The Journal of Sports Media (http://muse/