Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

I thought of it - again - while reading a column in Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal - why is there a disconnect between those in academia and those in practice?

Those who do groundbreaking research in sports journalism are not likely connecting with those who practice sports journalism. Sports journalists are not going out into the field to cover major events with the lingering thoughts of challenges and questions raised in research papers they sat and dragged themselves through.

And why not? Well, most journalists don't write their game wraps, features and sidebars with "Abstracts," "Literature Reviews," "Introductions," "Discussions," and "Conclusions," let alone "Bibliographies." Most beat reporters cut to the chase, get right to the winning goal, game-winning kick, clinching basket or game-breaking home run.

OK, with a little bit about PED users and abusers, athletes who are cheating spouses, labor-negotiation updates and "Sausage Race Highlights" thrown in. But nowhere in a sports story or broadcast are there any of the aforementioned sections cited in the previous paragraph.

And, dare I cliche it, therein lies the rub. Academics don't write the way reporters and editors do, let alone the way reporters and editors absorb information, usually on the fly, off an app, Facebook, a team web site or more likely Twitter.

So, when I read and review submissions to the Journal of Sports Media, which I edit, I know that the quality of the work will be offset by the fact that a whole 14 people will read it, including the authors, their parents and their tenure-review committee members. The sports editor of the New York Post and the on-duty producer at ESPN SportsCenter are not waiting for this with baited breath, regardless of its groundbreaking value, and many of the papers we publish have just that quality.

Authors Rick Burton and Norm O'Reilly of Syracuse University and the University of Ottawa, respectively, who both specialize in sports business management, made just that point in their joint article in Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal's Jan. 21-27, 2013 edition. In discussing the divide between academia and practitioners, they noted, "Is it because the academics who write papers for these journals have made their work so hard to understand (or so nuanced in what was researched) that the average practitioner can't see any value? Is the writing so dense that the key points are obscured?"

Truer words never spoken. OK, written. Having worked both sides of the fence now, and still working both sides actively, in fact, I can relate. I cover games and events for the Chicago suburban   Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.) and write stories on deadline with no "Abstract," no "Introduction," no "Discussion," no "Methodology," no "Conclusion" and no "Bibliography."

I love both of my roles as sports correspondent, now in my 37th year, and educator, now in my 18th, all concurrent. Yes, I'm tenured faculty. But the next time I write a story in the Daily Herald about a game I covered that includes an "abstract," an "introduction" and a "conclusion," will be the first time.

It just ain't gonna' happen.

Keep plugging academia. But get real. It's time to get real. As in relevant. Not in your topics. But how you tell those stories.


I have a new motto, at least for now: "If you're not doing something crazy, you're doing the wrong things." That's courtesy Google CEO Larry Page, in the February 2013 WIRED Magazine, discussing how thinking big can produce big ideas.

Too many people play it safe, including me. Way too many with whom I work, who think that minimal change is "good enough." Except "good enough" isn't. They need to grow a pair and buckle down or die with the very industry they're trying to save.

Thanks, Larry Page. And thanks to all the people who waited patiently and worked tirelessly to cover for me while I recovered. That won't be forgotten. Xoxoxo...


Howard Schlossberg is editor of the Journal of Sports Media. He's an associate professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago, where creativity and learning are embraced hand-in-hand. And he still writes sports for the award-recognized Daily Herald in Chicago's northwest suburbs.