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Deford discusses future of journalism

Sam Stryker | Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sports journalism is at the forefront of technological advances in the media world, Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Frank Deford said at the 2010 Red Smith Lecture in Journalism Wednesday night. In his lecture, entitled “Sportswriter is One Word,” Deford spoke of his experiences in the sports writing business and gave his take on where the industry is going.

Deford started the lecture off by describing himself as a “hybrid,” as his work in the field of sports involves more than just news.

“I know I’m a writer, but only part of me is a journalist,” he said. “Most of my pieces are storytelling rather than reporting.”

Although he has been writing for Sports Illustrated since 1962, Deford said he never expected his job to last this long and only came about it by accident.

“I never set out to be a sportswriter. I fell into it in college. I always think I’ll grow up and move out of it,” he said.

Deford said while sportswriters seldom garner the respect for their field of work amongst their journalist peers, the area of writing they work in allows for an unmatched level of creativity.

“Sports writing offers the most opportunity amongst journalistic disciplines for storytelling,” he said.

For a long time, the area of American culture that sportswriters covered in addition to the job itself were stagnant in its progress, and this hindered growth of media opportunities for alternate forms of publication and women sportswriters, according to Deford.

“In sports, everything played in exactly the same places as if it had been ordained that way,” he said.

He said he was blessed to come into the field when it was undergoing rapid growth.
“I was fortunate unlike Red [Smith’s] generation who had to chronicle a little realm,” Deford said. “I came into the enterprise when it was exploding.”

Despite this increase of coverage, Deford said sports writing has lost a bit of its luster.
“To be a sportswriter today isn’t nearly as engaging. The revolution is over,” he said.
Part of that problem is the expansion of sports journalism to a new realm of media: the Internet.

“Journalism as we know it began with the printing press,” Deford said. “It ended with the Internet.”

Deford said as the focus of coverage shifts online, readers are losing the joy of being exposed to a variety of subjects by being able to pick and choose what they read.

“The mainstream media says we’re going to give you a full arc of the goings on. Even if you weren’t going to read about education, you might bump into it,” he said, speaking of print media.

“People in this century are growing up with a predilection to only read what interests them,” Deford said.

Despite these issues, Deford feels that expansion of coverage can also be beneficial for sports writing.

“When I was in college, Eisenhower warned about the military industrial complex. It really is the entertainment amusement complex. This is great for sportswriters,” he said.
Deford said this evolution could be described by a word many old time sports writers tossed around — “bush” — which was used to describe anything that wasn’t deemed as worthy of reputable coverage, such as soccer.

“Who cares that it is bush. It’s fun. The end of journalism as we know it is the beginning of new sports journalism,” he said.

Deford said despite the expansion of coverage the Internet offers, we are losing a critical aspect of sports journalism: the storytelling.

“Pitchers can only go six innings, readers can only go six sentences,” he said. “It is the good stories and good investigative journalism which we will lose.”