01.12.10

End Times: The Horror of the Washington Times’ Zombie Sports Section

Posted in Sports Journalism, The Internet, The Marketplace at 2:09 am by

GC has already covered the shuttering of the sports section at the flailing/failing Washington Times, which — unless I had a couple of really awesome Moonie-related zingers to roll out, which I don’t — would ordinarily be that. I had my own experience of the paper’s sports section thanks to my other gig at the Wall Street Journal’s Daily Fix blog, as the WaTimes’ sports section was a favorite with the Fix’s (ideologically Times-aligned) readership and thus the subject of a lot of referrals. And while the “Other Readers Enjoyed” links at the bottom of each of those referred pieces were generally pretty ridiculous — people who enjoyed nuanced takes on the business of sports also enjoyed spittle-intensive Andrew Breitbart editorials about how he can’t sleep because he just knows Matt Damon is a Democrat? — the sportswriting itself was very good. The paper that was wrapped around that sports section isn’t necessarily something I’d wrap fish in — I’m not trying to go out having my cod smelling like Cal Thomas, nahmean — but the sports section had a bunch of really good writers. All of whom, sadly, are now jobless.

It was sad to see the section disappear, both because it’s always sad when something like that (getting fired) happens to people with jobs and because it reminded me of what an incredibly terrible career I’ve chosen for myself. There’s such a thing as over-graciousness, and I should be clear that the Times for the most part itself can fuck right off as far as I’m concerned, but I do think that even the most worthless of newspapers add something to the broader discourse simply by dint of helping the bigger choir build voice; it takes a lot of little stories to understand bigger truths, and so prosaically on. The Times itself may be (is) borderline worthless, despite the late sports section, but the choir’s the thing. And the prospect of more silence even in the admittedly minor sphere of sportswriting — or, rather, the replacement of a disparate, multi-participant, often discordant choir with the market-driven LCD-chaos of a thousand rape-jokey, sub-tarded With Leather knockoffs — is untenable. And not just because I don’t think I can pay my rent dropping “yeah I said its” about how the WNBA is gay or whatever.

Given that all of us so inclined have already said our personal goodbyes to the nation’s most trusted Unificationist sports section, though, it seems strange that the Washington Times’ page still exists. And yet it does, in a strikingly bummerific wire-copy zombie iteration. At the National Sports Journalism Center’s blog, Jason Fry — of Faith and Fear in Flushing (and my first editor at the Journal) — describes the depressing zombie afterlife of the Times’ sports section.

I bristle when my peers treat papers that have shuttered their print operations but continue online like they™re extinct. Too many heartfelt farewells to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Ann Arbor News ignored the fact that both papers are carrying on as Web sites, or gave that fact insultingly short shrift. I wondered if the same thing was happening here. Surely the Times™ sports section would still exist online, right?

Right.

Unfortunately.

At first glance, the Times™ sports page looks the way it did a couple of weeks ago: There™s a carousel of top stories with photos, stats for the local teams and links to news from the various leagues and colleges. But aside from some farewells still hanging around (Lemke™s includes a blank list of upcoming Washington Times stories), everything is wire copy. Instead of lively blogs and columns, the page soon decays into columns of RSS feeds. It™s someone™s maintenance task, a robot section.

Fry goes on to propose what seems to me a workable stopgap solution to the current Carnival of Souls wire-copy merry-go-round. It’s worth clicking through to read the non-summarized version, but Fry’s suggestion is basically the Daily Fix all over again, or an iteration of Jeff Jarvis’ “do what you do best and link to the rest” maxim — essentially, someone curating a bunch of links to other papers’ coverage of D.C. sports stories.

There’s still probably too much pride/intransigence/willful backwardness in the newspaper business for that to really happen just yet. But something is clearly replacing something else, and it’s hard to know just now what whatever-comes-next will look like. Even when the victim is one of the most ideologically loathsome and consistently wrong papers in the nation, there’s some residual sadness to that. But the passing of this disappearing thing would be all the sadder if what replaced it was zombie-curated wire copy. There’s a certain reassurance in knowing that — however effed print media currently is — people still want to read things, know things. If anything could kill that, though, it’d be zombie sections like the one on display at the Times.

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