Friday, April 22, 2005

If A Tree Falls In The Forest...

Whitley From Ravenswood recently clued me in to the Chicago Media Monitor. It's main focus is on sports talk, but it also covers happenings in other radio, television, and newspapers/magazines.

Recently the webmaster for the site posted an entry titled, "The Anti-Sox: Greg Couch and Jay Mariotti." The post took Couch to task for a poorly written Sun-Times article on the new emphasis on fundamentals espoused by the White Sox under Ozzie Guillen. Couch, whose writing I admire if Whitle From Ravenswood doesn't, took an imflammatory tone toward what is derisively being labled as the "small ball" approach taken by the Sox. More specific, Couch lifted the doomsaying tone of Mariotti.

Shortly thereafter, both columnists e-mailed the webmaster. Couch took his time and wrote a thoughtful e-mail to the webmaster defending his position on the Sunday article. After reading the e-mail, the webmaster offered a public apology on the site.

Mariotti's e-mail was, well, what one familiar with Jay Mariotti would expect. To wit:

"I'm a journalist. You guys are fans. Therefore, I have
credibility and you don't. So why are you writing for
something called a media monitor when you aren't a credible
media person?"

I got to thinking- after my initial reaction of "what an asshole"- what would constitute being a journalist. I wrote for my high school paper and freelance as a music journalist, so I thought I have some expertise on the matter.

A journalist is someone who does research, investigation, checks his facts, and interviews his subjects in order to write an informative story free of bias and personal influence. By this definition Jay Mariotti is not a "journalist." If Mariotti's definition of being a journalist ius that he's published in a newspaper, then Debra Pickett, Paige Wiser, Neil Steinberg, and Richard Roeper are "journalists", as well.

While most of them have journalism experience, they are all "columnists": they all offer their unique perspectives and insight- preferably witty- on the current events of the day, without putting themselves ahead of the story. The Sun-Times' official byline for Mariotti is "sports columnist." Ergo, Mariotti is supposed to offer his own unique perspectives and witty insight on the major sports stories of the day.

Sun-Times readers familiar with Mariotti understand that he quite often he doesn't even meet that definition. Alas, Mariotti is the Bob Greene of local sports columnists, drawing ink-stained water from the same thematic wells long past the point the wells ran dry. Unilke the Baby Richard-era Bob Greene, Mariotti rotates his themes so as not to appear stale and preachy. Mondays can be the day he bitches about the state of baseball: locally or on the national stage. Tuesday he's screaming from his bully pulpit about the evil incarnate of Jerry Reinsdorf. Wednesday it can be an "I told you so" piece about the frugal nature of the Chicago Bears. Thursdays he's complaining that the Illinois basketball team hasn't faced top competition. It's a "lather/rinse/repeat" work ethic applied to newspaper work. There's also speculated self-plagiarism- his annual weigh-ins of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France triumphs immediately come to mind. I distinctly remember the 2002 and 2003 "Go Lance" columns being the same- down to the chants of "dopa"- except for the years.

All the while the focus of the column is Jay Mariotti: middle aged man in tune with the bling bling, "Sportscenter" mentality of today's athlete and defender of the modern sports fan. The answer to all the ills of professional sport in Jay's world is simple: spend money on the product indiscriminately. Throw shit against the wall until something sticks. Most of the time Jay comes across like a middle aged midwestern man trying to explain sex to his eldest son, who just discovered Mommy's "massager" and Dad's treasured cache of Black Tail.

I read Mariotti's columns every day; they're unavoidable, like not turning my head from the grisly bike accident I witnessed at 16th and State Wednesday. It's a momentary distraction to the heartier fare written by Rick Telander- one of the greatest sportswriters of the past fifty years-, Greg Couch, Carol Slezak, and John Jackson. Couch's wonderful expose two years ago on Wrigley Field Premium Ticket Services, a company set up by the Cubs to scalp their own tickets, falls under the definition of being a journalist. Any course on great sportswriting should have Telander's "Heaven Is A Playground" as required reading. These are good journalists and sports columnists: writers who thoughtfully consider their responses when criticized. Mariotti has a reputation as a envious hothead, as evidenced by his long-standig feuds with Jerry Reinsdorf and Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson and his transparent desire to out-Telander Telander: decades before Mariotti was one of the screamers on ESPN's "Around the Horn" Telander was holding court on "The Sportswriters on TV" with Ben Gleason, Bill Jauss, and Ben Bentley

I have a question for Jay Mariotti. To paraphrase his own words: Why are you writing for a respected major metropolitan newspaper when you aren't a credible journalist?

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