Thursday, October 25, 2007

Media Mayhem: Simmons, Banks, Leitch, Reilly

Lots of stories going around about sports writers lately, so I decided to do a rare post about sports writers.

I am ready to start a Paypal fund to collect enough money so Bill Simmons can move back to Boston. Not being in Boston anymore, he isn't surrounded by Boston folk. Thus, he gets his Boston fan talk fix by writing about it to us. His writing is more about his fond memories of Boston than anything else. If he would go back to Boston, I believe he would become a little more well-rounded in his columns. But let's be honest about Simmons' writing. Bill Simmons gets worse and worse as the year goes on, hitting bottom around January, until he can write about the NBA again. He's a great NBA writer, and only an average NFL writer. That's forgiveable; it's very hard to be good at writing on all leagues. But it still is hard to read him this time of year.

Don Banks may be my favorite NFL sports writer (Michael Silver also would be in the discussion). But I couldn't believe this line in his column about Boston sports fandom:

I've lived other places -- the Tampa Bay area, the Twin Cities, and the Baltimore-Washington area -- and nowhere matches the year-round intensity and passion for sports and its local pro teams that Boston exhibits.

What?! That means nothing; of course Boston is more fanatical about sports than those cities. How well do the Tampa Bay Devil Rays or other Florida baseball/football teams draw? The Twins were nearly contracted by MLB, and Minneapolis may be one of the few places in the country where intellectual and artistic events are revered just as much as sports events by the average citizen. And Baltimore-Washington folk are too busy getting their politics on to pay faithful attention to all of their sports teams. I understand the point Don is trying to make (he recently moved to Boston and thus compares it with past cities), but those cities are poor sports towns, period. Not a good comparison.

Bloggers have been quick to praise Shanoff's idea that Leitch take over the back page of SI. Look at the Ballhype votes and links. However, look deeper at the comment section of Shanoff's post here. None of Dan's readers like the idea! And neither do I. Leitch is very talented, but I don't know if his style works for the last page of a magazine. What Will does best is write provocatively to inspire comments and thoughts. I could see him doing an excellent job with the first page of SI. But the last page? You don't stretch folks there. Instead, you tickle their egos and massage their biases so they buy your magazine again. Some time later I'll talk about how a magazine should be laid out.

Rick Reilly is not going to be the same at ESPN. Cosellout made some good points in his Reilly article. Reilly isn't the ex-high-school jock; he's the ex-nerd who married the head cheerleader, built an impressive resume at SI...and now both of those aspects are gone. SI was the perfect place for Reilly with its witty and laid-back style. ESPN is the opposite of Reilly, with its ex-frat boy feel at times. While Reilly may aspire to that style, I don't see that in him. It'll be interesting to see how his style may or may not change due to the location change.


  1. What Will does best is write provocatively to inspire comments and thoughts.

    That's exactly what I think Reilly's best columns do, too. I think it would work. I think it might be rough at first, but given time it would be successful

  2. I would like to read your thoughts on how to layout a magazine, though I think that's no longer as important as it once was... magazines are focusing on their internet presence more now than their physical output.

    The reason why Leitch would be a good catch for SI isn't so that he could write for the back page - that may or may not work out - but because he could write for, which needs a boost in its hits. It still trails ESPN, which also breaks more news. SI has got to develop a game plan for what it wants to do online... does it want to challenge, or does it want to just be a niche site?

    Finally, one suggestion on who SI can use to fill up the slot, someone who has already been signed... Dave Zirin. Why not put him in the back page slot (or front page slot), and give him a chance to get people to have discussions? Would that work?

  3. Reilly basically became a spectacle of puns and jokes. SI should return the back page to what it once was: "Point After," where different writers (their own and others) write a one page essay. Why does the back page have to be tyrannized by one voice? SML suggests Zirin--an occasional "Point After" for Zirin to explore some of the social and political perspectives on sports would be awesome, though I don't know that Zirin should write it every week. Leitch could do an occasional op-ed. They could even have athletes write an occasional essay (Karl Malone did once). They could have famous literary figures chime in occasionally (John Fowles did an SI piece on cricket once--I don't know if it was a Point After). It was wonderful. When I was a kid and the Point After was spread around to different writers, I looked forward to it. Reilly really gave me nothing to look forward to--you sort of know what you're getting, and (in my opinion, though it's certainly a minority) it's not that great.

  4. Thanks 4 link MC. I'm with SML here on Zirin even if it's split duties. I also think that Dan le Batard's biweekly column in ESPN the Mag is outstanding, thoughtful, and he isn't afraid to go against the grain.

  5. I really like Pacifist Viking's suggestion. A rotating crew would generate more interest, and keep it fresh. The worst thing about hiring any one writer for a gig is that after a while it'll get stale. If he's a good writer, maybe it'll take 20 years or so; if he's not such a good writer, maybe 5-10 years; if he's a hack, it'll get old in under 5 years. But the point is at some point ever writer peaks, and becomes irrelevant. The best thing for a magazine like SI to do is keep them rotating, so to keep them thinking fresh.

  6. jack cobra: You may have a point there. See, a lot of Will's work, to me, requires effort from the reader. Will doesn't necessarily connect all the dots for you. But what Reilly did was forcefully connect the dots, to the point that often his articles were way too sweet or mean or what not. Thus, for Will to come in after Reilly would require adjustment.

    SML: I'll get to it sometime soon. My essential thought is, you have to think of it as a song. There has to be the hook up front, the interesting words in the middle, a rhythm throughout, and then a pleasant closing. Sharp on the angle; I had forgotten about that!

    pv: (claps) Yes, bring back the variety on the back page! I remember reading SI in the early 90's at the doctor's; I always tried to guess who the back page writer would be before I got there. That was fun, brings back good memories. :-)

    modi: You know, maybe Zirin and Le Batard would be a good tag team. My only concern is that both are somewhat athlete-friendly and anti-establishment/mainstream. Plugging in the opposite of Reilly might be tough.

    SML: Rats, I was irrelevant 2 months ago via your scale. :-p

  7. MC, you're right Zirin and Le Batard wouldn't work as team for that reason. Personally, I think Le Batard can handle it outright, but if Zirin is there then you probably have to get someone else to appeal to all the bandwagon jumpers that made Reilly so attractive.