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Old School precedent vs. New School practice: Sportswriters tactics, tendencies change, traits of quality sportswriting unchanged

Old school sportswriter:  Loves the smell of newsprint in the morning.

New school sportswriter: Hums the “SportsCenter” theme song while showering.

Old school: One-finger typist.

New school: Two-thumbs typist.

Old:  Hero, Red Smith.

New:  Hero, Bill Simmons.

*****

Perhaps I should explain those first six lines. They happened because, while tangled up in Twitter the other day, I saw the professional golfer Steve Elkington dropping old school/new school tweets about his game, such as:

Old school:  Nice putt, Alice.

New school:  Mis-read.

Old school:  Wearing all black.

New school:  All orange.

Reading those and acknowledging that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I sincerely adapted/tweaked/imitated and flat-stole the @elkpga idea for this column (with the occasional digression).

****

Old school sportswriter:  Reports the hell out of it.

New school sportswriter: Aggregates.

Old school: “Call me.”

New school: “Ping me.”

Old:  Good story, well told.

New: Page views, huge.

****

Speaking of a good story, well told and speaking of huge page views –speaking now of Yahoo! Sports recent report on the University of Miami football program – I rise in applause. Also, I remain interested in an aspect of the scandal that Yahoo only lightly touched. Dan Wetzel reported that the convicted Ponzi schemer and Miami booster Nevin Shapiro “said he gambled more than $5 million on sports, including huge sums on the Hurricanes.”

Anytime such gambling money is in play in SportsWorld, questions come up:

1) Considering Shapiro’s claims of frat-house brotherhood with Miami players, did he use players to gain inside information?

2) Did he involve players in bets?

3) Were there intimations of point-shaving?

4) Did he share winnings with players?

****

Old school sportswriter:  Gamer, sidebar, notes.

New school sportswriter:  Twitter, Facebook, podcast.

Old school: “I’ll be in the office.”

New school: “Office?”

Old:  Boxing.

New: MMA.

****

Old school sportswriter: Sporting News.

New school sportswriter: Bleacher Report.

Old school:  Typewriter ribbons.

New school: Triple-A batteries.

Old:  Kindly ol’ Aunt Bea in the morgue sorting clips.

New:  Nexis.

****

Old school sportswriter: Works from press box.

New school sportswriter: Works from couch.

Old school: Ambition, write a book.

New school: Ambition, guest host PTI.

Old:  Reads three papers every morning, front to back.

New: Checks Twitter feed minute-to-minute.

****

Speaking of Yahoo! and con men, I twice dealt with liars of Nevin Shapiro’s kind.  Neither time did I believe a word.

The first guy claimed to have been involved with Chicago mobsters. He told interlocking stories of murders, extortion, and kidnappings. He said he’d been an informer for federal prosecutors trying to infiltrate the mob. Now, he said, the mob wanted him dead and the feds wanted him in jail.  So he was on the run, from one cheap motel to the next. We talked off and on for a year. We talked because, like Nevin Shapiro, he had a paper trail that was convincing enough that I almost believed that it showed what he said it showed.

But, finally, when I told him I could confirm nothing he said, he insisted, as he had many times, that I should put him on a lie detector. So I hired a polygraph operator, $650 for an afternoon. The test showed him as deceptive, and he said, “I guess that ends a career of asking for a lie-detector test.”

I never wrote a word. The notes are in a briefcase in the basement. Might work them into the novel someday.

****

Old school sportswriter:  “Nobody can beat the Phillies.”

New school sportswriter: “My fantasy team sucks.”

Old school:  Batting average.

New school:  VORP.

Old: Notebook, ballpoint pen.

New: Digital recorder, voice recognition transcriber.

****

Old school sportswriter:  Has written for years about the need for a college football playoff.

New school sportswriter: Will write for years about the need for a college football playoff.

Old school:  Angry reader gets pen, finds paper, scrawls expletives, digs up envelope, can’t find stamp, forgets it.

New school: Angry reader types obscene rant, hits “Send” with CC’s to your boss and everyone on his address list.

Old: Hot dogs.

New: Hummus.

****

The second con man was a lawyer, a small man, Nevin Shapiro’s size, charming and charismatic, not to mention sociopathic. “He’d rather lie to you for a dime than tell you the truth for a dollar,” one former business partner said. The lawyer attached himself to Muhammad Ali so closely as to imitate the champ’s voice in a game he ran on the U.S. Senate. He wanted a new law passed that allowed Ali to sue the government for $50 million for wrongful conviction in his draft-refusal case 30 years earlier.

I reported the scam for three months. Interviewed maybe 100 people. Wrote 10,000 words in a three-part series. After publication, the seven senators who believed they’d spoken to Ali on the phone – Ali was always mute in their offices, letting the lawyer talk – quickly divorced themselves from the embarrassment.

Meantime, the lawyer had threatened lawsuits against my newspaper; he never sued. Instead, in trouble with federal authorities on other matters, he became an international fugitive.

Reports had him in Spain, Cuba, and Iraq. His long run from justice ended in a mansion on Biscayne Bay (near Shapiro’s place?). Cops found the little lawyer hiding in a closet. Shortly after, rather than go to prison, he hung himself.

****

Old school sportswriter: Scotch by the typewriter.

New school sportswriter: Evian by the iPad.

Old school: Prose poems on Franz Klammer’s wild run.

New school: Prose poems on Shaun White’s hair

Old: “I saw Ben Hogan.”

New: “I saw Hulk Hogan.”

****

In the end, old or new, the best sports journalism is done when a news organization uses both schools – exceptional reporting, beautiful writing, a website’s infinite space and its video capability – to produce work as powerful in its craftmanship, understanding, restraint and dignity as this by Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post on the Tennessee basketball coach, Pat Summitt.

Dave Kindred’s latest book, “Morning Miracle,” is an inside-the-newsroom account of two years in the life of The Washington Post. Now a contributing writer at Golf Digest, Kindred is a Red Smith Award winner and member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached by email at inkstained1@aol.com. He can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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