While the essence of the craft — reporting, writing, angling — remains largely intact, conventional journalism is moribund, if not already dead, its trappings razed by technology.
Sports journalism, more so than its sister genres, has been undergoing a drastic transformation. When the Internet opened the floodgates, a deluge of blogs and other little-known sites poured into the void to challenge the old guard, a phenomenon that continues today. As with any venture, failure far outstripped success, and only a few proved viable, and even fewer profitable. But those, like Bleacher Report, which did survive that initial melee have since grown — astronomically, in certain cases — from low-budget outfits with crude websites into search-engine savants.
At least one aspect of traditional journalism that sports journalism retains, however, is the ladder — the idea that one enters on the ground floor and works one’s way up. Although debunked in many ways by the myth of meritocracy, it is a time-honored tradition across virtually all industries, whose prominence in post-industrial American lore is bewitching even to our DIY generation. No matter how disillusioning the job hunt, we trudge along, despondent but wed inextricably to the ascent and its spartan ingress. (This is axiomatic; just ask any senior how many jobs he or she has applied to. Don’t expect a cheery response, or even a response at all.)
When The Associated Press announced last week that it would expand its coverage of college sports with robots, it quickly asserted that no jobs would be lost; the AP wire would merely boast a broadened spectrum. For all I know, they are telling the truth; among the news media, the AP is not especially mendacious. But it overlooked something equally, if not more, salient as it was touting the coexistence of robots and humans: that the former will surely eliminate jobs that could have existed.
In fairness, no journalist, let alone an up-and-comer, is dying to cover Div. II basketball, which typifies the caliber of sport that has been roped into the AP’s purview. Also in fairness, the AP, by automating scores and stats and write-ups, will indeed illuminate — insofar as the public is interested — the arcana of college sports. But all this is beside the point.
For us sports journalists, opportunities to break into sports writing are few and far between; every self-proclaimed super-fan with a pathetically encyclopedic knowledge of the NBA (disclaimer: This is not an introspective…) cannot work at Sports Illustrated. An entry-level gig writing about Div. II Ferris State is hardly as glamorous, but plying one’s trade in obscurity is the epitome of the ground floor through which the masses file. Exceptional, after all, is not the norm.
“Robotic” is not an adjective that should describe writing. Ever. Unfortunately, in this case, it applies — literally. The AP has debased itself, employing the very system that has doubtless axed — directly or indirectly — some of its own writers. Under the guise of growth and access, the AP has revealed itself to value profit and expediency above quality. As if sports weren’t already the most expendable section!
To mechanize sports journalism will slowly kill it, along with its practitioners. It will vanquish a profession whose advocates have clambered, often amidst tremendous condescension, for a modicum of respect. The denizens of the back pages will see their modest gains vanish.
If the AP truly cared not only about sports journalism, but about all journalism, it would reject this blatant usurpation. Only thing is, I’m not so sure it does.