Sometimes, I wonder why I started writing in this space in the first place.
The 2007 spring semester had wrapped up for me and I was set to take on an expanded role at my college newspaper in the fall. I wanted to improve as a writer and, as any writer will tell you, the only way to truly improve is to keep writing.
So we started a blog. We just decided to. No one told us we should or what to write about. It was an experiment.
That was five years ago, but it seems exponentially longer.
I once called this space a time capsule, where we can look back at a particular point in time and remember our thoughts, theories and feelings at that moment. The world moves fast and the Internet moves faster. Internet years have nothing on dog years.
How sports are covered has changed in many ways. At the same time, it really hasn’t.
After games, reporters wait outside a locker room and then, once the doors are opened, they convene around a stall to gather quotes to fill out a story they’ve already partially written. That, for the most part, hasn’t changed. What’s different is who these reporters are.
Next year, for example, the Buffalo Sabres will grant player and locker room access after games to select fan blogs. For those sites, it’s a great opportunity and I’m very interested to see what they do with the extra access.
I was fortunate to be in the dressing room after games last season when I did some work for Sabres.com. Fortunate is probably an odd word to use. Most of the time, you’re fighting to get your recorder close enough to a player who is spitting out empty quotes as your arm begins to twitch from weariness and you’re watching where your feet are because you’re being careful so as to not kick a pair of hockey skates that are on the floor.
The other part of the time, you’re waiting around for Ryan Miller to emerge from the back because he traditionally speaks last. He likes to take his time. So, yeah, I was fortunate in the sense I gained some valuable insight.
It’s easy to be a reporter these days, but it’s easy to forget that it’s hard to be a good reporter.
The usual suspects will churn out game stories and do a very good job of it. You might not be able to read a Buffalo News recap next season, but you can count on WGR and Sabres.com to have their sites updated with the first record of history before you go to bed.
However, there’s only so much personality that can go into those game stories. A good reporter might write a creative lede or a funny transition into a quote, but objectivity is valued and encouraged. Personality shows through (for better or worse) on Twitter and other platforms.
A lot of people want to be reporters now. If you’re not careful, you won’t have fun doing it. For me, writing for team sites like Sabres.com and Bandits.com was a little bit of an adjustment. It had been awhile since I’d written a game story and I’d like to think I improved as the season progressed. And just to be clear, I did have a lot of fun doing it.
My style did change. My mindset when I approached a story was different than when I would write, say, for WECK 1230. There’s something to be said about providing an “official” recap of a game that will be read by a pretty large audience. I was conscious not to be “weird” or go off the rails on some tangent. I wasn’t writing for someone who stumbled across this site while searching for a weekend stay at a ranch in Texas.
I put a lot of stock into the “official” aspect of things. In that space, I don’t think I could have channeled my inner-Brian Phillips at Wimbledon. I wasn’t a columnist; I was an objective observer. That was the role and I played it as well as I could. When it feels like more people are watching, you do change your behavior a bit.
How many people will still plow through a yellow light if they see a cop sitting on the other side of the intersection?
There are blogs out there that produce game stories and give the basic recap. Whether it’s to draw traffic or because they think those summaries are necessary is on them. Personally, I don’t go to a blog for a watered down version of what I can get from the Buffalo News, WGR or a team site.
That’s just me, though. Many times, my thoughts or tastes are on the fringes.
Blogs can be used to fill the holes or add layers to what is already out there. Original reporting can be good and is often refreshing — but not necessarily to “break” news as we’ve seen the credibility of lesser-known rumormongers go down in flames.
When Zemgus Girgensons signs an entry-level contract with the Buffalo Sabres, the Twitter feed of any Buffalo sports fan blows up with the news. Is it necessary for every Sabres blog out there to tweet the info out because they get the press releases now? Not really, but that’s what we’re seeing happen more and more.
In a space like this, a writer can expand beyond what just happened on the field or in the news or in their personal lives (there is more to life than sports). It’s a different role and one that allows for more creativity and improvisation.
In a sense, it’s the difference between filming “The Godfather” and “Step Brothers.” In one, you have to get through the script, tell a heavily plotted story and be very serious. “The Godfather” is one of my favorite films and I’ve probably seen it a hundred times but there’s a certain gravity to it.
Contrast that with “Step Brothers.” It’s a movie that only exists because Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Adam McKay had fun on the set of “Talladega Nights” and wanted to work together again. They enjoy making movies and they like making people laugh even more.
It wouldn’t shock me if a majority of the people reading this have their own blogs. These days, who doesn’t? When it feels like we’re pushing towards the brink of saturation, the tide comes in and some blogs come and some blogs go, just to come again.
I don’t necessarily believe in saturation as long as someone new has something interesting to say. If everyone wants to do what the mainstream media is doing with very little differentiation, then we might be headed towards a problem.
So much of the regional conversation in Buffalo is driven by the mainstream media.
It can be as simple as one person with a radio show deciding in June to talk about Vince Young starting for the Bills in Week Six. And just like that, we might see five or six blog posts and a news story or two hit about Vince Young taking over for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Or maybe a newspaper columnist decides that we need to take a stand on breast feeding in public. Then it leads the local newscasts for the next two days.
We’re easily swayed here sometimes.
There are no real deadlines on the Internet and that should allow for more thought-provoking pieces. While the ability to publish quickly is there, sometimes knee-jerk reactions aren’t necessarily the most intriguing ones.
No one here is rushing to print or for the end of a postgame show. There’s no real need to overreact to something. Social media might make it easier to express your opinion, but what good is your opinion if it’s unfunny snark or factually incorrect?
One thing that has changed in the last few years with the rise of new media, is the opportunity for anyone to drive the conversation in places that might be more unique and might be more interesting. It’s an exciting time for sure. Catch the right person’s eye or ear and the conversation can spread like wildfire. That is one benefit of living in a smaller community like Buffalo.
We all started writing for a reason.
Chances are, it wasn’t to break out and become famous or try and drive page views away from an established media outlet.
It probably wasn’t to become stuck on one issue and drive it into the ground, either.
Certainly, there is no right way or wrong way to all this. Writing is subjective.
For me, writing is cathartic. I’ve got a lot of thoughts floating around in my head at all times and even if I don’t hit publish, knowing I’m able to put down my thoughts in a coherent and, hopefully, entertaining way, is satisfying.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is simple and ridiculous, but has some merit:
“Don’t lose your dinosaur.”
What, did you think that because I was an English major that I was going to quote Shakespeare or Hemingway there? Come on now.