One of the most unique attributes of the American culture, or any culture, really, is the way in which that culture deals with its most basic problems. Think about death for a second, and the many ways in which different places in the world handle that issue. The predominant American method, on the other hand, is a stridently Anglo-fied rendition which includes a whole mess of things from grief, to fundamental Christian religion, to economics. There are, as it goes, surely better means available to us.
This is the usual derivative, trash of a piece on the failings of, *sigh*, us as a people, but so it goes. At the more finite levels, our failings rear their ugly head in all manner of pithy domestic issues. Put broadly, it is, essentially, this: we are not particularly good at sorting out the many messes that entail any problem, and certainly no good at handling foresight.
My favorite phrase for this is that we are hopelessly addicted to building fire stations after the fire.
Very rarely do you ever see a police force promoting preventative methodology, at least at any sort of acceptable rate.
First, I have to say that this sort of writing - the kind I'm doing now - is entirely too easy. Writing negative stuff is an incredibly junior pursuit. (Ed note: Perfect for the Deeg!!) I'm doing this one, for instance, with one hand tied behind my back. The world, endlessly digressing from order to chaos by the by, is ready-made for destruction prose. You don't need any sort of formal training to write a readable hit piece: just a couple of working fingers and half a brain.
And so the idea that The Buffalo News sports department is filled with journalists*** who write nothing but post-fire garbage columns about building fire stations is not surprising or necessarily new, but their editorial mantra is nevertheless increasingly tiresome and dangerous.
***(Not writers. "Journalist" is a dirty, skanky word meaning "to shove ones head up their own asshole with the hope of seeing light." Look it up.)
Then there's Bucky Gleason, who has all the talent of a sixth grader and who should consider it an honor to carry a writer like The Barrister's virtual jockstrap, but has a bullhorn and pulpit the size of the News in which to spew his unthinkable nonsense. There is so little effort here, so little to desire to take from this man's writing that it is indeed possible that Bucky Gleason is a reporter literally standing in a neighborhood and hoping for things to catch on fire so that he has his next piece.
Jon Vogl, acting as wingman, will actually help Bucky start those fires so that he too has something to criticize, as the venerable douche of the newspaper works feverishly to appeal to the lowest common denominator he can find. And just when you think he's found the lowest, he drops a little lower. "How are you feeling, Ryan? No, I mean, how are you FEELING?" Or the frankly preposterous ideas that Ryan Miller would be a better goalie if he didn't have a pretty wife or that Ville Leino would somehow be better than his career average 10 goal/14 assist pace if only the arena played deadmau5 in between periods instead of "Who Let the Dogs Out?"
And, of course, we can't forget Mike Harrington, the never-was-the-cool-kid conflagration of adult dweeb, straight out of repressed virgin memories of every sports nerd everywhere. When he's not busy wafting the Dillbert-like mane from his seemingly endless brow, he's hard at work taking ridiculously impossible positions or defending those of his colleagues. I don't know what the admiration for Harrington is; he's not particularly interesting as a storyteller, a great deal of his coverage is the scraps left over after the more prominent members of the department tear a topic to pieces, and his reporting role seems to make him the essential third-string quarterback of the publication. Oh, I know, it's that he tweets back to people on Twitter, and that makes him down to earth and approachable and whatever-the-hell-ever. Of course, Harrington is only as approachable as his opinions are solvent. There was an episode during a particularly egregious period of Penn State coverage for the News, one I think the News is rightfully embarrassed about privately, where he went on an insult-laden tirade against any descending reader opinions, blasting and blocking people at such a hilariously childish pace that it seemed like an actual six-year-old having a tantrum. (Ed note: The Scizz was one of the many blocked during this tirade.)
The former part, about the News hamstringing it's own process, is about the fact that the paper seems to want a bunch of storytellers in the sports department to deliver the news. And so what they did was the worst possible thing imaginable: take a bunch of old media journalists and try to make them storytellers. Instead of just reporting the news (which they'd have a leg up on and would likely do well, for what it's worth) or just writing sports stories (which they would likely lose to the internet and long-form publications on), they decided to do what every shitty company in this country does in times of crisis: go with a bunch of half-measures.
So we don't get an opinionless news story on Terry Pegula's connections to the Penn State scandal (of which there were none, really), or an engaging human interest piece, instead we get a bastardized version of both from the department's least-equipped columnist, Bucky Gleason. Look at what person X did (the news), and here's why it's right or wrong (the opinion). How about one or the other, big guy, so you can avoid tripping over your sanctimony?
The thing is, this model never works and tends to leave a lot of people pissed off. (Clearly). The few newspapers in the country that have succeeded of late have adopted either a stance toward totally objective news reporting, or mid-to-long form writing which is upfront about its lack of objectivity and the reality that you are being brought into a world through the writer's vision.
The News' model is safe for now, because, as mentioned, it's a one-paper town, but also because detractors are extraordinarily disorganized. There are far too many chiefs and far too few Indians among those who would seek an alternative; the corrupt, bureaucratic nightmare of starting anything in Buffalo is virtually impossible to navigate; and Buffalonians, bless their hearts, have become so used to the firebrand nature of The Buffalo News that it is now a very part of their psyche.
But it won't always be that way, and there are telling signs of cracks in the foundation as we speak. The insecurity with which seemingly every Buffalo News staffer reacts when one of their columns is dissented on is indicative of a potentially wounded and definitely scared animal confronted with the new landscape of media. Here the News is, thrashing aimlessly but violently in the dark, hoping for the best. After all, when is the last time you can remember a member of the Buffalo News dealing with controversy related to one of their stories with some semblance of tact? (See non-sports BuffNews editorialist Esmonde, Donn). Sooner or later when the new media does overtake the old media, sort of like with television and radio, there will be an inescapable weeding-out process where the truly talented survive and the rest are left to adapt or clinch onto their old ways in increasingly failing carousels of irrelevance.
In sports, you see, there are these folks called scouts whose job is not to be reactionary against what has already happened, not to look for fires already raging, but basically to help their organization navigate the future before it happens. There are analysts (sometimes sabermetricians) in place to help an organization be as efficient as it can be. There are people around also to make sure everyone knows when things are going bad, sure, but those opinions are accounted for only occasionally.
What I'm getting at here is that the very best in sports writing comes only in a couple of forms: sports writing as a story, sports writing as forethought. Sports writing as review - as mere reaction and shallow, lazy analysis of what went wrong - is just bad. And that's what we've gotten from the News lately, and what needs to change.
You could start with this guy named Mendola who, while not the best writer in the world (and I only occasionally agree with his takes), is a light-years-better scribe than anybody on the News' payroll and has the added benefit of looking at things from perspectives different than what we're used to reading. Or, if the paper would prefer to be strictly a straight-laced news operation, they could raid some of the small papers across the Western New York region, who put more heart and work into their journalism in a half-day than Bucky Gleason does in a half-year.
Change doesn't come easy in Buffalo, a place where apparently it is a bone of contention as to whether food may be sold from a truck or if it must be regulated just to a place with tables and a front door. In other words, don't expect any amount of the tireless bitching I, or the regulars at the Deeg, or a few other members of the lowly internet-based Buffalo sports proletariat, do to have any impact. Just expect the whole titanic mess that is the Buffalo News to come crumbling down under the weight of its own stubbornness and pride sooner rather than later.
Thing is - on this website, in this piece, with these guys, *and* on the bright side, unlike whatever you read in the Buffalo News this morning - you've got an idea about the fire hazard before the thing ignites, and isn't that sort of refreshing?