By Jared Max
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Video might have killed the radio star on MTV, but music videos hardly killed the music industry — or radio. So please stop telling me about the next best thing which is going to transform my life.
It is an interesting piece, but I found it more irksome than thoughtful. Essentially, an argument was made that Derek Jeter’s new website, The Players’ Tribune, will negate a need for sports reporters because athletes will have their own forum to share their thoughts and feelings.
With all due respect, I think this argument is soft. Giving players typewriters does not transform them into Ralph Waldo Emersons. Athletes have had unimpeded access to fans for several years through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. They don’t need reporters to give them a voice, suddenly.
Do you find social media shout-outs from players to other athletes and teams more interesting than the bland, sound-bite banter offered to reporters, whose careers revolve around being able to draw honest, interesting responses from subjects, often guarded? Why should we believe that athletes will become more interesting when communicating in prose form with a faceless audience than with various outlets they have had?
Having covered athletes and interviewed players for 20 years, I have enough experience to know that only a select few are gifted with a flair for the art of communication — in addition to their superior physicality. Jeter is in the minority. Most athletes are not nearly as savvy.
Few possess an ability to verbally illustrate game insights to an audience other than teammates. Their seemingly robotic nature in answering reporters’ questions is not born out of calculated concern of being misconstrued (as it was for Jeter), but rather a lack of ability to use words as well as they do their arms, legs and hand-eye coordination. This is fair. They are professional athletes, not public speakers.
Some of our best communicators work in the media for a reason. Just as baseball players can make fans smile by hitting home runs, reporters get to connect with an audience by tapping into an innate, human desire: to be told stories, just as we experienced as children.
Even if athletes could regularly open fans’ eyes to nuances of the game, a site like The Players’ Tribune would not replace the established sports media. It could complement it.
It is extremely rare for innovations to alter long-established behavioral patterns. Even the best inventions in recent decades have not made dinosaurs of their less-technological predecessors. ATMs did not replace banking hours. The Internet did not eliminate libraries.
As a child, I listened to songs by Billy Joel, James Taylor, Carole King and ELO (one of my dad’s favorites) on my parents’ eight-tracks. The first music which I owned was produced on a vinyl LP — The Beatles’ “Sgt.Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” — which I listened to on my record player. I owned the music in cassette form. CD, too. Now, it’s an MP3 in my iTunes library. The sound quality is diminished from its earlier formats, but the content is the same.
Despite the fact that I downloaded the MapQuest app on my father’s iPhone so he could drive with free, spoken turn-by-turn directions, he chooses to print everything on paper from his computer. Despite the fact that I have sent him links to download apps such as Radio.com or TuneIn Radio (so that he can hear my radio broadcasts while driving), he listens to WCBS 880 on his PC. Despite the fact that someone is trying to sell me on the fact that my career is in jeopardy, I am not buying it.
Innovations rarely become widespread game-changers. While most Americans can make fancy movies using their smart phones, how many people uneducated in the film industry have produced material as worthy as standard productions? While The Player’ Tribune is a terrific idea, with it comes the same challenge that standard media faces: creating content which is informative and entertaining.
If communicating to a live audience was as easy as hitting a baseball, more players would be broadcasters and writers, and I would have been a third baseman for the Yankees.
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