Thursday, April 22, 2010

Track & field and its relevance in the media...

I just came across a very thoughtful piece written by former USA Today track & field beat writer Dick Patrick on how media coverage of this sport must evolve in the era of the internet, the contents of which you can read here.

At the same time, I read Ken Goe of the Oregonian's thoughts on whether or not newspapers are still relevant in this age of "I want my results and video now".

Back in my youth, my interest in this sport was piqued by the writing of folks like Bert and Cordner Nelson at Track & Field News, Jim Dunaway (who actually wrote a how-to book on the running events for Sports Illustrated that I bought while I was in junior high school), and in the Seattle area by guys like Georg N. Meyers at the Seattle Times, and Jack Pfeifer, who published a weekly high school track & field newsletter on a ditto or mimeograph machine!!!

Folks like Hal Higdon and George Sheehan at Runner's World, and even just retired world class runners like Kenny Moore at Sports Illustrated were very influential in my following this sport as a teenager all the way to the present.

Of course, I must also thank my high school journalism teacher Barbara Nilson at Franklin HS in Seattle for helping set up the first interview I ever did with a major track & field athlete--shot putter Brian Oldfield (above/cover photo courtesy Sports Illustrated)--yes, the same cigarette smoking, Speedo swim trunk wearing Brian Oldfield who threw the shot 75-0 in an International Track Association pro meet!

If it weren't for the Nelsons, Dunaway, Meyers, Higdon, Sheehan, Pfeifer, Moore, and many others, I seriously wonder if I'd follow the sport today with the same passion I did as a kid (then again, I was blessed to have very influential coaches in my life like Shig Tsutsumi at Sharples Junior High, and Don Bundy at Franklin HS, who steered me towards this sport, but that's another story).

Don't get me wrong--the video sites like Flotrack and RunnerSpace do a great job, especially with their ability to post race video and interviews almost instantaneously from whatever meet they're attending in the USA.

However, the one thing I don't see any of the web sites do--and I count myself as being guilty of it as well--is provide some sort of balance to a story.

Classic example of my guilt--UW's Katie Follett's win over Jessica Pixler from SPU in last week's Mt. SAC Relays 1500m race.

If you watch the video, you'll notice that Jessica seemingly had command of the race, but with 100 meters to go, Pixler inexplicably swung to the outside of lane 1, giving Follett enough of a gap to shoot through the inside to get the win.

After watching the video, I felt Pixler committed one of the cardinal sins of track & field--never, ever let an opponent pass you on the final straightaway on the inside.

Had I watched the video of the race before posting the story, or if I had been at the meet, I would've asked the question of Pixler of why she let Follett pass on the inside instead of making her take a few extra strides and pass on the outside. Conversely, I would've asked Katie about how she was able to take advantage of that gift-wrapped Christmas present.

Unfortunately, there was no balance; I ran with what both SPU and UW's sports information folks wrote, with the emphasis being on both beating their school records.

If the "mainstream media" is willing to invest resources in covering track and field the way it once was 25-30 years or so ago, and not shove it aside during non-Olympic years, and if those reporters who are covering the sport are as Goe puts it, "smart enough and agile enough to adapt to changing circumstances, and willing to work hard to give our readers something that is timely, insightful and unique", then yes, there is a place for daily newspapers in this sport.

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