Usually I make a point of ignoring Bill Dwyre’s columns in my daily perusal of the L.A. Times — they have largely become a tour of fogeyism (outrage over Becky Hammon and Chris Kaman deciding to play for countries not their own in the Olympics, for example) — for some reason, I was bored this afternoon and read a column with its heart in the right place: there was a lot of instantaneous match update action rather than actual writing and reporting on the Olympics, but he takes shots at the wrong people for it, managing to empathize with NBC somehow in the end.
In Chippewa Falls, Wis., Herbie hits a button and yells out, “Hey, ma, Dwight Howard just got the opening tip over Pau Gasol.” Herbie is dazzled that he got the word so fast, and the typist is equally dazzled at the speed he got it there. Neither seems to wonder whether what had arrived was worth the effort on either end.
I sat alongside a bright young reporter for the Washington Post, while the Post’s local interest, tennis star James Blake, played a semifinal match. The reporter typed after each game and hit the send button. Blake served. He won. The other guy served. He won. Tennis is like that.
Noting that it was the middle of the night back in D.C., I asked the reporter why he was doing that, since his audience, at best, could only be 35 insomniacs and 11 tennis freaks. He shrugged and said he had no idea, he just did what he was told.
It is the way of the future, we are told, as if the word “future” always connotes “better.”
This practice has to be scary for Dick Ebersol and NBC. The Olympic god that we worship nightly for two weeks, every two years — that has set the pace and raised the bar and confirmed the tone of the Olympics as one of warmth and joy and celebration of athletic excellence and good sportsmanship — may soon be riding the same horse and buggy as this columnist.
Dwyre, the reason people are looking for these things online is the fault of Ebersol and his bosses at NBC — the refusal to alter the daily schedule and tape-delay the majority of events to the Western half of the U.S., never mind delaying the U.S.-Argentina hoops semi to preserve the Today show’s 7-10 AM slot across the country, is driving even more people and reporters towards on-the-spot updates of the action as it happens.
Look, I work in television. I know why it happens this way. Affiliate stations loathe delaying local news casts, because that’s where they pull a lot of their local advertising sales, and in a down economy, that’s what you have to try and bank on — sales of ads during the morning news, along with the 5, 6, and 11. This is why even the Winter Games in Vancouver will be tape delayed despite the city’s location in Pacific time. The ratings NBC garnered from the Olympics have justified the practice because 8 pm is a set time where people who are not sports die-hards, who have not had the results wrecked for them, will watch — and even if they have heard who won, there is the “you gotta see it” factor added in. We are talking about corporate owned networks; this is not the CBC or the BBC, they need to bring in the cash to justify the expense.
This doesn’t make the practice right. The reason Dwyre is lamenting an expansion of the “type it up and post it” ethic is because the core audience for the newspaper writers abroad — sports fans — are not being served by the main television outlet, which decides to hold onto events for half a day before airing them, an absolutely inexcusable matter for a sporting event. Yes, the Olympics are chock-full of soft-focus crap to appeal to people who don’t care about sports, but they are sporting events and ought to be treated as such. For the responsible network with the rights, this should mean live coverage to all of the country, as much as possible.
Say what you will about ESPN — slaves to stereotypical narratives regarding athletes, in bed with the leagues it broadcasts to an uncomfortable extent, gimmicky, shoddy graphical look — but at least they treat the sports they broadcast as sporting events more often than not.
(Oh, Dwyre, nice cheap shot at the bloggers too — not like I haven’t read that one before. Y’know, the vast majority of us happen to pay rent to someone not a blood relation.)
(P.S. Yeah, that’s Katie Hoff, Michael Phelps, and Natalie Coughlin at some post-event function in China. I just thought the photo was funny.)