Sports Un-Illustrated

What’s left for my generation of sports magazine readers?

I’ll tell you what’s not left.

No more ESPN the Magazine.

I was a charter subscriber back when it first came out in 1998. It was promoted as a hipster alternative to the venerable Sports Illustrated (born 1954, so even older than me). There were more in-depth features. Of course, it kind of had to be that way given it was published bi-weekly (that is, once every two weeks as opposed to twice a week; funny that it has the same meaning)

To be objective, they did develop a lot of fun ideas over the years. Entire issues were devoted to a single topic allowed a real deep-dive into the topic de deux-semaines: music, movies, “one day, one game,” and, of course, “The Body Issue,” which, coincidentally or not, was the final published version.

ESPN MAGAZINE OCTOBER 2019 - THE BODY ISSUE 2019 - KELLEY O'HARA - BRAND NEW

Of course, ESPN wants you to believe this is a good thing, obviously catering to younger readers/visitors/subscribers, whatever the terminology is these days. Now they can concentrate wholly on their online content. What this means to the people who actually worked on the magazine is unclear at the moment. According to an April 30 article in The New York Times, there were no “immediate” plans for layoffs. Uh-huh. To be honest, I didn’t even notice that much when they changed their format to a monthly. Meh.

So how long can we rely on Sports Illustrated to carry the ball? Four years ago, they fired their entire photography staff, choosing to go the freelance route. They also seem to be in trouble. Perhaps the only thing that has kept them in the conversation for the past few years has been the swimsuit issues which regularly drew condemnation from religious and conservative outlets, as well as feminists who objected to the objectivism of women.

From a recent Deadspin article:

Now that Sports Illustrated’s three owners, Meredith Corp., Authentic Brands Group, and TheMaven, have completed the callous layoff of half of Sports Illustrated’s newsroom and finalized a deal that gives control of the publication to TheMaven, a wannabe tech company helmed by notorious scumbags Ross Levinsohn and James Heckman, the future of Sports Illustrated is coming into focus. It’s not pretty.

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It’s not pretty for any weekly news magazine these days. Why wait that long to get your news Jones on when you can look at your phone (assuming younger folks are even interested in the news)?

I’m not going to wax nostalgic about SI. Suffice it to say I enjoyed it for the most part, primarily during baseball season. I have most of the season preview issues but not going back any where near enough; will have to work on that.

I just hope ESPN doesn’t keep charging me the automatic annual subscription fee.

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Damn you, CNN!

Every day, I tell myself I am not going to watch CNN. I am not going to read the paper. I am not going to listen to the news. Just gonna listen to my pop culture podcasts and read my baseball books.

Well, that didn’t last long.

God forbid I should miss the latest scandal involving the president or one of his minions.

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I wonder if there are grounds for a class action suit against Trump for inflicting grievous harm on a majority of this country for all the agita he and the GOP have foisted upon us for the last few years? Rather than enjoying life, we have to worry about how he and his retinue have been trying to profit at the expense of so many issues a great number of us have long thought of as given: clean air and water; finding common ground with our international allies on climate change; peaceful relations with those foreign allies; freedom from worry about white supremacists; and the respect we have lost around the world; among other things, including a general sense of “malice toward none and charity for all.”

Now you’ll excuse me, I need a nap. Maybe when I wake up this long national nightmare will be over.

Trust

One of my Jewish New Year’s resolutions is to cut back on social media. My job allows me waaaay too many daytime hours to hang out on Facebook — and watch CNN — to follow our favorite “Orange Train Wreck” and his goofy gang.

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The Facebook posts about Trump come from a number of sources and one thing everyone — supporters and opponents — has to pay attention to: the dateline of the item they’re sharing. Oh, here’s another headline about Hillary’s e-mails. And another how how Trump’s family is guilt of ethics violations. All well and good, but sometimes the stories are months, if not years, old. It doesn’t help your cause if a) you don’t pay attention to what you’re posting or b) you do it in bad faith on purpose; the only people who will believe you are those who are already in the bag for your POV. I’ve come across some really loony things, but then, Trumpers would say the same thing.

Which leads me to the topic of this post: trust.

You have to have a lot of trust in your source. Liberals feel that CNN and MSNBC and The New York Times are 100 percent correct, while Trump supporters/conservatives believe in FOX and similar print and TV outlets are right (oops, no hidden meaning intended). I can tune in to a CNN show an immediately identify the Trump supporter. Am I generalizing, when I pick out any glassy-eyed, overly-loud humorless, white male (almost always a white male with a couple of notable exceptions) as a supporter? Perhaps.

I don’t watch FOX enough to know if they do the same thing: find someone on the left who looks and sounds a bit off kilter to bolster their own views.

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In watching the latest cock-up about the whistleblower, you have a lot of “liberal media” asking Republicans if/how they can really get behind their leader, pointing to “the evidence” in the transcript. It’s all in the interpretation. Republicans say there was no quid pro quo while Democrats argue the threat doesn’t have be explicit to get the point across. The transcript has Trump saying he wanted Zelensky to do him a “favor,” meaning, according to people who can, you know, read the rest, that he wanted Ukraine to investigate Biden’s son in “return” for financial aid, even though previous attempts refuted claims of corruption.

That’s if the Republicans are even answering the questions put to them at all. How many times have the shows’ hosts asked a simply yes/no question without getting a yes/no answer? Of course, you actually have to have read the transcript to make a half-informed decision (::cough:: Kevin McCarthy).

This whole Late Night segment is great, but if you’re in a hurry, you can skip to about the 3:50 mark.

Just a couple of asides:

  • God bless Chris Wallace, who brings at least a tiny bit of journalist integrity to the rest of FOX’s “fair and balanced” crew.
  • Does Rep. Jordan think he’s a “man of the people” because he eschews a jacket?

I trust my sources, just as Trumpets trust theirs. I just hope I’m right (as they do).

You say ‘poe-tay-toe’ and I say ‘poe-tah-toe’

I really have to stop this for the sake of my sanity.

When I get home from work, usually before 1 p.m., I invariably turn on CNN. And the news is almost never good.

I was off today, so I had a lot more time to torture myself.

Trump came on today after for one of his rambling, incoherent (to this “snowflake”) rants, starting off with how great and beautiful things were at the UN (even though he ditched the climate change meeting after a token appearance). He even rattled off an attendance list of the countries with which the U.S. enjoys great, thanks to him.

After a round of self-congratulations, he finally got around to denying the latest problems, echoing the “witch hunt” and the “no collusion” of the past.

CNN panelists pointed out his low energy, and how quick he would be to point this out in someone else. The rambling, the non-sequitors, all troubling. At the end he said he would take one final question…about the economy. And what the hell was Steven Mnuchin’s purpose in being there? More praise for the goodness of Trump?

For shits and giggles, I turned to FOX to see how they were covering the event and what they were focusing on. Sure enough, their people were 100 percent behind their peerless leader, accusing Democrats of what they were accusing the president. I know you are but what am I? During this particular program — and I can’t say if this is indicative of all FOX programs — their panelists were talking directly to the audience, expressing sentiments like “We’re looking out for you,” usually in loud voices. That’s another difference I find: CNN and MSNBC talk in measured tones while FOX people frequently seem to be angry and almost yelling. Not that that doesn’t happen on CNN, but that’s usually reserved for when GOP apologists are trying to play defense.

Of course, all of this is my perception. Glass half empty. Trump’s faithful might think the same of CNN shows.

It would be great to find an independent mediator to judge once and for all who’s right.

Extraterrestrials, if you’re reading this, please step in.

It’s not about you

Bill Belichick is a bit of a jerk? Quel surprise.

He does this time after time. At this point, I think reporters ask the question knowing that this will be his reaction and then their colleagues will come to their defense, as they did on CNN, which devoted a segment while I was watching in the mid-afternoon.

And please, don’t make this a female reporter thing; Belichick is an equal opportunity bore.

Sorry, but IMO, this is not a story. In fact, things have changed a lot since I was working at a newspaper. Not that I’m a 50-year veteran or anything, but back in my day, the reporter did everything s/he could not to be a part of the story. But lately I’ve noticed that writers are using the first person in their work with increasing fequency. And not just in opinion pieces.

Now get off my lawn!

The Times, they are a-changing.

Over the years, I’ve conducted numerous interviews with writers from The New York Times, usually based on their sports books. One thing that frequently came up in the conversations was that these men and women were not allowed to vote for various awards, probably concerned over some quid pro quo that might compromise their journalistic integrity.

That’s why I was a bit surprised (and annoyed) this Sunday when there were not one, but two articles by and about James Poniewozik, the Times‘ chief television critic.

One is a book review on his new release, Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America. The other was a piece by Poniewozik himself in the “Week in Review” section, which basically serves as a promo piece for the book.

Now don’t get me wrong. Both are terrific stories, although is it realistic to expect the book review, contributed by Gary Shteyngart, to be anything less than complimentary, if not glowing? In addition, I have nothing against a newspaper helping out one of its own. Goodness knows, I benefited from it when I was with the New Jersey Jewish News. They were very happy to have a published author on staff, believing, if I may say so, that they got a little bit of additional prestige by association. They encouraged me to write about the books myself, although I felt a bit awkward when they asked another writer to interview me (and I imagine the writers similarly felt it a bit strange).

A television screen inside the West Wing of the White House in 2017.

But we’re talking about THE NEW YORK TIMES here! The bastion of journalistic integrity! You think they would hold themselves to a higher standard.

Then again, the industry has certainly changed since the turn of the century. Newspapers have suffered terribly and they have to come up with new ways of staying relevant. And if that means a bit of “shameless self-promotion — as I always call it when posting about my own work on my own blogs — then that’s what they have to do.

Maybe they allow their sports reporters to vote on those awards now?

Fear and loathing on the way to work

When I commuted to my job in Manhattan from suburban NJ by public transportation, I had a lot of time to read (or nap). When I drove to my job at the New Jersey Jewish News, I had a lot of time to listen to full episodes of various podcasts such as Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me; The Leonard Lopate Show; Fresh Air; Coverville; and my favorite, the television-centric Extra Hot Great, where I had the honor to be a contributor to their regular segment on canonical shows; my submission was about an episode of the HBO western Deadwood. (I tended not to nap on my way to that job, although I may have closed my eyes for a few seconds at a red light or two.)

But now that I’m less than 20 minutes away — one of the benefits of driving at 3:30 a.m. — there’s no time to get involved in those podcasts. So because I can’t stand to be alone with my thoughts in the silence, I listen to all-news stations on the radio. Wait, this is live? What do you mean I can’t rewind if I missed something? What a pill that is.

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The actual “news” part is brief: weather, traffic, and sports, with a tiny bit of actual news tossed in. Weekends are the worst when the “B Team” is up. The announcers frequently have trouble reading the copy. Interns?

But the most annoying moments come from the commercials, which are the same

Every…

Single…

Day.

These mostly 30-second spots make me angry and anxious. Chief among the and include

  • Services that promise to get your tremendous IRS or credit card bills reduced to a fraction. “Don’t let the credit card companies fool you into paying what you really owe” seems to be the message. Of course, they never say what that “fraction” is. Technically, ninety- percent is a fraction. It’s amazing how many companies there are, looking to separate people already in desperate financial straits from what little money they do have. I wonder (doubt it): do the stations vet these ads to validate the claims or do they just take the money?
  • A nutritional supplement company whose salt-of-the-earth/just-plain-folks spokespeople swear the product has cured them of everything from the common cold to cancer.
  • A trash removal outfit in which the characters often laugh manically, evidently tickled pink by the way workers happily carry out their tasks. My wife and I considered using this company to get rid of some of our stuff but were put off by too many negative reviews.
  • A senior care referral service “with a view of the trees, a view of the ducks…” It’s a great idea, probably very helpful, but just listening to that line on a daily basis makes me want to drive into a ditch.
  • A woman whose LinkedIn profile page IDs her as a “personality spokesperson” (where does one go for such training?) who it seems will endorse just about anything from food to painters. In fact, I’m kind of suspicious of any product or service hawked by one of the radio’s staff members. Isn’t there a rule/law that you actually have to use the item you’re pushing?
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But the all-time worst for me are the fear-inducing commercials for a doctor specializing in the treatment of prostate cancer. This super medico succeeds where all others have failed. There are a few versions of these ads, read by people who are obviously not professionally trained actors (although I’m not quite sure why that bothers me) including one voiced by said physician in which he refers to himself (over and over) in the third person.* It is worth noting that this doctor has been the subject of a number of negative stories and lawsuits. I decided not to name him out of fear of legal reprisals on the off chance that word gets back to him, however unlikely that might be.

As a man of a certain age who’s been too lucky too long when it comes to relatively good health, these ads depress the hell out of me. It’s like I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. Is this discomfort I’m feeling just part of getting older or is there something more insidious I have to worry about?

It’s gotten to the point where I’ve considered doing some additional training at the store, knowing that if I get promoted there’s a strong likelihood that I could be transferred somewhere much farther from my home so I can avoid the radio and listen to my beloved podcasts. It would be worth it just for the peace of mind.

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* In fact, the numerous repetitions of the phone number in a lot of these commercials seems to take up a lot of valuable air time. Did the copywriters run out of ideas or do they think if they say it often enough the listener will remember? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been tempted to pull onto the shoulder to jot down a number, no matter how much I might have needed what they were selling.

I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning

I don’t want to hear any more about Hillary’s emails.

How come there’s never anything about Jared and Ivanka’s emails? Seems like that should be a thing, doesn’t it? Although they have perfectly reasonable explanations. Needless to say, the whole White House feels free to discard the norms.

And what about the latest? “Trump Tweets Sensitive Surveillance Image Of Iran.”

Isn’t there a law against that? Trump is always Johnny on the spot when it comes to accusing others of inappropriate behavior (see “The Squad”), although he’s usually indirect about it.

Stop the presses!

There are basically two types of newspaper editors as depicted in movies and on TV. The ones who will stop nothing to get a story, such as J.J. Jameson, martinet in the Spiderman universe, and Walter Burns in the various iterations of The Front Page and His Gal Friday, and those who always have the backs of their staff members, a la Gus Hayes on The Wire, and, of course, Lou Grant. (We’re not mentioning shows based on real life incidents such as All the President’s Men, The Paper, and Spotlight, among others.)

When it comes to reporters, most are dogged researchers who are looking to bust the bad guys, the greedy, the corrupt politicians, although there are a couple of “fabricators” tossed in for variety. They share one characteristic: they are all a pain in the ass for their bosses.

The latest in this mix are editor Gus Reardon and ace reporter Harriet Dunkley of the Canberra Daily Journal in the Australian thriller, Secret City. Canberra is the capital of the country, which, I, being educated in the U.S., did not know. But it makes perfect sense in that most of the action involves the government (think House of Cards with cool accents). I chanced upon this Netflix release — now in its second season — thanks to a story in The New York Times.

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A quick recap: there’s an Australian college student who’s being held captive in China for protesting on behalf of Tibet. This has a hand in difficult relations between the two countries which allows members of the Australian parliament to battle over an all-encompassing security law that would allow the government to vastly widen surveillance, yada yada yada.

Harriet is played by Anna Torv (Fringe) and has a good deal of bad history with one of the main pols. Gus (Huw “Not a Typo” Higginson) is her exasperated boss with a heart of gold; no matter how many times Harriet gets in trouble, he always has her back. She is supported by a spunky assistant (Lou Grant famously said to Mary Richards say, “I hate spunk”) and opposed by a competitive writer for the top stories. In fact, she’s assigned “less important” pieces almost as punishment for her stepping out of bounds.

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The Daily Journal seems like a good size paper and, true to the current situation, is having difficulties, according to the boss. Yet when push comes to shove, they engage, to paraphrase him, the most expensive lawyers to get Harriet out of some hot water over sources. These are actually my favorite scenes, a they argue over what stories to cover, Gratefully, the Journal is more interested in getting to the truth than getting clicks online.

One minor complaint is that Harriet is perhaps a bit too conveniently connected to several individual threads in the story (I won’t want to spoil the fun by going into too much detail here).

Suffice it to day, I highly recommend Secret City, season one. If it’s any indication, season two, which came out recently after a two-year gap, “I’d put that in the pool room,” as the Aussies say.