Confessions of a non-fan
I'm feeling a little lonely today. Perhaps someone out there can relate: I work for a newspaper that just went berserk because the hometown college baseball team won the NCAA championship.
And I just can't get caught up in the hype.
I know I live in a journalistic world in which sports coverage is king. (And that cultural/arts coverage is a mere deputy earl or something.) And I know that a sizable number of folks in my community are really excited that the Fresno State Bulldogs won. Most are convinced that the rest of the country is awestruck at this mighty "accomplishment." (Never mind that when the baseball season started, the Fresno State team couldn't draw much of a crowd at its home games.) This is the insular nature of sports fandom -- that an underdog win like this truly is a "historic event." People forget that there are champions every year in a number of different sports, and there's always an underdog story waiting to pop up and fulfill the "dream season" template.
OK, so let the fans have their fun, right? Let them have their bragging rights and their homecoming parade. But I wonder: Is there any limit to how far the local newspaper should go in stoking this hoopla? My paper wiped out the front page and made it into a big photo of the team. I guess I can live with that in the name of sports boosterism. But The Bee didn't even provide a "second" front page inside with real news inside. Not even a special top-of-the-news summary. Instead, the second page was the usual People/Celebrity news and the third page had a big ad.
Call me a killjoy, but I believe that a one-story front page should be reserved for something that truly impacts every single one of our readers: the start of a war, say, or financial calamity, or a scientific achievement of monumental importance. I'll even go ahead and make the shocking claim that a significant percentage of local readers didn't care about the baseball team. (I heard from some of them, and my paper's online blog became a forum for a spirited discussion among readers.)
When a local team does well, of course, there's a long-standing journalistic custom for a paper to go all out. It's not as if what happened at mine is even out of the ordinary. When it comes to local sports hysteria, I don't think many editors are willing to a stick a neck out into a testosterone-soaked budget meeting and say: "Whoa, are we maybe going a little too far?"
But American journalism often does just that. We don't go hog-wild (and stridently partisan) when it comes to other story genres. The interesting thing to me is just how quickly the usual guidelines of journalistic decision-making (debating the relative newsworthiness of competing stories, deciding how strongly those stories should be played, thinking of institutional history in terms of what kinds of stories deserve massive, blow-out play) get tossed out the window when we're talking about sports.
This topic relates at best tangentially to cultural coverage, of course, other than the fact that probably every arts writer in the country has fought for a sliver of a travel budget compared to the mighty sports section or seen editors dither over a chunk of newshole that seems tiny compared to the acres of space given for a football win. But I'm wondering: Does anyone out there feel the same way I do? Like I said, I'm feeling a little lonely today. Or should I just shout "Go team!" and pretend to be a good Bulldog fan?