Twilight of The Scribes Sportswriters will soon be dinosaurs, driven to extinction by the Ice Age of the Internet

June 25, 2000

We are as useless to your future as a neighborhood firehorse. By
the time we're entirely gone, 20 or 30 years from now, you won't
even remember why you remember us. Sportswriters, that is. In the
coming InterTainment Age we'll be as anachronistic as gaslighters
in beaver hats. Maybe we'll be exhibited in the low-traffic areas
of cornball theme restaurants, like coal scuttles or butter
churns, so you can, with a vague sense of regret and dutiful
affection, point us out to your grandchildren while you wait for
a table. "Look, MeeMaw! That fat man has a pencil!"

In a Web-wired world of antiliterate chat, of streaming tickers,
unmediated global broadband and fiber-optic 411 fed 24/7 in
satellite real time, we are museum pieces. (Just ask Bobby
Valentine, nearly fired in April for an amateur reporter's partly
fabricated Net posting concerning the Mets' manager's
off-the-record talk at Penn's Wharton School.) Sportswriters are
flatfooted reminders of a typewritten past, quaint and slightly
comical, stinking of cheap cigar smoke and discount liquor,
beating out our last few deadlines wreathed in a halo of cliche.

When did you last depend on the printed word for your primary
coverage of an important sporting event? Of any event? Well, when
was the last time you idly fondled your watch fob while you
waited for the evening steamboat to arrive downriver from St.
Joe? Unless you're 140 years old and clinically insane, it's been
quite some time.

The imperative of daily sportswriting had come and gone, like
operetta and trench warfare, by the 1920s. The sports page,
circa 2000, is a wiseass adjunct to the business section, a
vinegary chronicle of deals made or failed that is attached to
four pages of commodity performance figures in tiny agate, with
the occasional locker room interview or feature profile thrown
in only as a gossipy nod to the weekend entertainment
supplement or the cityside crime blotter.

As newspapers collapse like so many mastodons these next few
years--with the possible exceptions of The New York Times (our
national newspaper of record) and USA Today (our national
newspaper for people too lazy to watch TV)--television and the
Internet are evolving into a single interactive technology,
boundless, seamless and frictionless, automatically tailoring
content to meet the ambitions and appetites of billions of
individual subscribers. By the process of natural selection,
then, we will arrive at a total democracy of information and
opinion in which there are no damnable hierarchies, no mediators
or filters or "experts," but rather just keyboards and cameras
and microphones everywhere, so that anyone can direct the
coverage of any game, peek into the team showers for some
postgame quotes and then provide one's own thoughtful commentary
to the rest of an anxious planet without delay. Won't the guys on
the loading dock or up at the club get a kick out of your pithy
breakdown of that botched pick-and-roll late in the fourth?

Sportswriting will thus move house-to-house, every voice and
opinion as valid or looney as every other--except for that guy
next door; he's an idiot. Every thought in every head will be
heard at last, like 'round-the-clock universal sports radio with
no host and no commercials and no off switch, and everyone on the
line shouting at once, self-canceling and contradictory, louder
and louder. The global democracy of the future will be a noisy
place indeed.

Magazines will never go away, though. Especially the ones owned
by vertically integrated E-media giants. Right? My cigar club is
meeting tonight to discuss that very thing--out at that restaurant
by the superhighway, the one with all the cool old antiques. It's
a dump, but the drinks are just a buck.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)