Bob Ryan is semi-retired and don’t get us wrong, it’s nice to have him around. Surely, The Boston Globe feels the same way. He only shows up sporadically in the sports pages these days, but – usually – seeing his byline is a welcome one since the level of discourse from local columnists isn’t really all that insightful. An opinion coming from him still means something.
But if Sunday’s column is all he’s got left to say, maybe the dynamics of modern sports coverage have passed him by.
From his column entitled Why do media need to talk to athletes?
Now, I will acknowledge that far too many of the postgame encounters are banal and pointless. Really good, juicy, informative quotes are always in short supply. But when writers are facing hideous nighttime deadlines, those boring, obvious, and repetitive quotes are needed in order to fill space and make that deadline. I call them the journalistic equivalent of Hamburger Helper. There are times a writer cannot live without them.
We’re glad Bob used the Hamburger Helper analogy here, because it disproves the point he hopes he is making. Speaking in culinary terms, Hamburger Helper is the lazy way out, a cheap and unhealthy, MSG-laden and preservatives-filled alternative to actually cooking a meal using fresh ingredients, a detailed recipe and a moderate level of skill that goes beyond a pan on top of a stove. If one fancies oneself as even a novice chef, Hamburger Helper is a joke.
In short, you’re a pretty shitty cook if the best you can do is Hamburger Helper.
Just the same – you’re a pretty shitty professional writer if you can’t produce a game story on deadline without use of a couple pithy one-liners from an athlete coming down from the throes of competition.
If you are a reporter or a columnist writing about a sports team, and you cannot do your job without the benefit of what Ryan here admits is pure fluff, pure filler, then you have no business calling yourself a professional writer. Deadlines be damned, particularly in a world in which TV and the Internet render any post-game quote stale by the time it appears in print or even a website an hour later. The time it takes to take an elevator from the press box to the locker room is ample time to come up with a couple more grafs of original material that is pertinent to the game that has just concluded.
If you are a Red Sox beat writer and you need David Ortiz to personally tell you that the pitch he hit for walk-off home run was a fastball, then maybe writing about baseball isn’t your meal ticket after all – unless you want to subsist on Hamburger Helper the rest of your life.
The tragedy here is Bob Ryan was better than this over the course of his career as a beat reporter. He didn’t (and doesn’t now) truly need any of the banal material from athletes he claims a reporter does to make a story better. That is what makes this kind of column all the more puzzling and sad. Maybe Ryan really believes many of his fellow writers cannot live without the ever-so-lazy use of quotes. But after 40-plus years in the business he should know better than most by now that readers certainly can live without them. And that’s all that should matter.