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Have Sports Beat Writers Lost Their Relevance?

With our ever increasing dependence and addiction to social media, beat writers are becoming less relevant with each day, tweet, and video blog.  I caution people not to confuse a great columnist or writer with a daily beat writer.  A talented columnist can still provide the insight and wit that can’t be captured in 140 characters or less.

Beat writers are still granted access that fans will never have, but that access gets reduced yearly.  In some new stadiums, the ‘clubhouse’ is merely a facade while players change and congregate in a private area off limits to the media.  When confronted with cameras and notepads athletes are conditioned to speaking in platitudes and cliches.  Yes, these vapid quotes fill air time and space in the paper, but they give us nothing.

Shaquille O'Neal used social media to announce his retirement. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

There are the few ‘live wires’ that give great quotes, but they are few and far between.  There was a time when athletes needed the media.  Now it seems the media needs athletes.  Let’s take the recent Shaq retirement.  Shaq bypassed the traditional media altogether.  Using his twitter account and a flip cam, Shaq told the world about his retirement.  Shaq did have the traditional press conference a couple of days later, but is was more of a party than a media event.

Athletes adept at using social media give their fans way more than any beat writer can.  The downside to social media is the heat athletes receive when they say something deemed offensive or inappropriate.  When athletes are left to their own devices they often turn off that filter present when speaking to reporters.  For better or worse social media allows us to peer deeper into the psyches of our favorite athletes.

I am not advocating the slow death of beat writers.  There are plenty of people who still read their daily sports page.  My fear is what will happen as the social media generation ages.  Nobody knows what the future holds, but things aren’t trending well for beat writers.


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