Mike Tanier penned an ambitious think piece for Football Outsiders this week, discussing types of knowledge and the development of sports journalism. He breaks down the various bits of information that flow into a typical blog post and how these various forms of knowledge interact.
Tanier then touches on why so many of us are frustrated with both local and national sports coverage.
You know more about football than the typical "expert" knew 25 years ago.
Back in 1984, it was nearly impossible to watch more than three NFL games in a typical week: the early Sunday game, the late game, and the Monday Night game. Now, you can watch seven or eight without breaking a sweat: three Sunday games, the Monday Night game, and as many as four NFL Network Shortcut games.
In 1984, you watched the home team and a handful of the top national teams, like the Cowboys or Dolphins. A Philadelphia area fan could go two or three seasons with no opportunity at all to see, say, the Falcons: They rarely played the Eagles, were blacked out on CBS whenever the Eagles played, and made few appearances on national television. Now, it’s easy to keep track of a low-profile team on the other side of the country, and Matt Ryan’s family in the Delaware Valley can watch him all year for the price of a satellite dish or a trip to a sports bar.
In 1984, those of us with VCRs could record grainy, clunky game tape. Now, we can conveniently tape games in high-definition with the push of a DVR or Tivo button. With a satellite dish, we can tape two or more Sunday games while watching two others.
In 1984, we read the local paper for our news. We got plenty of information on the home team, a few insights about past or future opponents, and AP reports and capsules about the rest of the league. An ambitious fan might subscribe to The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, maybe a gambling service. Now, we search the Internet and get our information straight from the sources. If we need to know about the Bills, we read Buffalo News. If we want a national roundup, we have a hundred choices.
We got our stats from tiny, agate-type midweek lists and from the backs of magazines in 1984. Now, we get them from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Reference and NFL.com. Pregame shows were a half hour long in 1984. Their length has nearly quadrupled, and while their information content hasn't, they provide more knowledge than Phyllis George or Jimmy the Greek did.
You get the idea. You watch more football, read more about football, ingest more data and opinion about football than it was possible to absorb just 25 years ago. High level experts and analysts of that era could easily gain an edge over the common fan: they could get their hands on out-of-town papers or game tape, interview a player or telephone a colleague, go to the basement to search the stacks.
Those advantages barely exist anymore. You can watch a press conference or download the transcript. You can read the out-of-town blogs. The marginal knowledge that separates the extremely passionate fan -- and that’s what you are if you are still reading at this point -- from the professional football analyst has grown very small, and it’s shrinking constantly.
That’s why you find your local columnist frustrating, the television color commentator unlistenable: you know too much, and they probably haven’t changed with the times.
That's one reason why newspapers are scrambling to stay in business. The marginal knowledge gap doesn't just exist in sports, but in current events, entertainment, and other fields as well. Your local paper is still learning how to compete with CNN.com or with pundit-like bloggers of all philosophies when covering national news, with TMZ.com and fanboy sites for entertainment news. It’s a scary fact that some newspapers just won't be able to compete, and many have folded or cut to the quick.