Thursday, May 08, 2008

Creating Narratives

From today's Fiver, The Guardian's daily tea-time email football newsletter, comes this stinging indictment of sports journalism:
Ah yes, here we go, another conspiracy of the inadequate. Sports hacks are a lot like those boilers who huffily insist that all models are airheads. Here's how it works: we put it about that all footballers are so stupid it's as if B-movie alien zombies have gobbled their brains, then we oink and wheeze like diseased swine the very second their utterances stray from the clich├ęs we want them to spew. And hey presto, footballers mostly stick to the script, enabling us to churn out putrid guff and then smugly sit back and congratulate ourselves for being so much better than the folks we write about - they may be fitter, richer, better looking, more talented, more widely travelled and altogether nicer than us but, hey, they're so dumb. Ha ha ha, the no-good fools!

Not only does this self-criticism ring true, it also says something about one of the ongoing laments I have about journalism, sporting and otherwise: The unrelenting hold journalists take on the narratives they essentially establish.

We see it in sportswriting, but this tendency is every bit as entrenched, perhaps moreso, among the hard news folks and the political commentariat. Obama wins a dozen primaries and caucuses in a row, then Hillary wins Pennsylvania, still leaving her hopelessly behind, but the talking heads have asserted that a good showing in the Keystone State gets her back in the game, and so there you have it. Those same folks insist that Jeremiah Wright is a major story, so they make his rantings a story and voila, it is a story. This same approach is how in some circles Tuesday's primaries are presented as a split decision even though Obama overwhelmingly won one state, narrowly lost another, and emerged with a greater delegate lead. Or how shallow interpretations of "the working class" and "elitism" becaome so warped and misused. Journalists create these memes and then have an interest in perpetuating them.

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