Let’s talk about “Talk about . . . “


Media criticism alert. Those of you who like to wade into these threads and complain about meta-media talk, consider yourselves warned. And, subsequently, consider yourself to be making an admission of either illiteracy or stupidity if you, nonetheless, offer your usual complaints about such posts. Anyway:

Bryan Curtis of Grantland has a fun story/bit of invective up about the way in which postgame press conferences and media scrums have been taken over by reporters asking players and coaches to “talk about” this or that. They don’t ask proper questions, mind you, it’s just “talk about the shot you took at the buzzer” and “talk about the fourth quarter touchdown” and “talk about that game-winning double.”

Curtis argues that it’s inane and obsequious and puts the reporter in a subservient position to the athlete to the point where he or she often doesn’t bother to ask an actually good question and athletes are never inspired to offer any actually good answers.

A more significant point — which Curtis makes but which I think is bigger than he suggests — is that the postgame interview has become, for the most part, an exercise in blank-filling, not information gathering. And that’s the case whether questions are in “talk about” form or any other form.

Reporters have their game story, and they need someone to say some magic words which support their thesis or argument about what was important in the game. “Talk about why your will-to-win and grit made the difference here,” etc. We know this is so because it is a fact that, for the most part, the reporters are writing their game stories as the game ends and well before the clubhouse opens up for interviews. The deadlines are brutal. No WAY are most reporters going to go in, get quotes, think about what they mean and then and only then start their game story.

Likewise, TV and radio people just need a soundbite — any sound will do — to fit in that clip for the broadcast later. It’s just another in a great many sports media developments which represent tails wagging dogs and the purpose of which is more to justify the media’s presence someplace than it is to actually enlighten anyone.

Fact is, we as fans don’t need nearly the amount of enlightening sports media types assume. We can see any play of significance several times. If we’re lucky enough to have a half-decent announcing team on our broadcast, we can get an expert’s take on it. We know the sport we’re watching pretty well. For baseball, I think there are a couple of interesting things we can’t know just by watching, and questions about these things — be they in “talk about” form or in the form of actual “who, what, when, where, why, how” form — are welcome. They are:

  • Why did the manager make the pitching change when he did and why did he go with that pitcher (or, alternatively, why didn’t he make a change);
  • Whether the hitter was expecting the pitch he got when he hit the home run, whether he was guessing or what have you; and
  • If it wasn’t clear from the broadcast, how the pitcher set up the batter in the way he did before that critical strikeout/groundout/whatever.

That’s basically it. Save your “how did it feel to . . . ” questions and their ilk for another time. Preferably a time when the player isn’t still coming down from the game and after he’s had some time to reflect on things and actually give an intelligent answer rather than fill Johnny Sportswriter’s column inches in time for deadline.