Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If you think it's hard to go from sports to news...

In a post last Wednesday, I talked about Janet Paskin, who started off as a sports reporter and eventually became a business reporter.

Paskin is not the only person who has moved from sports to "hard news." Take Bryant Gumbel. Gumbel, like his brother Greg Gumbel, was initially a sports guy. When (Bryant) Gumbel was tapped to be one of the hosts of the TODAY show, some people were not necessarily worried about his race - they were worried about him being a sports guy doing the news. However, Gumbel proved that he could be serious over the years - and, as Willard Scott can attest, VERY serious.

Howard Cosell was able to break out of sports, but only in a limited sense. According to his biography, he really wanted to become the co-anchor of ABC World News Tonight. He never got the opportunity, despite the fact that Roone Arledge, who headed ABC Sports, eventually became the head of ABC News. This meant that Dick Ebersol, Arledge's protege, would also transition from heading NBC Sports to heading NBC News - just in time to deal with the whole Pauley/Norville fracas of who would be Bryant Gumbel's co-host on the TODAY show. (It's a small world after all.)

Incidentally, if you were to ask Dick Ebersol, "If Roone Arledge jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?" I suspect that Ebersol would reply "Yes." But Arledge was pretty taleneted - it's better for Ebersol to pattern himself after Arledge than after some other people.

So there have been many people who have transitioned from sports to news, and although some of them met resistance, some of them eventually were accepted.

But if it's hard to transition from "silly" sports to "hard" news, then it should be easy to transition from news to sports, right?

This video shows Maria Bartiromo shooting sky hooks with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bartiromo is a well-known business reporter and anchor with CNBC. But what would happen if Bartiromo went up to her bosses at NBC (not Dick Ebersol, who has left the company) and said, "I really want to stay with NBC, but I want to do color commentary for football games"?

Fans would accept an Al Michaels-Maria Bartiromo pairing on Sunday nights, right?

Wrong. If you think that news junkies can get snobbish, you need to see how snobbish sports junkies can be.

Ignore the fact for the moment that Bartiromo is female - which in itself would render her unacceptable to some sports fans. The true sin of Bartiromo, in the eyes of some sports fans, is that she has "never played the game." A common line of thinking - vigorously refuted by Howard Cosell, without success - is that only people who have played a particular sports are qualified to provide commentary on the sport. And if you're honest with yourself, who would you trust to explain how a quarterback prepares for a play - Don Meredith, or Howard Cosell?

Interestingly enough, this insistence that the sports commentary field be limited to ex-players is not necessarily embraced in the so-called "hard" news world.

How could Walter Cronkite talk about the Apollo moon landings? He had never landed on the moon himself, after all. (More seriously, Cronkite had been a journalist his entire life, and had never served in the military - the preperatory ground for many astronauts.)

How can Keith Olbermann talk about politics? What office has he held?

While Jerry Springer is qualified to talk about politics, he is certainly unqualified to host his present show. After all, how many times has Springer been involved in sexual relationships with an Arkansas woman, and her mother, and her stepfather?

So this insistence on only using ex-players as sports commentators can be silly. But it does show that as hard as it is for someone to transition from sports reporting to news reporting, it's even harder for someone to transition from news reporting to sports reporting.
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