Sunday, February 03, 2008

Journalists vs. Sportscasters

In my last post, I mentioned the difference between journalists and sportscasters. Sportscasters, by and large, should never, ever claim to be serious journalists. Not that they're not professionals, they're just not journalists. They don't have the right instincts. There are a few who have the proper journalistic reactions, however. Jim McKay of ABC Sports earned a spot in my personal Journalists Hall of Fame during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

For those who weren't paying attention 36 years ago, terrorists invaded the Olympic village and seized the building housing Israeli athletes. After some tense but fruitless negotiations, German authorities stormed the building. Eleven Israelis and five of the eight terrorists were killed.

McKay was covering the Olympics for ABC Sports, but when confronted with the news story of the decade, he handled it in a manner worthy of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite. McKay's reporting of this horrific attack went well beyond anything a sportscaster could have imagined. There were no scores to report, no useless stats, no color commentary or play-by-play, in the sense those terms are used by sportscasters. McKay, however, applied his training to a "hard news" story; in fact, his coverage of the situation was far better than some of the real journalists in Germany on other assignments (who had been rushed to Munich to report on the massacre).

A more recent example of how I view journalists and sportscasters occurred in 2005 at the studios of WDIV-TV, Channel 4 in Detroit. A local wacko, who had been haunting the area around the studios, managed to get into an outer lobby of the building. An alert receptionist locked the door to the inner lobby, trapping the gunman. Unfortunately, a former WDIV employee was also trapped, and was seriously injured.

As the situation was unfolding, Detroit police sealed the building... with the entire news staff inside, while everything was happening outside. WDIV anchor Steve Garagiola (son of baseball legend and Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Garagiola) managed to sneak out of the building (I don't remember if he found an unguarded fire exit or climbed down a drainpipe). Just about every member of the news staff was involved in the coverage. Meanwhile, the Sports Department staff was inside... hiding under their desks.

Yeah, Steve started out in sports, as might be expected, given the family history (his brother, Joe, Jr, is the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks). As a sports reporter for WDIV, he was in Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics; after the Centennial Park bombing, he made a surprisingly smooth transition from sports to news.

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