The Media Learning Curve: July 16-23

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Jack Craig, who wrote the first newspaper media columns for the Boston Globe more than 40 years ago until his retirement in 1996, died last week at 81 after a fall at his home.

“The first TV sports event I ever reviewed for the Globe was an NFL playoff game on Dec. 31, 1967, for a story that appeared Jan. 2, 1968,” he wrote in his farewell column nearly 14 years ago. “How could I or anyone else watching that New Year’s Eve afternoon know that it would be the most memorable football game we would ever see on TV? It was the Ice Bowl: Packers 21, Cowboys 17.

“I limited myself to several paragraphs, in part because I did not know what to write beyond nitpicking broadcasters and wondering why certain things were ignored. Having more questions than answers betrayed my naivete.”

How did we miss Craig’s obit? Were we not paying attention? Was it on TV?

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Frank Deford, in an National Public Radio commentary Wednesday (linked here), cut us some slack, pointing out that George Steinbrenner news drowned out a lot of other things the last week or so.

Said Deford:

“(Jack Craig’s assignment to cover sports TV) was the ultimate certification that the presentation of sports as entertainment was as important as comedy and drama in our culture. Incredibly, though, even as more people watched sports on TV and talked about sports on TV and even made Howard Cosell the pre-eminent voice of the land, other print outlets were slow to follow in Craig’s path. …

“Today, of course, in most major newspapers, the sports TV beat is as obligatory as the betting line. In fact, often the best writer in the sport section is the TV writer. Unlike the legendary columnist, who has to work stadiums and arenas, spend hours in press boxes, and then trudge down to the locker room and try to squeeze an unintelligible quote out of a surly naked athlete, the sports TV guy can just sit on his couch with a clicker in his hand and a disc on his roof, and watch stuff right there in his own man-cave.

“Readers relate to TV sports guys, too, because they’re really just like them — so the sports television writer is invariably popular, unlike other critics who are looked upon as crabby sourpusses.

“It seems impossible to believe that there was ever a time before Jack Craig. It might even be possible to say that sports television is more important than sports. When George Steinbrenner died, the Yankees franchise that he had purchased was estimated to be worth $1.6 billion. The Yankees television network that he started hardly eight years ago was estimated to be worth twice that — $3 billion.”

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In the Boston Globe’s obit about Craig, Don Skwar, the former Globe sports editor and current senior news editor for ESPN called Craig “the trailblazer for sports TV critics” with his SporTView column.

“Arguably, you could say Jack had as much if not more influence than any of our columnists because he covered the entire spectrum of sports,” said Globe writer John Powers, who worked with Craig. “As more and more people got their news about sports from TV, Jack’s influence just increased dramatically. …

“Literally, he had to invent the form. No one knew what was interesting, what was not, what was important.”

I’ve been doing this media-column thing now since 1989 — more than 20 years, but I’m not really counting. Larry Stewart of the L.A. Times, who recently retired, was the only media columnist I knew about growing up in Southern California, but I knew the other papers in town also had them, and I’d seek them out on Fridays at the newstand (the Daily News, for some reason, had theirs come out on Thursdays).

Then one by one, the newspapers started to drop them, or give them less of importance. Editors who saw them as a way to publicize the competition, and were already grouchy over the way TV and radio were pulling away readers, thought them to be sort of silly. But reader demands seem to keep us coming back.

With consolidation, retirements and other changes, it seems that I’m still doing this for the Daily News (following Phil Rosenthal, John Weisman and Paola Boivin), Daily Breeze (succeeding Dan McLean), Long Beach Press-Telegram (after a long, glorious run by Bob Keisser, who also did it for a very long stretch at the L.A. Herald-Examiner), San Gabriel Valley Tribune and San Bernardino Sun. The Times has used the late Mike Penner and now Diane Pucin on the beat, but seemingly not with as much gusto as in the past. The Orange County Register has dropped it all together — Michael Lev and Steve Fryer once did it. I’m not sure what the Riverside Press Enterprise did. And the San Diego Union-Tribune had Fritz Quindt and now, the esteemed Jay Posner, whom I consider one of my bestest co-conspiriators left.

By the way, Powers also noted that Craig wasn’t power-hungry in his role.

“Jack was very, very low-key, a gentleman, and almost modest beyond what you would think a guy with that influence would be,” Powers said. “He was covering a medium where there are very few bashful people, and yet he did not emulate them. Many columnists feel the world is waiting for their every word. Jack didn’t feel that way.”

That’s something a columnist, blogger or Internet writer — in any department — should remember.

After today’s media column on new USC basketball play-by-play man Chris Fisher (linked here), we have these other notes:

== The whole column that ESPN.com ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer did on the network’s coverage of that hour-long “Decision” by LeBron James (linked here). And thanks, Don, for mentioning me. Not that I needed the ego stroke, but recognition is cool.

== HBO confirmed this week that the second season of “Eastbound & Down,” with Danny McBride as broken-down and glory-seeking former relief pitcher Kenny Powers, will debut on Sunday, Sept. 26 at 10:30 p.m.

== CBS has the wrapup of the Tour de France to cover on Sunday on tape (10 a.m., Channel 2), including a story on Lance Armstrong’s final appearance. Craig Hummer hosts the show.

== As the ESPN X Games in L.A. come closer — next Thursday through Sunday — NBC has the Dew Tour live in Chicago this weekend featuring the top BMX freestyle cyclists, Saturday and Sunday from 1-3 p.m. USA Network has coverage Saturday from 9-to-10 p.m. Jamie Bestwick and Dave Mirra join as analysts with Todd Harris, analyst Todd Richards and correspondent Tiffany Simons .

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== ESPN has the last 17 (with three going to ABC) of the NASCAR Sprint Cup races, starting with the Brickyard 400 from Indianapolis Motor Speedway (10 a.m., Sunday). Included in that stretch is the Oct. 10 race at Fontana. Marty Reid is joined by analysts Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. On a conference call with reporters earlier this week, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, Julie Sobieski was asked about realignment in the upcoming schedule that could see the L.A. market lose one of its two annual stops.

“I think those are really NASCAR and track decisions when it comes to the ratings of the events themselves,” she said. “There are a few tracks that see a dramatic or significant ratings increase, and we know what those are with Daytona and the Brickyard itself, Talladega being some of the biggest there.

“Outside of a few tracks that see a big increase, the remainder of the tracks all offer something different for the fans. Each racetrack delivers something different week in and week out, and ultimately those decisions on which tracks are in and which tracks are out rest with NASCAR and the tracks themselves.”

== Meanwhile, Versus has the last seven IRL races, starting with Sunday’s event in Edmonton (2 p.m.), with qualifying on Saturday (3 p.m.)

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== Lon McEachern and Norman Chad return to keep us abreast on the new season of the World Series of Poker, with the first event on two hours Tuesday (5 p.m., ESPN).

== Chris McGee and Dain Blanton call the AVP Long Beach event live, with the men’s final at 1 p.m. on ABC, and the women’s final at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

== ESPN announced its 2010 college football schedule, which this fall has more than 400 games across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classic and ESPN3.com, plus ESPN 3D. Of course, the switch of the entire Bowl Championship Series is included, starting with the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, the Jan. 3 Orange Bowl, the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl and the Jan. 10 BCS National title game in Tempe, Ariz. ESPN and its family will carry 31 bowls. The season starts on Monday, Aug. 23.

== The producers of an ESPN “30 For 30″ documentary on Colombia’s 1994 World Cup team called “The Two Escobars” have been accused of deceiving the family of slain Columbian player Andres Escobar, and a Columbian TV network last week said it would not air the movie.

The Associated Press reported recently that the Escobar family member were never told by producers Michael and Jeff Zimbalist that they intented to pair the story of the soccer player with that of Pablo Escobar, the late drug lord who was said to have funded much of the country’s sport with cocaine sale profits.

The two Escobars were unrelated.

Santiago Escobar told The Associated Press that the Zimbalist brothers “deceived my family and also deceived the memory of Andres Escobar” and that relatives and friends of his brother “feel assaulted in our good faith by the makers of this documentary, who sought our testimony to make a report in homage to the footballer. They never told us that it would be parallel with the drug trafficker Pablo
Escobar.”

The Zimbalist brothers, who wrote and directed the film, told the AP by telephone from the United States that the family’s statement was a misrepresentation of their behavior.

“We have a lot of respect for Andres Escobar and for his family and it’s always been
our intention to be as sensitive as possible,” said Jeff Zimbalist.

Andres Escobar, the 27-year-old national team captain, was killed 10 days after his own-goal against the United States in a game at the Rose Bowl eliminated Colombia
from the tournament. ESPN aired the film on June 21.

== AND FINALLY:

Dude Perfect vs. Ricardo in long-range pop-a-shot:

== AND FINALLY (FOR REAL):

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== As for Jon Miller’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster’s wing on Sunday, Duane Kiper, who works on the Giants’ TV broadcast, told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins (linked here) about the master impersonator:

“He does Vin Scully . . . and then he does a profane Vin Scully, which is just priceless, because nobody’s ever heard Vin or Jon utter a swear word. I’ve seen people drop to their knees when they heard that, they were laughing so hard.”

Scully, by the way, had some advice for Miller when he has to get up to make his acceptance speech. Miller was in L.A. earlier this week with the Giants facing the Dodgers.

Wrote Chris Haft on MLB.com (linked here):

Scully reminded Miller that listeners on Sunday will expect much from him. Players who become Hall of Fame inductees, Scully pointed out, don’t have to be eloquent. After all, they were players, not wordsmiths.

“But a professional broadcaster has to get it just right,” Miller said, relating Scully’s message.

Not to put too much pressure on yourself or anything.

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