Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jim Souhan proves columnists need not exist

I actually believe that newspapers still serve a vital purpose in covering sports. The reporters and beat writers, and even some of the columnists, really do provide some inside knowledge, some specialized analysis, and some pointed discussion.

But some columnists do nothing--NOTHING--that any blogger doesn't do.

One such columnist is The Star Tribune's Jim Souhan.

Let's look at Souhan's last two columns to show that he is a glorified blogger.

First, "Long on egos and short on substance." Souhan begins by complaining about egotistical stars like Brett Favre, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Donovan McNabb. In his complaint, he offers no quotes. He offers no special knowledge. He offers no special analysis. He simply talks about things that we all know about, and provides information that we can all access, and sort of complains about it.

But in this column, Souhan evidently couldn't make his word count on this subject alone. He adds in three other sub-headings, with different subjects on them. First, he complains about Tim Duncan whining--something we can all do after watching the Spurs play on TV. Next, he gives his opinion on the NBA suspensions of Amare Stoudemire, Boris Diaw, and Robert Horry--something just about every blogger has done this week. And finally, he talks about how Phil Mickelson succeeding is good for golf--with little or no special insight provided.

Now tell me this: how is this column different than anything a blogger does?

His next column, "Rhetoric raises bar, then lowers the boom," takes information from a Star Tribune headline and goes on to comment on it. Hold on here: this means that not only did he not do any of his own reporting for this column (all he had to do was look to somebody else's newspaper story), but he doesn't even have to read the article! All he has to do is look at the headline!

He then shows contempt for the spin that franchises and universities use to try promote their teams, and does a little truth serum bit: he takes what the teams say about themselves (without every citing anything any team actually says), then cynically interprets what they are really thinking.

Again, Souhan offers no quotes, no inside information, no special analysis. He takes somebody else's story, and then does a comedy bit commenting on it--something bloggers do ALL THE TIME.

But Jim Souhan is a paid columnist for the major newspaper in the 15th largest media market in the nation. He offers NOTHING that you or I can't offer. In his last two columns, he gives no unique takes, offers no creative writing, offers no inside information, offers NOTHING of any substance whatsoever.

He is a lousy columnist. And if you compare his blog-like columns to many of the sports blogs that are out there, you'd find that Souhan is inferior to a lot of them.

It is when a writer like Souhan has a forum to allow him a large audience (and picks up a paycheck in the process) for lazy, unoriginal writing, that I want to run out into a storm like Lear and shout at the cosmos to rain its horrors down upon me.

Addendum: here is the absolute kicker. In an old interview, here's what Souhan gives as advice for writers:

"Advice for aspiring sportswriters? Write a lot, and read even more. Find writers you like to read, and figure out what works for them. Discard anything that reeks of cliche or routine; read writers who grab your attention for the right reasons.

When I want inspiration, I read everyone from Elmore Leonard to P.J. O'Rourke to Tom Verducci. And when you get into the business, become an expert at something. There are lots of people who can write a nice feature; there are few who can tell the reader something he or she doesn't know, or provide the kind of context that makes a story meaningful. Find a way to become both a good writer and a good reporter, then you'll be able to take your career in a lot of different directions."

Souhan tells aspiring writers to "Discard anything that reeks of cliche or routine," and to "become an expert at something" because "there are few who can tell the reader something he or she doesn't know, or provide the kind of context that makes a story meaningful." Oh, man, when a writer as cliched and routine as Souhan, who offers readers no context and nothing he or she doesn't know, gives this sort of advice, I don't want to just go all Lear, I want to go all Gloucester on the edge of an imaginary cliff.

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