Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sportwriting on Tarvaris Jackson

A pluralistic media is wonderful for democracy, but in many situations, it is completely unnecessary.

For example, many major sports media outlets sends one of its reporters to the Minnesota Vikings' training camp to do the exact same story that other major sports media outlets' reporters did when they visited Viking camp.

Clark Judge of CBS Sports is the latest to do the "The Vikings are great but all the attention is on unproven Tarvaris Jackson" story. The only difference is which specific quotes Judge gets, but the quotes are all of the same sort that every other reporter gets. Jim Trotter of SI took up pretty much the same angle, and Vic Carucci of did mostly the same story. Kevin Seifert focused on this angle too.

Obviously, Tarvaris Jackson is the central focus on stories about the Vikings. He should be: the team appears very good in every facet of the game except pass offense, and we really just don't know much about what Tarvaris Jackson will do. I still agree with Michael Lombardi who writes, "I can't think of one player who will control the won/loss record of any team in the NFL more than Tarvaris Jackson." This should be the focus of a national reporter covering the Vikings for a national audience. I'm just wondering if this is the best use of collective resources: are we getting much more out of the story by sending multiple writers to the same place to provide pretty much the same narrative? The angle is familiar: "The Vikings are very good. But they'll depend a lot on Tarvaris Jackson, who has struggled and is inexperienced. All the pressure and attention is on Jackson to produce. But here are some quotes from Jackson, Jackson's coaches, and Jackson's teammates expressing confidence in Jackson's ability to produce." Again, that is the primary story on the Vikings--but it's probably the narrative one writer could go and get.

A lot of the stories on Jackson tend to lapse into worn out figures of speech, too.

From Jim Trotter:

"All eyes are on second-year starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson."

"The team will go only as far as he takes it."

"Jackson is the only major question mark on a club that..."

Vic Carucci:

For the most part, Jackson is passing those tests with flying colors."

"Yet, at the end of the day, it all figures to come down to how Jackson performs."

"At the end of the day" means the same thing as "it comes down to." I'm still waiting to see a sentence that starts "Ultimately, at the end of the day, what it comes down to on the bottom line is..."

From Clark Judge:

"He must improve if the Vikings are to climb the division ladder."

"The Vikings can't afford to wait. It's now or never for Jackson."

Clark also quotes an unnamed NFC head coach saying "that team's a quarterback away from the Super Bowl." Normally I wouldn't even identify a spoken quote from a non-writer, but it reminded me so much of this passage from a recent John Clayton mailbag:

Jackson is the key to the Vikings' season. They are a quarterback away from winning the NFC North. Jackson has to prove he's that quarterback."

I'll also give some credit to Michael Silver of Yahoo! for doing a story on Tarvaris Jackson and getting something a little different out of Jackson for the story. The story reveals more personality from Jackson (Silver seems gifted at getting that out of players), and provides some anecdotes and quotes we don't see elsewhere.

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