One of my big things about Poynter is that their folks seem to have spent so much time teaching journalism and media ethics that it’s been too long since they practiced it — and this bit in its latest column for ESPN.com on the Jeremy Lin headline incident proves it.
Never mind that ESPN traffics in cliché in general — please see all those anchor catchphrases we knew and loved from Patrick, Olbermann, Levy, Steiner, Mayne, Kilborn, Eisen among others (and in Berman’s case, loathed) — but obviously the Poynter folks have not sat in on a television news consultant meeting or a writers’ workshop (one usually led by management) in a long, long time.
The first thing consultants and many managers will drill out of a writer is interesting vocabulary because we are writing for people who are not our peers and thus do not traffic in our vocabulary and/or references. This is actually useful advice: it helps the writer to write like someone would speak, but the flip side is that new and interesting turns of phrase are actively discouraged while cliché is disdained at the same time. (I have received a list of suggested “phrases to avoid” or outright banned terms at every place I’ve worked at, and at past stations, I’ve even been told I’m writing for children.)
This leads to mordant jokes about trying to work in words with more the four syllables. (One of my co-workers and I had one of them yesterday: I joked about using “audacious” while he wanted to use “cavalcade.”) In essence, you go back on tired phrases and writing two sentences when one is perfectly fine because you don’t want to lose the viewer. So on a deadline when time is tight, you’re going to churn out the first phrase you can — and the temptation is even worse on the graveyard shift. (This is not to defend Anthony Federico or Max Bretos: that alarm bell about “chink” ought to ring loudly, though Bretos’ case seems very harsh because there are good odds he’s ad-libbing.)
N.B. I really, really wish the Poynter contributors listed on the right would assign bylines for the individual column or blog. It really seems even more distant and institutional for a royal “we” without any idea of who’s really talking here and why he or she has come to the conclusions he or she has.
The short answer: Jeremy Lin appears to be able to execute the basics of playing his position.
And I say that as someone who wants Tim Tebow to succeed so the Broncos do not have to spend another first or second round pick on a quarterback.
Also, 1.5 weeks of Lin is not a good sample size, particularly considering the opposition. (Strength of opposition was a similar slam on Tebow.) The only team the Knicks have played in that span that’s considered a decent one is the Lakers. But so far, so good.
Additionally, Lin has looked good for four quarters as opposed to fourth quarters and one playoff game for Tebow.
Never mind that Tebow was a highly recruited prep football star who went to a big-name BCS school, won one title as an essential component and a second as The Man. Jeremy Lin wasn’t even heavily recruited by his home state powerhouses or the tony private school in his hometown, mostly because he was hurt his junior year, but also because Trent Johnson signed another point guard while telling Lin and his family he had another spot open, which sent him to Harvard, who got him in on early acceptance. If you’re serious about hoops and want to be an Ivy Leaguer, you probably think Princeton before Harvard, although Tommy Amaker is working to change that.
Regarding the Christianity angle: Lin’s a serious believer (you’d have to be CCM-familiar to know his favorite musicians), but not in the way that differentiates him from most other professional athletes, many of whom are pretty devout (i.e., the very funny example of Mariano Rivera listening to Christian music and hymns in the context of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as his entrance music at Yankee Stadium). Tebow’s in a different category as an evangelical Christian and a missionary, and we can’t pretend it’s the same — he made himself a proselytizer and spreader of the “good news.”
My personal jury is out on Tebow being an NFL quarterback because I believe the lockout was the worst thing for his professional development. I want to see him in OTAs, training camp, etc. as The Man. I think the reason I’m sick of the Tebow fawning and not the Lin phenomenon at this point files down to a few things:
These are just the things that grind my gears about the cheap, easy comparison narrative: so often, the support for these narratives is paper-thin and related to superficial ideals of “the underdog story” and the uncomfortable racial dynamics pro basketball and football traffic in as a matter of doing business.