Many posts ago, I asked what a kind of writing style was called. (internal link) I’ve figured it out. They are essays, pretending to be reporting. I am frustrated by such writing in that they waste the reader’s time. With this style you must read several hundred words before finding out what the author is writing about. Rather than quickly defining a subject, essays disguised as reporting languidly and leisurely give out the facts. It seems most prevalent in sports writing but it is everywhere today. Now that the Olympics are here, essay writing is in full force.
Here’s one two paragraph example:
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — By my calculation, we are roughly 57.34 percent of the way through these Olympics, which means it’s time for me to get on the wrong bus. But that’s OK, because I knew that wherever I go, an American will finish fifth. If we have learned anything about these Olympics, it’s that an American always finishes fifth.
Have you seen the medal count lately? As of this writing, the U.S. is in sixth place, one spot behind Russia, which isn’t even officially here. I was pretty fired up about that. That’s like losing a bar bet to an empty stool. But then I realized the U.S. can catch Russia without doing anything at all, thanks to the Russian curling scandal.
The writer is in love with his own writing and wants to be part of the story. Who, What, Where, When, and Why, plus H for How, are the essential questions to answer for the reader. This should be done quickly. Plenty of time to set a scene after the fundamentals are addressed. I consider this essay style lazy and disrespectful journalism, especially when reporters like these are obviously capable of writing well and could easily be forthright.
The Olympics you see on NBC are not the same as the Olympics that unfold in the mountains and ice rinks of South Korea. NBC tries to distill dozens of events into compelling television for a mass audience. In person, all you see is one event at a time, and you often don’t know if anybody is watching back home. Minutes earlier, Kenworthy had kissed boyfriend Matthew Wilkas at the bottom of the slopestyle course, unaware that NBC would broadcast it, causing a minor commotion in the States.
In attempting to cover the color of the games, sports reporters wander away from facts and finality. Essay writing has its place as not everything is a box score. A writer working as a reporter, however, must always be conscious of the reader’s time, their need to know, and our duty to keep out of the story.