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More On the Olympics, the Media & When Keepin' It Real Goes Wrong

This isn't a basketball post, but I wrote a post last week about "intellectual journalism" and have been monitoring the Olympics coverage for good examples since. Coincidentally, what I've come across is a few articles that are holding the media accountable in similar ways.

What I found interesting is that a few of those articles got to the core of what sports journalism could be doing in terms of providing some insight into the humanness of the Olympics -- both the pure joy embodied in victory and the tragedy of perpetuating unattainable body images. Here's a brief summary of some articles that caught my eye...

More on the Olympics and Body Image

I posted a link to an article by lindabeth at the smartlikeme blog the other day about the problematic gender differences in Olympic uniforms and wrote a thought-provoking piece about the Olympics and body image last week. Well, Karen Blotnicky of Canada's Chronicle Herald touched on a similar point about the double standard of attacking China for their efforts to market their country while continually failing to address some of North America's own that crop up in the Olympics -- body image.

Blotnicky makes the point that if we are going to blame China for being unethical in its efforts to market the Olympic Games, it’s time we take responsibility for our own actions as marketers in this country.

It’s time we created images of men, women, boys and girls that are more realistic and attainable.

It’s time we took responsibility for the fact that girls as young as 10 are beginning to diet.

They want to look like teens in the fashion industry and on television.
This is a point that seems to be brought up at about every Olympics, especially with the young female gymnasts. However, as lindabeth points out in her piece, it would be interesting to see the sacrifices that all Olympians make, especially given all the attention given to the male athletes.

Again, I think this comes down to the proliferation of conflict journalism -- in an attempt to present the big story, they far too often deprive us of the whole story. We don't have to defend China or their actions, but far too often during this Olympics we've been given the opportunity to self-righteously condemn China, without also looking at what we could improve as a nation/society.

Invariably disappointing interviews

The second story is an article from Janet Gilbert of the Baltimore Sun who writes about those "invariably disappointing" post-game/win interviews. For example, it seems like reporters have to eventually find a better way to bring us insight into a basketball game than asking the same old, "So what were you thinking as you took that game-winning shot?" question. Gilbert takes on the interview issue, apparently inspired by observations for swimming:
The interviews are invariably disappointing. These athletes have just pushed themselves to the physical and mental limit, and now they're supposed to be paradigms of poise. I don't like seeing them reduced to icons of inarticulate...but it escapes us in the Olympic setting because we expect extraordinary athletes to be extraordinary speakers. And yet, it is their very humanness that is the essence of their glory.
Interviews are hard, but if the folks covering the Olympics are not able to capture the humanness of the Olympics themselves, then I'd rather just savor a moment of pure joy without the formality.

How keeping it real can go wrong

The third, an last, is from a former Olympic reporter who rose to prominence working for ESPN -- Steven A. Smith. He's been ridiculed over the last few years for being a loud, obnoxious, "angry black man" (most of that reputation admittedly deserved). But in the latest issue ESPN the magazine gave him the opportunity to respond to critics of his article entitled, "Remember when athletes had the guts to stand up for their beliefs?" in which he explores the responsibility of Olympic athletes to take a stand on the political issues of the day. One of the responses from Smith stood out to me as interesting in the context of my thinking about intellectual journalism:
Trivial stuff doesn't interest me. What affects the masses, what's important and substantive is what matters most. I have no desire to be PC. My motto: Be professional and as thorough as I can, but above all else be as real as possible—in everything I say and do.
I see his point here, especially in response to criticisms of the aforementioned article; journalists should first and foremost be responsible for telling the truth about what affects people even if people don't want to hear it.

However, where Smith's claim can be dangerous is when the media pretends it doesn't affect the desires and perceptions of the masses and forgets to be thorough -- it's a delicate balance between reporting to the masses and catering to the masses. I always find it to be a little bit suspect when media members throw up their hands and say, "I'm just giving people what they want" as though those desires are shaped and often created by the media.

So, I tend to agree with both Blotnicky and Gilbert that the media at some point also has a responsibility to help the masses make sense of the things that they should be concerned about without being condescending or pedantic. And sometimes, that means addressing things that "affect the masses" even if the masses think it's trivial.

As Smith alludes to, quality journalism necessarily involves being as thorough as possible. But if "keeping it real" becomes nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to endear oneself to the masses for better ratings or self-interest, then we end up with nothing more than self-righteous conflict journalism that simplistically paints everything as dichotomous rather than providing us with the full story.