Guest Column – Why Write? Why Not?

I’m glad to once again welcome back former Boston Herald columnist Michael Gee, who presents another guest column.

Why Write? Why Not?

By Michael Gee

Almost 400 years ago Dr. Samuel Johnson said that no man but a blockhead wrote except for money. I’ve been writing for nothing for going on six years, so what does that make me?

A happy blockhead. It’s not as exciting writing about sports from a distance rather than from the excellent seat I had at the Herald, but it has its own satisfactions. Much to my surprise, I have found I enjoy quiet satisfactions as much or more than noisy ones. I still experience wistful longing when a big game comes on TV and I realize I’m not in the press box, but the longing has faded to a momentary twinge. I think about having to catch the 7 a.m. flight out of town the day after the game, and the twinge passes.

As a business, even a nonprofit one, my blog is a bust. I lack the entrepreneurial gene. The amount of work I know Bruce does every day for this site fills me with awe. Every expert says that to draw an audience, a blogger must post daily – at least. But doing that would defeat the purpose of my blog, and in fact, remove the primary satisfaction I get from writing it.

The first principle and joy of my nonjournalism noncareer in sports commentary is to only write when I feel I have something to say, when a topic either amuses, enrages or fascinates me enough that I believe I can contribute to the sum of knowledge and opinion on the subject. You’d be surprised, or maybe not, to learn what a low percentage of sports columns, and radio and TV opinion blather stems from that principle. As a rule, in fact, the louder the opinion (and print can be as loud as any medium), the less likely the person expressing the opinion is to actually give a damn about what they’re saying.

Media space and time allotted to sports must be filled. Filling it is a job, and like any job, there are days when getting the job done is the only thing the worker cares about. There are many more games or other types of sports news that don’t lend themselves to engaged commentary than those that do. To take an example that still gives me night sweats, I was often one of three Herald columnists assigned to preseason Patriots games. There’s as close as nothing to say in that situation as can be, and I had to and did say it anyway.

I don’t have to do that anymore. I have the enormous luxury of picking my spots. That improves a person’s performance in any field. I also find writing something that hasn’t been said (or not said as I feel it should be) in the paid sports media is a bracing intellectual challenge. And, of course, I have the freedom to talk about what I read and hear in said media. When I was a member of that club, it wouldn’t have been proper. Loyalty matters.

It’s a new year, and I intend to write more. But not too much more. No more than I feel I should say. No more than I feel I want to say. No more than I feel have to say.

Back in the Terry Francona mess, a commenter on the message board here asked why my blog writing was so different than my Herald writing. It was a good question, and this piece is my answer. I honestly don’t believe my writing is that different. It’s just that the writing that was my job has been erased, and what’s left is the writing that was and is my pleasure.

  • Lance_

    Michael,
    Thank you for this column – this has been my exact thoughts for a long time. This has been a problem throughout history – Shakespeare produced some forgettable garbage and Da Vinci gave astrological readings to supplement his income. But it seems that Rupert Murdoch has taken this sort of journalism to new depths ('three full pages of sports every day").

    I appreciate you taking advantage of your freedom (unlike Borges when he was on forced leave).

  • Winning_

    Good column Michael, thanks for the perspective and for not sharing your thoughts that often lol.

  • Dan

    Nice column, Michael. I'm one of the BSMWers who wondered about the difference between your material now vs. back at the Herald, and what you wrote makes a lot of sense. You can wait for the inspiration to come, rather than trying to summon it on deadline, or worse, trying to come up with a take for an assigned story when you may not have much of an opinion on it.

    It's no surprise, for instance, Woody Paige took the "Please step in, commish" take on the McDaniels signing. It's right in his wheelhouse: a little faux righteous indignation at a non-issue, a little name-calling, cite Spygate, call it a day. That story was a freebee for him. Toss it off in twenty minutes and hit the bars before happy hour starts.

    Your former industry has created a reality that calls for columnists well-versed in churning out the same old s***, and who better as the Titan of Trite than Dan Shaughnessy? Do his young readers (does he have young readers?) even understand the relevance of "Lucas Oil (Can Boyd) Stadium"? I mean, that's a two-fer for Dan: it's not funny and it's not relevant. Yet it finds its way into his column twice in one week.

    This site is devoted to discussing what the Boston sports media says and writes, and whether what they say and write are insightful, rational, reasonable, or total crap. I know a lot of journalists take umbrage at what Bruce writes, thinking he's unfair or biased against the profession. I think it's the opposite: Bruce loves the profession, and misses what he remembered as inspired writing in the old Boston sports pages, the Globe especially.

    That may not be a fair comparison, since we tend to remember these things more fondly than they deserve. Did we know then how full of crap Peter Gammons is, for example?

    I just wish we'd witness more inspired, insightful writing in sports journalism. It seems so few and far between these days. Maybe it's the demand for more content that weakens the overall product. I just know that when I read Shaughnessy, it seems like he doesn't like any of the sports he covers. So if you hate your job, how can you possibly be inspired?

  • bsmfan

    Great column. Wish there was more quality writing like this. I always wonder what it is that differs someone who can write a great daily column like Rap that separates him from those who have to go the negative route or relegate the article to something that looks like it belongs on a blog.