Lonely days, sleepless nights as bell tolls for sports writers

First, as Springsteen would say, a boring story of glory days.

This story concerns a fabled sports journo from days gone by who possessed what can kindly be described as the ‘odd quirk’.

Chief among these quirks was an excessive enthusiasm for thrift.

To that end, the fellow in question could often be sighted wandering the newsroom of one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent media companies wearing a towel around his waist, and not much else.

He wasn’t an exhibitionist, as such, at least to anyone’s knowledge. He simply preferred to shower at work in the mornings to avoid incurring the cost of using his own hot water.

As is the case with many sports journalism careers, this fellow’s didn’t end well. His demise, though, had nothing to do with his showering habits, but rather an unpardonable outburst in the press box at Carlaw Park.

Having been given his marching orders pretty much on the spot, the chap was not sighted again by his former peers for several years.

Then, one day, as the story told by a former colleague goes, the fellow in question wandered into the press room at the national softball championships.

He didn’t speak to anyone, instead simply getting on with his work: a large amount of photocopying on the press room photocopier. He then loaded a supply of drinks from the press room refrigerator into his bag, and promptly exited the building.

That was the last any journo ever saw of him.

Interesting, and a little odd, I hear you say. But what is the bleeding point?

Is this diatribe about workplace theft and reaping what you sow, perhaps?

Not at all.

The point is that, not all that long ago, there was a press room at the national softball championships that contained a photocopier and a refrigerator. And sports reporters.

This column has never attended a national softball championships, but we’ll bet you dollars to donuts there’s not much need of a well-provisioned press room.

Sadly, we live in an era when sports scribes – those that still exist – seldom venture out of their dungeons. That’s a bummer, not just for the poor sods chained to their desks praying daily that the boss doesn’t walk up behind them and shoot them in the back of the head, but for sports fans hoping to be informed and entertained by someone who, you know, actually attended an event and, you know, maybe talked to some of the participants.

Last Friday night, at the beginning of a new dawn for hockey, LockerRoom’s Suzanne McFadden dutifully trekked across the bridge to North Harbour’s hockey stadium to cover a men’s and women’s double-header between New Zealand and Belgium – the second matches of global hockey’s fledgling Pro League.

The reigning world champion Belgian men are the best on the planet right now. They would triumph over the Black Sticks in a shootout after a thrilling 4-4 tie in regulation.

Belgium’s women had never beaten the Black Sticks women – until Friday night, when a late, late winner earned them a 1-0 victory.

It was top quality sport featuring two Kiwi teams who are perennial Olympic medal contenders. If you haven’t yet, you can read about it here.

Veteran Black Sticks captain Stacey Michelsen soldiered through the match with a badly broken finger, an injury suffered a couple of days earlier against Holland.

“I suppose everyone has asked to speak to Stacey?” McFadden offered when asked who she would like to interview post-match (Newsroom’s M.O. is to offer something different to other media outlets).

“Everyone?” came the response from NZ Hockey’s media assistant. “You’re the only one here.”

This column had a similar experience at the final of the women’s Super Smash at Eden Park, when Stuff’s Andrew Voerman (who does seem to get out and about a bit) turned up just before the start of play to double the size of the press ‘pack’.

We few, we happy few…

Sports writing, sadly, is dying. Last year Stuff laid waste to its capacity to cover local sport by sacking (sorry, discontinuing) its entire roster of regional sports reporters.

That was followed by an equally brutal cull at NZME, where veteran cricket writer David Leggat (who can now be found on Newsroom) was among the casualties of a ‘restructure'  that saw the Herald’s other noted cricket scribe, Andrew Alderson, flee to the comfort and security of a radio booth.

Cricket writing is not the winner there.

And it’s not just words that are withering. Gifted senior photographers Brett Phibbs and Greg Bowker also joined the exodus from NZME under a restructure in 2018, taking with them decades of experience in brilliantly capturing the biggest moments in Kiwi sport.

If print sports journalism was a native bird, DOC would have cleared an off-shore island - or a central city dive bar - and set up a breeding programme long ago.

Dire warnings would have been issued about the collapse of the natural environment in the face of online news blogs that offer insights such as “both teams have come to play tonight”.

It’s grim out there all right. And lonely.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Those fortunate enough to still be employed in the industry are seldom faced with catering shortages on the odd occasion they do get out of the office. And there’s never anyone around to disapprove when you feel like photocopying your butt in the press room.

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