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Names and faces change, but storyline is familiar



Let’s see, where did we leave off?

Oh, right, 1995. That’s when I last wrote any words that appeared under the Times-Advocate banner.

The Padres were in turmoil after yet another change of general managers. The Chargers had squandered their best chance at a Super Bowl title and were unhappy with their accommodations in Mission Valley. The Gulls and Sockers were squeezing in dates around swap meets at the Sports Arena.

Hmm, maybe not much has changed in two decades plus.

Then again, my gray temples and bulging waistline tell me otherwise. Time does indeed march on.

Perhaps that’s one of the things that makes being a sports fan comforting. The names and faces change over time, but the overarching storylines are familiar. Will potential be fulfilled or frittered away? Will the fading vet­eran get one last chance at glory? Will the underdog knock off the champ?

The infinite number of ways these stories play out keeps us transfixed. It’s no different than knowing a dra­ma will include conflict, climax and resolution, but still hanging on ev­ery shocking twist of “The Walking Dead.”

Walking Dead? Are we back on the Padres and Chargers? That certainly leaves out “Game of Thrones.”

As the constant cycles play out on the field, sports have been transformed off it in one permanent way. Media cover­age only vaguely resembles 1995. Beat writers are an endangered species, struggling to survive against the vora­cious appetite of Internet aggregation, blogs, specialty sites and “embrace the debate” vapidness on TV.

I have seen the belly of the beast. With the Internet winning the war against print, I joined FOXSports.com to learn the ropes of Web publishing. Sure, I learned how to code an em dash in HTML, but I also learned that “content” does not equal storytelling or journalism in the modern sports media landscape.

There’s a sad, desperate race to ex­ploit every headline, no matter its ori­gin, vetted or not.

Instead of 100 new stories being told without the space and time con­straints of print, it’s one story spun 100 ways in the rush to capitalize while it’s trending.

Before I veer into Goose Gossage territory and become the old man yell­ing at a cloud, let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with a good blog, and sites such as Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs have elevated analysis of sports. There’s an audience for both.

It’s the news sites that have mostly failed us. In the quest for the magic formula of monetization, they have failed to grab the baton from tradition­al print media. There’s no substitute for boots on the ground in news gath­ering and storytelling, for developing sources and for firsthand observation.

Which brings me back to the phoe­nix that is the Times-Advocate. It’s heartening to see an investment in community journalism. There’s val­ue in having an independent voice at the City Council meeting, the school board meeting, the grassroots demon­stration and, yes, the high school track meet.

I’m excited the editors and leader­ship of the T-A are allowing me to contribute to the cause of community journalism after years away. Let the aggregators battle for sports chum. We’ll find untold stories in our back­yard.

Local readers knew Dave Roberts as an undersized option quarterback before the nation knew him as the Dodgers’ manager. We knew Billy Beane as a can’t miss prospect before he did indeed miss, only to emerge as a transformative figure and the face of “Moneyball.”

We weren’t latecomers on the band­wagon of U.S. women’s soccer be­cause we were following Shannon MacMillan from the start.

There are future All-Stars, Olympi­ans and X Games champions currently honing their crafts on the fields, courts and skateparks of North County. I’m looking forward to reading about more of them in the Times-Advocate – and getting my boots back on the ground and sharing a few of their sto­ries myself.

Shaun O’Neill is a freelance writer and longtime North County resident. He welcomes comments and story suggestions at shaunowriter@gmail.com.



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