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Some things never change

The first alleged sports report was recorded on a cave wall in France well over 14,000 years ago. In what was probably once the dwelling of ancient men, it is a stark snapshot formed of lines stained on stone most likely from the sap of indigenous berries of the day. It immortalizes an unbelievable act of daring, of one lone tribesman rising on courage when all around him were shrinking from fear. This brave, unnamed soul faced down a charging bison, two meaty tons of teeth, horns, muscle and fur, the size of a small bus. Armed only with his flint-tipped spear, he somehow managed to eviscerate the beast as it plowed into him, trampling him into pieces where he stood. That act of bravery provided food for the entire tribe for a month at least, but in exchange for the ultimate price. You had to be there.

Well, you could say a lot has changed since the evolution of sport. The Greeks had it simple: see a rock lift it or throw it. Mark a destination, then run towards it. Find out who is best at firing an arrow, throwing a spear; you get the drift. And the embellished, garnished descriptions likened the athletes almost to the gods themselves. Superlatives were thrown around like bread to pacify the hungry masses. And of course, it was harder to write then, since the implements were still crude, and you only had that one handwritten copy. Posters were likewise handmade, and also few in number.

What Alvin Toffler called the second revolution in the history of mankind, the industrial revolution more than four centuries ago, changed all that. Iron and later, steel, changed how people lived, traveled, communicated. Railroad tracks could be laid down, allowing people to travel longer distances. Higher buildings could be built, housing more people. Food could be transported farther. And, for our purposes, telephone and telegraph wires meant information could travel faster. The hews industry inexorably started to supplant dime-store novels with factual reporting, taking roughly a century to establish clear parameters for its own guidance. It would take another leap forward with the outbreak of World War II, an unfortunate illegitimate child of progress.

Time was when, outside from scratchy reports on the radio squeezed in between dramas and cliffhanger adventures produced by sponsors themselves, you had to go to the movie theater to get your news. Newspapers were often late, since reporters from the field had to either find a phone or telegraph, or physically bring the material in themselves. From the Philippines, it took about three weeks by ship to get to the closest part of Europe, and days more by train to cross the continent. So you can imagine what it took to file a story.

Modern journalism owes a great deal to Edward R. Murrow, who defined news as most of us knew in in the era before the Internet. “Murrow’s Boys” as his reporters, recruits and proteges were called, became known all over the world for their fearlessness in getting the story for CBS Radio Network before the advent of television. Their main contributions appeared on CBS World News Roundup, which Murrow and William L. Shirer started in 1938. So intrepid was their leader that Murrow broadcasted the London bombing live from a rooftop there, unmindful of the hail of bombs falling around him as everyone is safely in basements, bunkers and bomb shelters.

Television changed some things, and spurred the explosion of sports coverage. Sports became the training ground for hard news reporting, writing and production. Roone Arledge and ABC’s Wide World of Sports applied the cliffhanger style of the old movie serials to sports event coverage, making heroes out of the cantankerous Howard Cosell and the telegenic Muhammad Ali. In the 1980’s the trio of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan catapulted the NBA from delayed telecast limbo to primetime. In the Philippines, the success of the EDSA Revolt precipitated an explosion of newspapers and new media outlets. By the late 1980’s, there were over 30 broadsheets and tabloids in Metro Manila alone.

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The Worldwide Web and wireless technology started to make an impact from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics onward. The accelerated dissemination of information also emphasized the need for tighter fact-checking. The destruction of the career of security professional Richard Jewell because of the Centennial Park bombing shows how some mistakes cannot be fixed. Internet access became an indiscriminate tool for both truth and falsehood. The digital age made it so much easier to get word out. But the intent of that word still prevails in a world where being first became more important than being right.

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