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Global thinking

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - August 17, 2020 - 12:00am

The new old way of doing things has been easily embraced by journalists, out of the simple need to keep on functioning at the same level of efficiency as before. For a short while, we in the sports journalism and sports broadcasting industries wondered what our future would look like. We couldn’t go out to interview people, and our subjects – like us – were forced to isolate themselves from human contact. Initially, the first reflex was that this would make our jobs more difficult, since there were no games to watch, digest, analyze. We would have no contact with the athletes. A huge chunk of our duties was taken away. What would fill the void?

Then again, circumstances underscored that we were underutilizing some means of communication at our disposal. Instead of face to face communication, we replaced that with screen to screen communication. The only challenge would be the small fraction of sports personalities who avoid media interviews, or refuse to adapt to the technology. This writer recalls that in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, very few journalists even used the Internet. A few still used typewriters, while a sizable number relied on fax machines to send in stories. Now, everyone takes online communication for granted.

This was one of the reasons why this writer stopped contributing to NBA.com Philippines years ago. I felt somewhat hypocritical writing about a community that I wasn’t really part of. Unlike the editorial team, I did not have a regular stream of syndicated material from the league. I wasn’t physically present at the games. I did not know a huge majority of the players personally. Of course, in the intervening time, technology and social media have made everyone much more accessible across the board.

Sports journalism in the Philippines has spread into two interesting directions during the pandemic. The content vacuum was just so big, and was emphasized even more with the large captive market trapped at home. First, local sports media reached out to a great number of retired athletes, mostly pro basketball players. For a culture not known for valuing history, exploring the minutiae of anecdotes from bygone eras is a significant shift, which hopefully spills over into other areas.

The second trend is thinking more internationally. Media organizations as a whole have to balance their content between what is locally relevant and what is globally appealing. The film industry is a good example. Filipino productions are created for a Filipino audience. A far greater number of foreign films are created with a global audience in mind. Very few Filipino journalists regularly interview or feature international athletes. There are many reasons for this. Accessibility is one. Frankly, those elite athletes don’t really know Filipino sports media. Secondly, time differences add another challenge. Third, few sports really attract a wide Filipino audience. Fourth, what is relevant may already be available through international bees services. That’s why it was common to see a flood of local news about NBA players, mixed martial artists or boxers when there are press junkets or product launches in the country or overseas. Otherwise, there is no “Filipino connection.“

Now, however, the lack of content is encouraging journalists of different beats to contact international athletes of higher stature. After all, most of them are forced into isolation and/or inactivity. Also, deadlines have become more fluid as online media have an advantage over print and local broadcast media. The divide between print and broadcast media has been significantly narrowed since there is no live action to speak of. Previously, you could see beat writers taking notes on the sideline while broadcast reporters roamed around shooting highlights. Now, nobody can be on the sidelines. We’re all in the same boat, leaning heavily on file material for our visuals. Now we need to be creative.

Among those who have no barriers regarding subjects are certain fandoms. Film and comic book fan platforms routinely interviews, writers, artists and other content creators. The topics and questions are generally universal. Fictional characters are often more interesting and intriguing than real people. Fans also have deep knowledge about the people they interview. And they don’t need to be objective. Perhaps there’s something there. There may be a new balance between being a geek and a journalist. We can still turn the passion up a notch.

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After Saturday’s column, WBO Asia featherweight champion Mark “Magnifico” Magsayo clarified that he bears no ill will or animosity towards anyone, least of all towards people who have helped him in one way or another. This goes for his past promoters, managers and business associates. Despite his frustrations over the past two years, he has chosen to be grateful for everything that has transpired, and to look forward to the blessings to come, particularly training for his next fight in September.

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