(CSTB’s original mascot / copy editor Jack, contemplating the death of traditional media while between classes at St. Edward’s)

I’m crying over here, seriously! As mentioned over the weekend, former Sun-Times columnist / “Around The Horn” beacon of joy Jay Mariotti has jumped on the AOL Fanhouse bandwagon, and not surprisingly, much of his debut column buries his old place of employment, if not an entire medium.  “I’m thrilled to flee the darker corners of the newspaper business, which was reminding me of Marley the dog in his final days,” sneers Mariotti, “just because papers are dying doesn’t mean writers will die with them.”

A week into the Olympics, I was inside The Water Cube That Phelps Built when a voice-mail popped in. It was from the sports editor of the ailing Chicago Sun-Times, asking me to accommodate the newspaper’s Paleozoic-era deadlines by doing something the readers wouldn’t appreciate. He wanted me to write one column that had Michael Phelps winning that day’s race and another column that had him losing. Both would be filed long before the event, which, in some quarters, would be considered an editorial directive to cook up fiction.

I would insert blanks for the finishing times, which a copy editor would fill in, and the bulk would be a lot of jibber-jabber that worked regardless of the result. The editors would decide which column ran based on the outcome. In other words, processed lunch meat for your 50 cents — and it wasn’t the first time. I usually just dealt with these hideous requests. This time, I balked.
“It’s not fair to the readers. They’re getting stale filler when we have time to give them live substance,” I said. What if something dramatic happened that couldn’t be conveyed in the prepackaged pap? What if Phelps had to out-touch a Serbian rival at the wall? What if a teammate bailed him out on a relay? What if his Speedo LZR Racer suit fell off? Didn’t readers need DETAILS in their morning paper, having seen the race? And wasn’t Phelps becoming, um, an American icon, watched by tens of millions each night? If the deadline was 10 p.m. in Chicago and the race would end shortly thereafter, couldn’t we push it a few extra minutes? Why give up?

Naturally, Jay looked across the room and marveled at the efficiency of “staff writers from a leading sports website”, this epiphany in Beijing supposedly being the catalyst that led to his resignation from the Sun-Times.  Of course, Mariotti would like us to rest assured that he’s “never bought into this ‘mainstream media vs. bloggers’ blood war”.

The best young writers provide compelling takes on sports. The losers wake up each day and attack (choose your ESPN target), an approach that can’t attract much audience beyond a few neurotic souls in sports media. Now hear this: I’m a bit too busy to hate bloggers or, really, anyone but terrorists and certain Illinois politicians. I just think they should be writing about Steve Smith, not Stephen A. Smith.

Presumably, the losers shouldn’t be writing about Jay Mariotti, either.  What sort of salaries does the Fanhouse’s new superstar acquisition believe journalists and TV sports personalites would earn if no one bothered to pay attention to their work?