Don’t rant, just write

One of our most notorious sportswriters is Jay Mariotti, formerly of the Chicago Sun-Times and currently of AOL Sports.

Mariotti epitomizes many of the problems in today’s journalistic world. He developed several notable public feuds with colleagues over the years, including such luminaries as Rick Telander and Roger Ebert. He never missed a chance to stir things up with coaches, players and owners on the Chicago sports scene, making himself an integral part of the very stories he was supposed to be covering objectively.

Many of his columns seem to have been written in a controversial way to try and stir up a reaction. He then transferred that sensationalistic approach into regular appearances on ESPN’s Around The Horn, a show focusing on having sportswriters yell at each other over meaningless topics and compete to see who can be the most outrageous.

Mariotti famously left the Sun-Times in the middle of the Beijing Olympics last summer and began firing off acerbic rants about the paper, his colleagues and the imminent death of the newspaper industry.

His departure pleased so many readers that the paper started running ads featuring former subscribers who returned after hearing of Mariotti’s exit. One Internet commentator described him as “the personification of petulance, pettiness, and preening self-regard rolled up in one little beady-eyed, gaseous cluster of mediocrity, with a lump of shit where his heart should have been.”

Despite all this, Mariotti managed to find high-paying work writing a column for AOL Sports and continues his regular appearances on Around The Horn. He continues not only to survive, but thrive.

In doing so, he sends a message to a generation of aspiring writers and broadcasters that the way to the top is to stab your colleagues in the back, pick public fights with sporting figures and exaggerate your opinions to draw a reaction.

Our society is largely based on the idea of trying to climb to the top, and the Mariotti method provides one way to get there. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Exaggerating your opinions and writing over-the-top rants will probably get you some attention but, to me at least, it’s not worth it in the end. The Mariotti world is painted only in black and white, but shades of grey are there for those who choose to explore them.

Delving into the subtleties doesn’t bring instant fame and notoriety, but it often produces better writing and informed stances you can feel good about.

Moreover, you don’t have to be the most famous columnist in the world to have an impact. I’d rather write something I’m proud of for a limited audience. To me, that’s better than making a Faustian bargain with writing techniques I despise to gain fame and fortune while bringing little to no insight to my readers.

There’s an old Squad Five-O lyric that sums this up perfectly: “I don’t want to change the world, I just want to change your mind.” There’s value in being true to yourself, even if it doesn’t take you to the top.

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