Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kornheiser Takes Washington Post Buy-Out

Tony Kornheiser ends his newspaper career at the Washington Post: Tony Kornheiser hadn't been a particularly active "newspaperman" for years -- perhaps not since he became a better radio guy than newspaper guy, then an even better TV guy (on PTI) than radio guy.

Kornheiser was one of the original "cross-platform" talents, even though he probably doesn't see himself (or want to see himself) that way. Ironically, when you say "cross-platform," you almost always mean "online" as part of that "platform" group; TK was NOT an online guy.

Ironically, if he had started his career two decades later than he did, TK would have been an incredibly online guy -- his schtick always struck me as being ideal for a blogger (although I think he would quickly find that blogging is a lot more work than he thinks it is).

I grew up on Tony Kornheiser. I grew up on the Washington Post sports section as a whole -- and from the mid-80s to the mid-90s it was, by far, the best sports section in the country, and if you look at the alumni list, you'd agree with me.

But when I was a kid and young adult, TK was my favorite. I knew I wanted to be in journalism -- sports, hopefully -- and TK seemed to have the best job in the world.

I'm quite sure that some of my shallow, from-the-couch analysis in the Quickie days (and now with the blog) was inspired by Kornheiser. And I say that with all the respect in the world, because -- as I think we've found -- "shallow" and "from-the-couch" has emerged as the dominant form of sports punditry.

I think that it's not unfair or inaccurate to say that TK's column-writing quality (along with Wilbon's) declined as their TV jobs got bigger; it's simple math: If you're spending your entire professional life on writing a fabulous 800-word column, you will do a better job than when you are spending most of your professional life on creating a fabulous TV show (or, even on top of that, a great radio show).

Something has to take a hit, and when they looked at their lives, both Kornheiser and Wilbon decided that TV (and, to a lesser extent, radio) were more important than their newspaper careers, the newspaper audience or the newspaper industry, in general. And I don't blame them one bit: TV offered more reach, more influence, more fame -- and god knows a LOT more money.

But that's also why I can't get behind Tony hoping his headstone reads "newspaper guy." I know Wilbon also says something similar. I appreciate the sentiment, but it rings hollow. Twenty years ago, I'm sure both guys would have earned that title -- but 20 years ago, I'm not sure either saw the glory and cash from TV coming either.

In a way, Kornheiser taking the Post's buy-out is a perfect symbol of the state of the newspaper industry: Eclipsed by other forms of media, both for talent acquisition and relevance to audiences. You can't take the buy-out and go back to the TV and radio studio (not to mention "Monday Night Football") as the foundation of the newspaper industry -- including the Post -- is imploding, then claim "newspaper guy" status.

(I will add that I'm sure Tony will still earn oodles of cash from the Post to do "contract" work, which means quick-hit video clips and perhaps 200-word "columnettes," which seems like a nice deal for him, if you add in the presumptive cash from the buy-out. What is weird is that the Post probably has the best online sports section of any newspaper in the country, led by Dan Steinberg and their beat writers, who have transformed themselves into pretty good part-time bloggers.)

Here's a personal lament: My son won't have an experience with a columnist like I had with Tony Kornheiser when I was growing up. Oh, sure, I'm hoping he will find pundits he enjoys, but I will tell him stories about reading TK at the breakfast table before school and loving his schtick, and my son will have a complete inability to relate.

Kornheiser's life as a "newspaper guy" ended almost a decade ago when PTI launched -- if not before that, when he got his national radio show. Heck, a lot of people don't know he left the newspaper sports section for a while to write newspaper "lifestyle" columns geared towards parenthood, Seinfeldian "what's-the-deal-with..." and other non-sports issues, before coming back to the sports section.

But here's the thing: I don't think that Kornheiser's headstone should say "newspaper guy," but -- if it is any consolation to him (and I doubt it is) -- that is how I personally will remember his career.

-- D.S.


Erotic Tangerines said...

This leaves a perfect opening for the triumphant return of Christmas Ape to the Post.

Charlie Zegers said...

How disappointing that the most notable newspaper columnist I was exposed to as a kid was Mike Lupica.

Anonymous said...

I was very late to read, listen to, or watch TK. I moved to the DC area and started listening to his radio show on 980AM. I was an avid Howard Stern listener but started choosing TK over Stern during my drives to work.

I cannot cite passages from his writings in the Post, and I can not call up memories of him on the radio from years and years ago. What I can say is that he is a guy I would love to sit at a table and have a meal with. I think he is funny and amusing. The TV gig may have changed who he appeared to be, or what he focused on, but I cannot imagine it changed who he is at the core. I unapologetically admit I am a huge fan of his and Tivo every PTI so that I can get that insight and entertainment from TK and Wilbon.

Pembrokers said...

Talent finds an audience. Kornheiser has an audience, whether it is the Post, TV or Radio. Kornheiser has an audience because he is good.

I still read the paper everyday. I have columnists I like and columnists I don't in the paper I read. They all have a bias, just like bloggers I read have a bias. (stop hatin' on my Pats). At the end of the day, an educated reader knows how to interpret what they read and evaluate the writer. Doesn't matter if it is a blogger or a newspaper guy so to speak.

You also miss the point in terms of your son finding a "columnist". In reality the "media" has not changed at all. It is the written word. Who cares if it is on the paper in my driveway or on my computer screen.

Who cares if you are a blogger or a newspaper guy. If you entertain, you will find an audience regardless of the media by which it is delivered.