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OK ... the written word needs to generate more respect these days

The death of the written word is happening a lot like tooth decay: a little worse every day, so as not to be seen, except for the day reality finally reveals itself.

The death of the written word.

I’ve seen it in the past few days. I’ve read about it, too.

I begin firsthand: Championship sporting events, by nature, beget interest beyond normal rhythms. Such was the case earlier this week at Mohegan Sun during the WNBA Finals, an event that attracted more media than ever for Sun games. I know that because I’ve been covering Sun games since the inception here 16 years ago.

I’m also used to the patterns of championship events. They become warehouses for frauds, phonies and attention-seekers who must need to justify their own existences by looking important and trying to be seen. Mohegan Sun was awash in them from Sunday through Tuesday.

And they were all carrying video equipment. Not notepads. There were thousands of them. I’m not even sure what outlets they represented. But they trailed players and coaches with all their equipment like the blanket did Linus, all for two things:

Image and images.

Images and images.

Image and images.

Look at me: I’m important. I’m recording. No words necessary. Just an image. This is the new journalism. All the depth of a roadside puddle. But there — right there hanging around their neck — is the same credential I’m wearing. They must be doing the same job. Must say this: They’re well versed in clogging walkways and locker rooms.

Image and images.

Words? They’re so yesterday.

I mean, word communication now comes through texting, at least for people too busy to speak. Even texting has its abbreviations because let’s face it: even letters are too cumbersome. We can’t even text “OK” anymore. It’s “K.” Because adding the “O” just isn’t OK, presumably.

The word people at Mohegan Sun this week? Shoe-horned behind the podium, not enough workstations for the writers, all while the postgame breakdown of the arena was happening around us. Writing a complete sentence is hard enough without the cheerful intervals of forklifts going to and fro, all while we wished for a bus terminal with Wi-Fi so we could work someplace quiet.

Meanwhile, the frauds and phonies carried on their post-work conversations around us because their work was done. Doesn’t take long to record and tweet.

The death of the written word hit the industry hard last week, too, with word that managers told staff members at Sports Illustrated — the sporting bible — that about half the newsroom would be laid off, according to several published reports.

NPR obtained a petition signed by approximately three-quarters of Sports Illustrated's journalists asking its new owners not to deliver control of the publication to a digital publisher named TheMaven network.

It read: "TheMaven wants to replace top journalists in the industry with a network of Maven freelancers and bloggers, while reducing or eliminating departments that have ensured that the stories we publish and produce meet the highest standards.

“These plans significantly undermine our journalistic integrity, damage the reputation of this long-standing brand and negatively (affect) the economic stability of the publication.”

Let’s pause to consider: The Maven — whatever that is — will replace staff with freelancers and bloggers.

The idea that some contemptible, cost-cutting, cretins would replace Steve Rushin, Gary Smith, S.L. Price and Dan Jenkins with some 22-year-old freelancer is a mortal sin. An insult to all of us who respect words, who do words, who try to honor the words of clergyman Yehuda Berg:

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity,” Berg wrote. “We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

How sad, indeed, that words are becoming afterthoughts. They no longer count. That’s why we arm all the frauds and phonies with video equipment. No, not the real electronic journalists who are there to tell stories and do earnest work. The people who think tweeting an image is somehow akin to the way Steve Rushin turns a phrase.

I have a friend to likes to send me occasional “columns” to see if I might use any of the ideas in print. I have. Some are quite insightful. Know what I appreciate the most? That my friend reveres words enough to sit and think and write. It sustains me. Someone actually respects what I do. And tries to emulate it. It’s the highest form of flattery.

Please say a prayer for the written word.

Or at least start texting the “O” in “OK.”

It’s a start, anyway.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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