Get sports writers in a bar together for more than one beer and the conversation is bound to go in two directions.
First, said sports writers will engage in a delightful game of one-upping, sharing bizarre yarn after yarn about the crazies who read their outlet. "Did you hear about the one time cat lady handwritten letter to the editor in tongues."
This game is tried and true. Everyone wins. Buy me a beer sometime and you can too.
But by the second round or so, the sports writer wheel of whimsy takes a darker turn. What started as good-willed gossip spirals into full-out bellyaching about the downward turn our profession has taken. Our office computers are old, which is great when they even turn on. The camera equipment works only on Wednesdays. Budget. Internet. Hours. Corporate policy. Twitter. Yada yada. Statler and Waldorf would fit right in.
This part of the ritual has always confused me.
I've always thought it was obvious why journalism continues to decline - we aren't very good.
Or rather, we CAN be good. We are SOMETIMES striking. We are OCCASIONALLY even wonderful.
But often, when faced with the chance to be progressive, when gifted an opportunity to be bold, given an option to change something, we take the easy way out.
There is an inefficiency, almost pervasively, that runs through the industry.
Nowhere is this more obvious than the day after the NFL Draft concludes.
Go to Google, start typing "NFL Draft" and the second option that comes up is "Grades."
NFL Draft Grades. They are as ubiquitous with the NFL silly season as Roger Goodell's laughably hypocritical push for an 18-game season.
Every major outlet runs at least one Grades column. Sports Illustrated, ESPN, CBS Sports, Yahoo - you name it.
And they make no freaking sense.
Grading a draft class the day after it finishes makes about as much sense as grading students on their back-to-school choice of outfits. It's superficial, occasionally hurtful and banana split whacko.
There is a consensus in football that you cannot begin to judge a draft class until at least three years in, and probably do not have a true measure of the draft until five years. Until you see rookies in pads hitting veteran NFL players, any guesses for how they will turn out is just shooting craps with million dollar checks.
Again, this is a CONSENSUS.
Yet nearly every major publication and a good deal of minor ones will insist on publishing arbitrary A, B, C and D (usually for the Raiders) draft grades. Heck, most of these articles will start with some sort of disclaimer acknowledging the lunacy of this process - and then go and do it anyway.
This hurts in two ways. First, there is a load of garbage to wade through when looking for actual draft analysis. Time may not be money for the average reader, but it is something that could be better spent on Clash of Clans or Candy Crush.
Worse though, this takes away nearly all talent and man-hours from actual, honest-to-goodness journalism. And there is a lot of good journalism that could be done immediately following the draft. Profiles of mid-round picks, scouting evaluations, trends, historical comparisons, etc It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to think up something that would be more interesting than NFL Draft Grades.
Even comparing a retroactive Draft Day column from the 2011 draft would be better.
As an isolated incident, this obviously isn't a big deal. In this vacuum, I realize the Waldorf wig probably rests on my head.
But this micro incident gets straight to the point of a macro issue. There is a distinct lack of leadership in the industry.
This is inefficient. We KNOW it is inefficient. Yet every year, without fail, NFL Draft grade columns are published. You can set your watch to it if cell phones hadn't rendered such technology irrelevant.
Much of this trite garbage is probably done under the protective guise of "page clicks" and subscription counts. But even a cursory glance at that argument can see holes the size of Mel Kiper's hair.
Quality will play. On the Internet, quality articles will bring in readers for longer. It won't be a quick scan down the grades, read the B-minus the Packers received, and move on.
And quality journalism will help save an industry clutching to a fading history, unable to keep up with the times.
Thanks to the football machine that drives America, the NFL Draft grows every year. I wish sports writing would grow with it.