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Footnote, Bob Ryan and News' Need for Speed

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I saw a great foreign film out of Israel called Footnote that's been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at next weekend's Academy Awards. The movie, which has already won other awards overseas, was screened at Yeshiva University's Ring Family Film Festival, and included a talkback with director Joseph Cedar. It centers on a father and son, both renowned Talmud scholars, and how despite their common interests they have two completely different approaches to research, analysis and thought of their beloved texts. A generational rift shows during every interaction.

The film raises many intriguing questions, including how we assess value on people's work and careers, and just how much should recognition be tied to presentation and production. Although the son gets recognized and published frequently, his father continues to labor in the library investigating old works with his well-trained eye. The greatest milestone in the older man's career came early on in the form of a footnote in his own teacher's life's work.

As I watched the film, I thought about the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan, who announced a few days ago that he'll be retiring after this summer's Olympics. His announcement drew some attention. Ryan said:

"I really and truly believe that my time has come and gone, that the dynamics of the business -- of what it means to be involved in the sports business with all of the tweeting and the blogging, an audience with a different taste -- it's not me anymore."

The landscape has definitely shifted in sportswriting, and probably in newsgathering overall. As some writers have adjusted to the new rules, requirements and technology, others have either resisted the evolution or have struggled to keep up with the pace. What's clear, though, is the era of the beat reporter as the man or woman on the inside of an organization as the eyes and ears for local fans is over. Journalists like Ryan were once a trusted source to cover a city's teams -- they told you what you needed to know in the morning paper. But as everything has gotten faster around us, these reporters unfortunately have become increasingly less important.

Columnist Philip Bump captured that sentiment in an editorial in The Daily this week when he wrote, "The problem with blogs isn't only that what they present can be content-light -- it's that people often need less context than we think. People are comfortable with quick bites of news at the expense of journalism: quick to load, quick to read. People understand how to curate and seek out more information. News doesn't always need or have time for long explanations."

Just look at the different tones on ESPN's weekly Sports Reporters and daily Around The Horn, two shows where Ryan is a regular. Rather than having a couple days to consider all the angles on an event or a controversy, reporters are forced to react more quickly to the news and to spit out what it all means. And when the coverage of breaking news fails to meet expectations, we sound off. We want them to do it faster, but also better.

People now want information and analysis shared right away. Ryan's notebooks from 44 years of reporting are surely filled with odds and ends that didn't make the cut. Today, that's valuable raw material that editors would advise the writer to include in short posts on the newspaper's site. We get news in spurts these days. For veterans like Ryan, that's not the kind of reporting they hope to do. In that way, they are more a delivery person than someone whose news judgment is held in high regard.

Ryan's comments about Twitter and blogs weren't intended to denigrate anyone or any progress we've made. It was instead, I believe, an acknowledgment that a byline used to mean more than a footnote on someone's story.

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