Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Legacy and Future of Sports Illustrated

The Ringer – "“Who Can Explain the Athletic Heart?”"

"But by the late ’90s, spooked by ESPN’s ascendancy, the editors at SI seemed to lose faith in their own formula. News stories in the front became less newsy, more focused on personalities. In short, they became more like feature stories. The magazine’s justification for this change, then and ever since, has been that the sports media landscape was changing, and that SI needed to be more “forward-looking.” As one editor explained it to me at the time, “When people get their issues in the mail now, they already know the score, they’ve already seen the highlights. We need to tell them what’s going to happen next.”

It all sounds very rational, except it overlooks one salient truth: Sports Illustrated readers have always known the score by the time their issue arrives. From the very first issue, dated Aug. 16, 1954, SI’s readers knew all about the result of the magazine’s first lead story, that Dr. Roger Bannister had defeated John Landy in the “Mile of the Century” at the Commonwealth Games, in the first race between two sub-four-minute milers.

SI’s news stories were never about telling you who won, it was about telling you why and how they won, the subtle differences that separated one world-class athlete or team from another, and the endless ways that people revealed their character through competition. Furthermore, what the magazine learned, again and again in the coming decades, was that a sports event being televised only increased interest in those stories. The more people saw of a sport, the more they wanted to read about it. And SI was there, to provide the best story, the deepest understanding, the telling picture, the last word. "

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