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Opinion: It takes more than desire to write well

Everyone should have one or more hobbies.

Mine are gardening and music. I once liked to watch baseball games on TV before billboards started popping up behind home plate with every windup – it gives new meaning to the term “pitch.”

Another hobby is keeping a list of great writing. When I read something that shows a real talent – a turn of phrase, a clever literary device – I make note of it.

It’s my own list, and no one has to agree with it. I am not on the list.

I could tell you that the most glamorous literary paragraph written over the past century is on Page 82 of “Babbitt,” by Sinclair Lewis, or that Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” is the most impactful book written over the same period.

The saddest lament – among the many great ones written – comes from Mingo war chief James Logan, whose entire family was killed in the 1774 Yellow Creek Massacre, and mourned, “There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature.”

While few among us could match this level of virtuosity, it still saddens me that few people try. Websites and even newspapers are awash in sloppy writing.

The noted poetry critic John Ciardi once opined that everyone is a poet. Your thoughts, your inspirations are as profound as anyone’s.

The difference between the average clod like me and, say, Lord Byron is that the bard had the skill to translate his thoughts onto paper. That takes work, Ciardi said… “more than the excitation of one’s own ignorance.”

What I’m talking about here are writers who, bless their hearts, are serious about making a point without sharpening their pencils.

I can spell reasonably well. And, I have a better-than-average understanding of grammar and punctuation.

That’s a low bar for a writer.

Unless you’re Virginia Wolf or William Faulkner, most sentences should have a subject and a predicate. Nothing fancy, just a noun and a verb.

“Jesus wept.”

See? Easy.

I don’t want to single anyone out for special treatment here, but I find today’s online sportswriters the most profligate with the written word and most corrupt at journalism in general.

I’ve been privileged to have worked in the same newsroom with some of the best sports writers in the country – Furman Bisher, Jack Wilkinson, Steve Hummer, to name a few. Their writing had power and prose. It always looked easy, but I know it wasn’t.

My complaint is more with those behind sports news websites.

Here are some observations about this new crop of sportswriters cluttering these sites:

• Every sports story must include the word “arguably.”

• Most sports websites do not report sports. They report what a sports figure says about something, usually some trash talk. Most times, the story has been stolen from a post-game interview conducted by a legitimate sports reporter.

• Some sites employ the “double steal,” the practice of republishing remarks from Twitter about remarks stolen from the post-game interview.

• Most online sports writers love cliches like “trashes,” “destroys” and “gets schooled.”

More astounding still is the number of online sports sites that enlist a team of high school interns to comb social media sites to rehash what has already been reported by legitimate news services.

Back in the old days, we used to call this plagiarism. It was looked down upon.

Years ago, I worked for a small daily newspaper in the Midwest. We had some 10 reporters and four photographers.

The paper didn’t make a lot of money, so our work was important to us. We were proud of covering local and regional news for our subscribers.

Every day, the news director of a local radio station spent his noon broadcast reading our stories verbatim over the airwaves. We asked him repeatedly to stop doing it, maybe preserve the crease in his pants and go do his own reporting. He seldom did.

He was lazy.

It seems to be catching.