Figure Skating: From the Boards

Half empty or half full? February 23, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tara Wellman @ 8:52 pm

I’m the kind of girl who has a tendency to see life, as they say, through rose-colored glasses. Yes, some people call that being naive. But if being a Negative Nancy is the only other option, I’ll take naive any day.

“Where are you going with this?” you ask? Well…as my grandpa used to say, buckle up…this could get a little bumpy.

I’ve been a skating fan long enough now to know that skating fans are some of the most intense in all of sports. I’ve also been around skating fans, thanks to fan forums, twitter, and now this blog, long enough to realize that skating fans are also some of the toughest critics, never afraid to comment about something (…or someone) they don’t particularly like. They’re also, however, quick to defend their own when the sport or its athletes come under attack by outsiders. Skating fans are nothing, if not fiercely loyal.

I’m also quite familiar with the world of writers — journalists — and the constant drive to stumble, not-so-accidentally, upon a new story…or at the very least, a new angle. A writer, you see, is nothing, without “perspective.”

Writers are also quite loyal — to each other. It’s kind of an unofficial society, the bond writers have. We stick up for one another, encourage one another. But, like skating fans, we can be critical, too.

I’ve heard a lot of people recently talk about how there’s simply too much negativity flying around in the world. Unfortunately, a good majority of that comes from what is written for people to see, latch on to, and spread. It’s far easier to be critical than to be thoughtful. And it’s much easer to pitch a story when it has…an edge. But it seems to me that we sometimes swing that pendulum just too far, feeling like by being critical — negative, even — we are somehow more skilled, more articulate. Somehow, seeing the glass as half empty in and of itself makes a better writer.

It’s “perspective,” we say. It’s “reality,” we argue. Or, my personal favorite, “I’m just sayin’…”.

So, in the spirit of “keeping it real,” how about a dose of honesty — too many times we just want to create a buzz. And let’s face it, we really are unnecessarily negative.

This skating season, I took the plunge into the blogosphere and I brought my “glass half full” world view with me. I was not really shocked to find many fellow bloggers who were right there with me. Nor was I shocked, though, to see a continuation of the negativity that flows naturally through mainstream media in the skating press. What did shock me, though, was the fierceness of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the necessity to remain unbiased, and the desire to provide accurate, compelling information. Really, I do. But providing a critical perspective, or realistic expectations of a skater, a country, or an event should never (yes, in my opinion) take precedence over the real story.

Never should two young athletes in the midst of celebrating the biggest moment of their career be torn down by writers complaining about the lack of strength in the US World Team.

Never should one nation’s successes be minimized because they fall short of our own dreams.

Never should a writer refuse to acknowledge a skater’s dramatic improvements in their best season ever and instead continue to beat the dead horse of “Yeah, but..” and “Old vs. New.”

And in all “reality,” never should a bystander devalue a world-class athlete because they’re simply not Michelle Kwan.

So where do we draw the line between “putting things in perspective” and covering them in “fluff?”

Rise — a film recounting the impact the 1961 World Team — just recently premiered, and the responses about the documentary had one resounding theme — cheesy or not, naive or informed, things just work better when we’re all in it together.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t make negative the perspective on that.

I’m a relative newbie in the world of writing, especially compared to those respected and followed, tried and true, “hardcore” journalists who cover skating. So I’d like to look up to them and fashion my own career after theirs. But thanks to the writing I’ve seen from some of those top writers this season, I’m more determined than ever to be part of a new wave in writing — one that focuses more on the size, strength and symmetry of the wave, and less on the severity of the crash.

I’m not suggesting, by any means, that we overindulge in gushy, feel good writing. When there’s something corrupt, or something unfair, or something disappointing, we, as writers, are, in fact, obligated to cover it with truth and accuracy. Sometimes that demands a harsh word or a willingness to call someone out. But let’s not get overzealous in our desire to create a stir.

Like I said, let’s make the writing be about the story itself, not about the gloomy angle we can attach to it.

*steps off soapbox and returns to regular programming*




5 Responses to “Half empty or half full?”

  1. ask8ingstudent Says:

    Well said, and great points!

  2. Mai P. Says:

    Wow, what a great post.

    I’m getting frustrated by this negativity myself. I feel a lot of is masked behind the “I’m just telling the truth.” veil of justification. No, actually you’re not. You can tell the truth with being negative.

    There’s a difference between saying, Ross Miner had low rankings during the GP season then this:

    Actually, I feel like this reporter from Boston Globe actually did a good job capturing Ross Miner’s story:

    We learn 1.) His effort at GP was not the best he could do. 2.) He reworked his entire training routine. This quote was telling to me:

    “I can be OK and mess around in the middle or I can take it seriously. Unfortunately, sometimes I need to get kicked in the ass before I realize that a change is necessary. When I sat down with Mark and Peter after the Grand Prixes, it was a pretty rough conversation. It was hard to say I wasn’t happy with myself and with how I used my opportunities. It was hard to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to change.’ ’

    This is pretty honest. No PC bs that some skaters like to give. This is why he’s going to Worlds and others are staying home.

    • Thanks! That’s a great article, actually! Like I was saying, it’s about the story itself, not the drama of why unproven skaters heading to Worlds are the end fo the world for US men’s skating. That was my whole point. And this writer did it very well. 🙂

      • Mai P. Says:

        I realized I never finished my statement above. There’s a difference of saying “Ross Miner ranked on the bottom half at both his GP events” and saying “Ross Miner ranked poorly at GP events and Jeremy Abbott scored better than him during the GP, hence Miner will do worse than Abbott at Worlds.”

        It probably would been more appropriate to do what Phil Hersh did: “The other two members of the team for Tokyo, world meet rookies Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner, could surprise if a) each feels as little pressure as he did as a podium longshot at nationals; and b) each skates an error-free program as he did at nationals.”

        I understand that journalists can use deductive reasoning (as Hersh did) to determine truthful conclusion, but it was applied poorly in other cases.

      • I agree. I think that, more than anything, my whole problem is with the tone some writers take. To say the US men likely won’t medal at Worlds is fine. It’s honesty, it’s more realistic, and it can be proven by stating the other men/scores that should place higher. But to do that with such pessimism that reflects poorly on the skating world (Comments such as, “Well, just like always, the US team is a failure. Can’t believe people are actually excited for these sub-par skaters, when we all know what’s really going to happen in Tokyo.”) I just don’t understand how that makes a better writer or a better story. :-/

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