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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Comparing Sports Illustrated to The Sporting News

When I was a kid, baseball was so big and The Sporting News was so baseball focused that it was automatic for me to subscribe. The publication came out weekly, published the box score of every game, and newspaper writers who covered baseball teams for a living also wrote a weekly piece on their team. If you were a baseball fan, you got this publication.

I graduated, so to speak, to Sports Illustrated as I grew older, perhaps for a few reasons. First, I didn't have the time to follow baseball as closely as The Sporting News offered, and the advent of USA Today enabled me to get enough news on non-local baseball teams without my having to subscribe to TSN. Second, I liked the writing in SI better. TSN was straight reporting, whereas at times SI waxed lyrical and gave more features-oriented, moving portraits of the subjects they covered. Third, SI covered a wider variety of sports, and I believed that I was frequently guaranteed to learn something outside my comfort zone. I couldn't say the same for TSN.

Fast forward to today, and I subscribe to both publications. What I said about SI's writing to a degree holds true, although the publication is thinner than ever and you don't get much day-in, day-out news out of the publication. In fact, the comfort zone of SI is much more narrow, so the articles about fertile fishing grounds are relics of the past. You might, for example, learn more about a high-school basketball program that you didn't know and that SI thinks is setting a (wrong) trend, but the days of going beyond the majors and NASCAR seem to be behind them.

TSN has undergone quite the transformation and is far superior in terms of giving you behind-the-scenes, day-in, day-out news about your favorite sports. The recent issue, for example, puts forth a great effort on the life of, and draft-day activities of, then-Missouri and now Philadelphia Eagles' wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. It's an article worthy of SI, only it appears in TSN, as do various analyses of NFL team's drafts, the needs of BCS football programs and feature articles on Danica Patrick and Gary Bettman (neither of which I read because I'm not into Indy car racing or the NHL). In contrast, SI's "Inside" features -- which they recently put in the beginning pages of the magazine -- continue to fail. They're small snippets about the major sports, incomplete thoughts, and not all that informative. SI should stop trying to be what it's not in the magazine -- which is TSN -- and focus on what it does best -- which is outstanding writing (it can always put the other stuff on its website, which it does). So. . .

I was pleasantly surprised with the breadth and depth of TSN. It's also far cheaper (about 15 bucks a year, a fraction of SI's cost) and easier to share with a young sports fan, who will grasp the more simplistic framework of the magazine and be able to learn much about his/her favorite sports without having to read a 2,000 word essay. That said, if you're still looking for some of the best sportswriting on the planet, you should continue to get SI.

Right now I'm a new born-again convert to TSN, so I will not suggest any changes, while I have subscribed to SI for decades. I would suggest to SI that it go back almost to its strict essay format and not only cover the major sports, but also give us insights into international soccer and the passions of people about their sports from around the globe. In that regard, SI has lost its edge a bit and should fight to regain it.

Both are good publications, so enjoy!


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Blogger Rosemary said...

We still prefer The Sporting News over Sports Illustrated. Aside from the price, the reviews are more unbiased and trustworthy.

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