Life on Mars: Woody Paige at His Best/Worst

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Even if you enjoy watching him on ESPN, where he is quite probably yelling something silly and strident in a mule-bark of a voice as I type this, Woody Paige doesn't really matter to you. That doesn't necessarily say anything essential about The Decline of the Daily Newspaper Columnist—or even about the bellowing goofmaster named Woody Paige, who is a Daily Newspaper Columnist for the Denver Post when he is not mule-barking on "Around The Horn"—so much as it is just a reflection of the way things work. It's not really in Paige's job description to matter in that way, and it's not really his fault that he so manifestly doesn't.

Before he's a sports columnist, Paige is, in no particular order: a doofus; a somewhat dubious brand ambassador for his newspaper; a high-energy voice/face package working for a network whose programming increasingly runs on the carbon dioxide produced by people like that; and a next-generation windbag dedicated to his own loud art, which is generally acting like an old WWF manager in the Bobby Heenan mold about whatever quick-burn sports issue is trending at the moment. He will cut you a promo about how Jim Tracy (or whoever, he doesn't really follow baseball) uses his bullpen, then cut another saying the opposite the next day. This doesn't leave much time for writing columns. Which is presumably fine, because it really can't take all that long to write something like what Paige wrote about Denver's victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

Paige's column went up at about 9:30 Mountain Time, which is roughly four hours after the game ended. There are some quotes, I guess, but there's a noticeably larger number of unmotivated carriage returns—20 one-sentence paragraphs in all—and while it is all honestly pretty terrible, it's also more or less what you'd expect. Not just from Clownish Guy With The Loud Voice From The TeeVee, but in general from a genre that forces ridiculous deadlines on middle-aged dudes who have transparently not cared all that much about what they're covering for years/generations. And, of course, it could be worse. Thanks to a bizarrely uncorrected column of Paige's at the Denver Post, we know just how much worse it could be.

That column came online last week around when Paige's most recent column went up this week. And it went up, and this is maybe underselling it, as a warm, gooey tollhouse-style mess that was simultaneously on fire. That is, there were grammatical and typographical errors a go go—"Tim Tebow playedas awful as he did last week," among many other instances. That is, too, mysterious punchdrunk/drunk-drunk rough-draftisms all over the freaking place—"It wasn't a game for the aged or the children. It wasn't even a game of Yahtzee. It was a game of Not-see." That is also tons of straight-from-the-notes burp-ups—"Then the Broncos lost starting right tackle, who left on a cart with a splint on his leg. Then the Broncos lost fullback Spencer, who landed on his head after a reception from Tebow, and injured his knee. Then, the Broncos _ specifically _ were booed when they couldn't get a touchdown or even a field goal late in the half." It was, in short, a look inside the actual writing skill of a famous person who makes Pooh Jeter money to write about sports, and it revealed those skills as being sub-Bleacher Reportian in their amateurishness.

Moon boots and Bradley Cooper. Perfect.

Because he catches things like this, friend of the program Mobute put a link to the column out there, and I did my clumsy best to screengrab (peep game above) and archive and do other stuff like that to ensure that, when the column was corrected, it would not disappear entirely.

Instead, it would stand as a testament, a totem, a reminder that while systems and paradigms force obsolescence upon unlucky people and their professions, others giddily call that obsolescence upon themselves, loudly and while using words incorrectly. Or something like that: I mostly thought it was funny and wanted to save it. The problem, though, is that the piece was not, and as of now still has not been, corrected. It's still up there on the Post's site, over a week later, exactly as it was when it went up. Whether this is Paige's editors trolling him or everyone involved trolling everyone else who knows that "fullback Spencer" has a last name (it's Larsen, and it's right there on the freaking depth chart) I can't say. There isn't an answer that wouldn't bum me out at least a little.

The good news is that Woody Paige is not necessarily a belwether of anything in particular. He's a well-compensated guy with a good heart—he was honest and brave in discussing his own struggle with depression after Broncos receiver Kenny McKinley took his life in 2010, for instance—doing a job that no one much gives a shit about in a manner that suggests he's more or less with the majority in their assessment of its/his relevance. He's not that great at writing about sports, but he will make more money writing and yelling about sports (while not really following sports all that closely) this year than most anyone you know will earn doing anything s/he does. I'm not sure I can quite doff my cap to that, but it's a thing to consider. And assuming that Woody got his cushy gig by having busted his ass and impressed someone as a reporter for years—and most any awful columnist you can think of was once a good reporter, including Rick Reilly; I haven't ever heard anyone say anything good about Bill Plaschke, but he has won a bunch of awards and some exceptions prove rules—I suppose it could be argued that Paige has earned his invisible, mile-long leash.

The other, and actively better, bit of good news is that there are still daily newspaper columnists whose words are worth reading, and who seem to apply their spines and hearts to what they write, I can't say that I'd know much about, say, Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal if I didn't do the Daily Fix blog-column for that publication, but Jason Gay is a really good writer with a consistently intelligent, funny and in-perspective approach. The same can be said of a bunch of columnists at the Washington Post and Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star and a number of others. A good number of the best newspaper columnists of 2009 are now writing (well) for websites or magazines, which reflects a number of queasily familiar trends and also the fact that columnists are expensive and newspapers can be very cheap.

None of those writers will be on "Around the Horn," and we can only hope they're cool with that. Similarly, we can only presume that Woody Paige does not want to be any of those guys. They will all earn a lot less than he does this year, for one thing, and none of them would or could file something containing the words "a game of Not-See." While no one would turn down Woody P's paycheck, it seems safe to say, too, that those writers wouldn't really want to be him. I can see how he might try a little harder to write a little better, but in a sense I'm glad there's one Woody Paige: I'm not really into what he does, but I can see how people might be. I'm a little worried about the next one(s), though—someone is aspiring to be or do what Paige is/does, and it'd be good to see all parties involved aim a little higher.

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This point can be extended to connect to the current rise of new writers, almost to the point where one can imagine Brian Phillips crumbling up a Skip Bayless column and muttering, 'Shit, I can do better than this' over his Capri Sun in the elementary school lunchroom.

The weird part for me, as someone who wanted to be a writer from middle school or so on, is that guys like Woody Paige and Skip aren't really even writers. Woody still extrudes one of these every now and then, but I don't even think Skip writes anywhere anymore. I don't know if The Younger Generation grows up wanting to be like these dudes -- I kind of can't imagine anyone wanting to be Skip, but it's a big world -- or what, but the career itself just seems so confounding and beyond accountability. There's no real pressure I can think of, beyond professional pride, that would make Woody try to be better; I assume an undermine-y tribute from me doesn't count. All the incentives seem to run the wrong way.