The ability to communicate while also evaluating the sport effectively and accurately.
What makes a successful sports journalist?
Being a self-aggrandizing blowhard that doesn't know their ass from their face.
Long time interweb compatriot CNE left a comment in my previous 30,000 word post regarding Mike Francesa's remarks about the late Darrent Williams. It raises the idea of how these journalists get in a position where they are the voices of sports discussion throughout the country, and why they are so terrible at it (note: not saying the FJM people are bad, simply the people they criticize).
Take Francesa. He is a sports historian of the highest order. Ask him about who was on the 1952 Yankees or the 1976 Steelers, and he can list off everyone down to the water boy. He knows when and where Bill Russell took a shit. However, he is simply unable to analyze these same players and teams with any consistent degree of success. He's not as bad as Jim Rome, who describes every winning team as being a bunch of determined, gritty, clutch guys who hustle and show a lot of heart, but Francesa often doesn't understand anything beyond basic evaluations of players, and believes in the sporting world's equivalents of old wives' tales.
For example, he insists Alex Rodriguez can't cut it in New York, completely ignoring the fact A-Rod won the MVP as a Yankee after the big collapse in the 2004 ALCS. Even though A-Rod hit 35 home runs and had a .392 OBP last season, Francesa criticized him for being unable to perform. This is not logic.
However, what place does logic have in the media? People don't want logic. They want hysteria, and hype, and controversy. It's why people watch Bill O'Reilly. His fans support his tripe so they tune in, and his detractors tune in so they have something else to complain about. He gets two sets of people tuning in, and he gets the ratings that the network loves.
People listen to Mike & The Mad Dog partly because they enjoy listening to the pair's historical knowledge, but mostly because they can call in and vent, either about the sports teams or about the crazy things the duo says. It's about ratings, not integrity, and those two guys have maintained high ratings for over 15 years.
Not all writers and on-air personalities are as irritating and nonsensical as Mike & The Mad Dog. WFAN's Joe Benigno, now joined with Evan Roberts (on air from 10-1) provides a more rational listening atmosphere, and WPEN's Jody MacDonald (on air from 3-7, but I can no longer find their streaming audio link) is always willing to listen to divergent viewpoints, unlike Mike & The Mad Dog, who will not allow anyone to get a word in edgewise and are notorious for arguing with athletes, GMs, coaches, reporters, et al over inconsequential matters. Jody Mac even indulges in sabermetric talk from time to time. I also enjoy reading Tom Verducci, who is perhaps Sports Illustrated's most respected and informed baseball writer.
If know of a particularly fatuous ding dong that drives you up the wall, or want to share a great sports commentator with me, hit me up in the comments.