• TV show recaps are the rage—but the sports pages have been skipping write-ups of games since before Northwestern’s 1996 Rose Bowl appearance.

Praise to Tribune reporter and critic Mark Caro for his alert examination of a phenomenon so old it’s new (no end of those in our recycling-mad culture, is there?): the long-form recapitulation.

“In the old media world,” Caro wrote in the Sunday Tribune, “writers were expected to tell readers what they didn’t know. In the current, online-dominated one, writers often gain more traction telling readers what they already do.”

Caro’s subject was TV shows, and his first example among many was TV Recaps, added in late April to the Entertainment Weekly home page. He called recaps a “staple” of a growing number of journalism sites, and observed that their “cultural prominence has risen to the point that they’re overshadowing traditional reviews.”

There’s nothing new about writers telling readers what they already know—and I’m not talking about writers who assure the faithful that whatever it is they want to believe is true. I grew up with closely observed recaps of collectively witnessed events. These events were big games. The recapitulators were sportswriters.

“Does anyone know how to write a game story anymore?” I wondered years ago. “Blanket coverage the morning after is the sport sections’ response to TV the night before, but nowhere on or under that blanket does someone simply gather readers round and tell what happened. Newspapers fail at simple narrative even when the game to be chronicled is a classic that begs for it.”

I was responding to incoherent coverage of the dramatic 1996 Rose Bowl game between Northwestern and USC. Bill Adee, the Sun-Times‘s executive sports editor at the time, told me, “By 11 PM that night, just having the TV on in the background in the office, I had seen the highlights probably 15 times on a combination of Channel Two, Channel Seven, CLTV, ESPN, CNN. I guess my feeling is, so have others, and we want to get quickly to what they haven’t seen on TV.”

I thought newspapers were making a big mistake. “This philosophy rules daily journalism,” I wrote. “It supposes that by the next morning there’s less meaning or pleasure to be found in the game itself than in the attitudes columnists strike about it and in the musings of its participants after it’s over.”

But the fundamental process of the human mind is the incessant churning of raw experience into narrative. If the game experienced was worth remembering people want that narrative. They need it. So I believed.

Now it seems that people want their experience processed even when when it comes to them as narrative in the first place—as TV drama. The richer the narrative is, the more granularly they want to relive it.

Sports editors, please rethink your assumptions.