Thursday, March 27, 2008
Campaign for a tobacco-Free sports section
As the NCAA basketball tournament rolls on, I am seeing and hearing references to a place called Tobacco Road. Here are some recent examples:
  • Tobacco Road paves way for North Carolina's championship bid ( headline)
  • He didn't want to be the next blue chip recruit to end up on Tobacco Road. (The Daily Trojan)
  • RALEIGH, N.C. — Georgetown received the full Tobacco Road treatment here Sunday in its most shocking boot from March Madness in more than 20 years. (Washington Post)
  • Coach Bob McKillop's white house across the street still was festooned with toilet paper, which has become a tradition whenever schools down on Tobacco Road win a big game. (Daily News, New York)
On television, announcers such as Jim Nantz of CBS speak of "Tobacco Road" in dramatic tones, assigning some sort of mythic stature to the proceedings on the basketball court. Perhaps that is a reflection of the name's literary roots.

Tobacco is certainly a significant part of North Carolina's history, but its influence in the state has been waning for years. Nowadays, it isn't easy to find a place to smoke on the campus of the state's flagship university.

Changing times aside, my main problem with "Tobacco Road" is that I have never heard it used in real life. In casual conversation, no one has ever asked me: "Did you see the game last night? That's how it goes on Tobacco Road." And believe me, the topic of "the game last night" comes up a lot.

When I asked students in my editing classes this week whether they used "Tobacco Road" in conversation, they gave me puzzled looks and said no. Yet the Wikipedia entry for "Tobacco Road" claims that the term "is often used" in discussions of sports at four North Carolina universities: UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest. But "often used" by whom?

My hunch is that "Tobacco Road" is to North Carolina what "Big Easy" is to New Orleans: a term used by unwitting visitors and lazy reporters. I therefore nominate it for the list of words (seen here and here) to avoid this tournament season.

UPDATE: John Robinson of the News & Record kindly mentions this post and shares his "Tobacco Road" experience.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 3:47 PM | Permalink |


  • At 3:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 11:52 AM, Anonymous George Donner

    Hmmm, I wonder why it's even necessary to use the word "lazy" in connection with "reporter," I thought that was just a standard characteristic. It seems to me that reporters generally care mainly about what other reporters are saying and they just copy it down without thinking, that's why "tobacco road" could be used over and over by reporters even if no one else actually uses it. Reporters generally follow the storyline they have established, and ignore facts that do not fall in line with the storyline.

    That's why your own laziness led you to solemnly declare that McCain merits the term "maverick" without examining whether he rigidly follows the dictates of the Republican leadership (he does). Because McCain feeds the press barbecue, and makes them feel important, the storyline they have established is that he is a straight-talking "maverick," even though he is a prevaricating panderer following a straight party line. Your laziness caused you to follow the storyline because that's the storyline.

  • At 1:30 PM, Blogger Andy Bechtel

    C'mon, George. Go back and read the post about McCain again. I'd link to it here, but I'm feeling lazy. :-)

    Look closely, and you will see that I recommended that "maverick" should be avoided in references to McCain.

  • At 2:11 PM, Blogger Andy Bechtel

    I removed the first comment to this post because it linked to a site with pornographic imagery. Apologies to anyone who went to the site before I deleted the comment.

  • At 10:14 PM, Blogger rknil

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 10:15 PM, Blogger rknil

    The laziest people in this year's tournament have been the page designer/"copy editors."

    Numerous team names have been wrong. Designers rely heavily on tired cliches like madness and dancing.

    Andy, maybe you should incorporate this into your talk with the ACES fiddlers, rather than discussing how to spend more time trying to create a front page before reading any copy.

    (For those who don't know, today's "copy editors" don't read much copy. Instead, they obsess about page design and write awful headlines off either the lede or the slugline.)

  • At 10:59 PM, Blogger George

    Yeah, I looked at it. It's interesting that you are painting a misleading picture of what you said. You said that the term was accurate but that it should be avoided because it is overused. I said that you said that McCain merits the term, and that is an accurate representation of what you said.

    McCain is not a "maverick". That's just the storyline followed by the press, and it is more important for you to follow the storyline than to discover the truth. One example you give in particular demonstrates the opposite of what you say it demonstrates. McCain's stance on immigration mirrored the stance of the party leadership and of George Bush. It is true that the party position on immigration was severely disfavored by Republican voters, but abandoning the wishes of the voters to follow the wishes of the party leaders doesn't make McCain a "maverick".

    What's much more important than whether the "maverick" label is overused is whether or not it's true. You falsely said that the use of the label is accurate. It's the lack of commitment to truth that you exemplify here that has put your industry in the death spiral it's in.

  • At 4:55 PM, Blogger Andy Bechtel


    Thanks for the link and the thoughts. You're right: The design needs to follow the content, not vice versa.

    At some papers, copy editors are still taking care to edit carefully. At other places, the focus is on the display type. The fiddlers will certainly address this in Denver.

  • At 12:50 PM, Blogger rknil

    I got a chuckle from your response. But I won't hold my breath while waiting for anything to change. Even after the A"CE"S conference, the news meetings will have the same discussions about how the page should look. The priorities will still be the same.