Friday, January 28, 2011

The Butt-Kissing Era

I was almost late to my first class of the semester last week because the two-man dissertation on the radio was so intriguing. Massarotti and Felger went on more-or-less a twenty-minute rant about how sportswriting, specifically beat writing, has gone to crap. They’re absolutely correct about this. It seems like in 2011 (and, in my opinion, probably starting in roughly February 2008), every beat writer has their guys they protect and the guys they hammer. And it all comes down to one thing: access.

We’re all guilty of having our boys and our non-boys. I don’t like Drew and 46; I love Coco Crisp. Pat loves everyone. Tim loves Matsuzaka. From the Bronx loved Brett Gardner and hated Arod, Reggie Jackson, and Pettitte. Steve Buckley loves 46 but hates Matsuzaka. Massarotti hates 46 and loves Varitek. Even worse, Felger thinks, is guys like Ron Borges who twist stories so they line up with an argument they made three years ago. I’m also guilty of that!

But when you’re supposed to be an objective journalist (which we’re not – we’re here to facilitate discussion to get ourselves through the work day), you should be in the business of the truth, and these guys aren’t. But, unfortunately, they don’t have much of a choice. If you want athletes to talk to you, you can only write nice things about them. And that’s crap.

Not that I’m JD Drew, 46, or anyone of any kind of significance as an athlete except in the eyes of a very narrow range of people. But if someone (with the exception of a competitor) having the balls to say that I absolutely sucked in a certain race (you know, like one about 376 days ago), good for them. They’re doing their job. I’d probably give them even more access because I respect the job they do as a purveyor of the truth. The best comments I got from anyone after running the fun run in April in 2008, as an athlete, was when a couple of former runners pointed out my slowest split of the day. They’re the only ones with any balls. Everyone else wanted to tell me how great I was.

But your typical athlete of 2011 (and this also goes for coaches) don’t get asked hardball questions anymore, because if they get asked a hardball question, they won’t talk to you anymore. On WEEI, Felger was saying, the morning guys (who interview Brady) blame Belichick, and the afternoon guys (who interview Belichick) blame Brady. But if they don’t do that, they lose their hard-fought privilege to talk to the guy.

I like Kevin Millar a lot now that I can distance myself from the 400-foot foul balls and strikeouts on balls in the dirt. But that guy was a baby. He hated WEEI when he was here, offering the opinion of “they think I suck. Well, I think they suck.” If someone said he sucked, he’d stop talking to them. It's hard to do your job if nobody talks to you. So if you want any access from Millar, you have to kiss his butt.

And this is the case way too often. Especially in places like Boston and New York, when you’re being covered by three newspapers, eight television stations, two radio stations, and five websites. The players have all the leverage. If you keep it real and dare to say anything negative, you are in the player’s, team’s, and organization’s doghouse. And considering that all of these outlets are competing for unique information, if you are in the doghouse, you’re screwed.

The way I see it, this blew up to the current level when the Herald’s John Tomase write an irresponsible story about the Patriots filming of the Rams’ walkthrough six years earlier – the day of Super Bowl 42. This pissed me off because of the timing and the fact that there was no proof. That’s irresponsible journalism. But what if it were true? Tomase was completely shunned by the Patriots, and you can say with certainty that this guy will never, ever cover the team again.

From here, it was clear that the journalists didn’t have any leverage. The athletes did. And this continues in all sports, and every beat article you have to read with a discerning eye.

Two more brief points: Ups to Massarotti. He wrote a book with David Ortiz and likely made a ton of money. However, he hammered Ortiz last year when Ortiz blamed the media for a whole bunch of things. My second point: Though I am not a purveyor of the truth, instead being a facilitator of discussion, I will try my best this baseball season to crush when crushing is due, and give credit where that is due. That’s right – if JD goes 4-5 on a Friday night with three home runs, I’m saying he’s great.

Journalists won’t do it. So I will instead.

Enjoy yo day.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

DV

The thing about being a reporter that seems to be missing is that it's a job. Jobs pay mortgages and car payments and tuition. Obviously, they're important to have. A sportswriter works in a very competitive field and if you're not getting access, somebody else is, and that somebody is going to get your column and maybe your job. That's not a situation too many writers want to have. The fact is that they are generally at the mercy of the players for access. If you burn them, they shut you out. If you can live with that as a writer, then good for you, but I don't blame any writer for taking pause before annihilating some player about his performance.

Now, I've been guilty of ripping players in the past. Of course I have. My job doesn't depend upon it. But if you think that I go out and saw awful things about judges or lawyers in my area, you're crazy.

With all of that said, it's easy to get frustrated with the writing we see. Varitek is awful and has been for a long time now. To defend his production (or lack of it) is not only irrational, but insulting to the reader. And that's where the frustration that you've expressed really comes into play. The problem is that it's not a world where you can say "screw Player X" or "Forget Executive Y," and write what you want, because eventually you'll have run out of players and executives to talk to and not long afterward, you'll probably find yourself cleaning out your desk.

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

to reply to some good stuff i didn't get to reply to in the comments yesterday, i think in the yankees' case it's more how they handle the players they have as opposed to how they handle players whose contract is up. dv referenced bernie williams, and i was thinking about him when writing this post. cashman has already proven that he is willing to make the tough and unpopular decisions regarding aging stars in building a roster, no its up to girardi to do the same in handling and maximizing the talents of the aging stars on the roster. i'm not saying he won't, because he hasn't really been tested yet. but he will be very soon. good spot by timc making broader connections to how this phenomenon is closely intertwined with others we've been discussing recently.

moving on to this post, excellent stuff dv. this is something that has been disussed down here as well. and there is no reason to limit it at all to beat writers. as it sounds like the guys on the radio alluded to, and you certainly did, this applies to all forms of sports media. columnists, radio personalities, tv personalities, website authors, pretty much everyone. and you can't totally blame those who fall into this. as you said, there is so much competition with so many media outlets, it increases the need for access, which makes it tougher to criticize someone. at the same time, all of these media members covering big market teams makes it likely that a lot of players have "their guys" in the media who don't criticize them, which also makes it easier for them to shun the media members who do. so from a number of angles it's tough to continuously make criticisms and also continue to stay competitive in your job across the board.

to be fair, though, a lot of media outlets in some of these markets take things over the top. players lives are sometimes invaded and certainly some players are often unfairly criticized to a great extent. in these situations, i don't blame the players for not wanting to deal with these media outlets, whether it's the fault of the journalist/media member actually covering the team/player or not. media outlets have to be responsible as an entity for what they report/say.

Patrick said...

some really, really good points there gunn. well said. important to put yourself in the writers' shoes when making this kind of analysis. easy for us to criticize when, like you said, our jobs don't depend on it like theirs do.

Anonymous said...

PF

Appreciate the good words. Also wanted to let you know that I was openly and unabashedly rooting for the Knicks last night.

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

how could you not? the knicks and celtics have virtually no historical rivalry outside of new york and boston generally not liking each other, but it is about as far from yankees/red sox or jets/pats as it could possibly be. the knicks are not a threat to the celtics right now, the heat are. the knicks didn't have a totally obnoxious offseason, the heat did. the celtics fan had to be a heavy knicks fan last night, and it doesn't surprise me in the least that an ardent one like yourself was rooting for the knicks last night.

Anonymous said...

PF

As a fan, a perfect season is always one where the team you pull for wins a championship. In 2011, the next closest thing would be one where neither the Lakers nor the Heat make it to the Finals. I could relax and really enjoy a Celtics/Spurs Finals. Hell, even a Bulls/Mavericks Finals would be manageable. I just don't want to see Lebron/Kobe come June.

--the Gunn

TimC said...

Echoing that last one, Gunn. To add to PF's point on rivalries in the NBA, I would counter that there are NO rivalries in the NBA. The teams just do not play each other often enough. In this day and age, we are forced to settle for more abstract ideas like 'player vs. player', 'ego vs. ego', or my personal favorite, 'crazed bald guy vs. more or less bewildered bald guy'. Anyone who think the Celtics really have a rivalry with anyone is a spring NBA fan and nothing more.