by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Good morning Toronto sports media. It is my pleasure to be able to bring you another roundtable this morning. Past roundtables have been on journalism & Twitter, anonymity & credibility, the relationship between fandom and journalism, and a whole lot of JaysTalk. Some really cool and interesting people have been part of the discussion here over the past few years. If have not read those ones, go check them out.
I’m already working on the next roundtable where the topic will be the challenges facing early career folks in media (print, radio, TV) in today’s incredibly competitive and shrinking landscape. There’s a generation of talented journalists and reporters caught in limbo right now, with no obvious way to move up to the the next rung. If you have off the record thoughts on this topic, please be in touch.
Roundtable: Ethics & Journalism
Nowadays we are all familiar with click-bait strategies for drawing eyeballs to stories. The current business model places a lot of importance on “going viral” and also creating content with “long tail” (see e.g. my column on the fishing story from last week). Readers, listeners, and viewers need journalists and the media outlets that employ them to exercise a lot of discretion when it comes to which stories are published, produced, and discussed. Unfortunately the prevailing business model has the opposite effect. The pressure to create impressions has changed the way that some, certainly not all, in the media approach their jobs.
The 2016 Jays season featured lots of excitement on and off the field. Three incidents in particular made a lot of waves: 1) the Edwin STD lawsuit story, 2) the ALCS beer-tosser identity investigation, and 3) the Jays clubhouse blacklisting two journalists. In each case media outlets had to decide whether to cover the story, how to cover the story, and which details to publish.
These cases directly or indirectly raise the following question: what makes something a newsworthy sports story? That’s a surprisingly complex question, as we will see. To tackle this question I cast a wide net to see who might be interested in discussing the complex ethical territory that comes along with being a journalist. I was very clear about which subjects I wanted to cover and several people told me there was no way they would speak publicly about these controversies. After several months of chasing I finally locked down a group I felt confident would make this discussion worthwhile. I think the results speak for themselves.
Joining me for the roundtable this weekend are guests with extensive journalistic experience in a wide range of roles and outlets.
David Shoalts (Globe)
Sean Fitz-Gerald (Athletic)
Steve McAllister (former editor of GlobeSports & YahooSports)
David Naylor (TSN)
A quick note about the range of views represented.
- The people from Sportsnet I approached graciously declined to speak on the record, for reasons that I understand and respect. All of them had opinions. I think several people at Sportsnet have the kind of credibility that would allow them to speak frankly on these issues despite the fact that their employer owns the team. If I ran Sportsnet I would encourage this from my top journalists. (That’s easy for me to say though.)
- More generally, all networks that own broadcast rights would benefit from having a brighter line distinguishing their house reporters from their independent journalists. In order to cover all the stories it’s important to have both kinds of jobs. But it’s also important for the audience to know who is who and which is which.
- I tried to recruit some former athletes currently involved in media but none of them were willing to talk on the record. I’m a little disappointed about that because former players would have a great perspective on these topics. If you’re an ex-athlete and have thoughts, please be in touch. If there is interest we might do a follow-up roundtable some day. I have a call out to Phil Kessel.
- I contacted the people who covered the 3 incidents in question to let them know we would be discussing these topics. Most of them were happy to discuss their process off the record.
With all of that by way of introduction, here is the roundtable. Bring coffee.
Q: Do you have a general principle you use to determine whether a story is newsworthy?
Sean Fitz-Gerald: Sometimes, it can be as simple as a gut feeling. I’m not sure there is a handbook out there that can dictate when something is news. I’ve written stories on subjects I thought were interesting, but nobody read or reacted to them. Sometimes, news is obvious: A trade, an injury, an arrest or a waffle thrown to the ice during play.
David Naylor: I don’t have a strict principle in my head to determine what is newsworthy. But in the context of sports, anything that affects a team, the business of a team or the business of a sport in general is newsworthy. Sports is a business driven by public interest – bums in seats, eyeballs on TV and so there is a significant justification for the public’s right to know. Professional athletes are sports celebrities which makes them public figures and thus aspects of their personalities and lives away from the sports arena can be deemed newsworthy as well. This falls into the category of public curiosity, which is a general standard used for people who are public figures.
I personally draw the line on strictly personal matters, illnesses, family relationships etc … things that have nothing to do with their careers. But, for instance, if a pro athlete lost all his money gambling, he is a public figure and that’s a story. When a sports executive is charged with drunk driving or sexual assault, he is a public figure and that’s a story. Many people in the pro sports world reject the notion that the public has a right to know anything beyond the games. But the reason people in pro sports make so much money is that the public cares, otherwise it’s just recreational league no matter what level we’re talking about. And with people caring so much comes the occasional invasion into some matters which some people wish were 100% private. Public curiosity into some aspects of the lives of celebrities is legitimately newsworthy.
Steve McAllister: Things are changing rapidly. I was reading an article recently about how at ESPN they are increasingly using social media tools to get a handle on what stories to cover. The example they were discussing was the Tom Brady Superbowl jersey theft. You have to cover that as a news story because of how much people were talking about it. You saw that also with DeflateGate, where months later people still had an appetite to talk about it. So I think that social media can certainly inform what you cover as news.
David Shoalts: Generally, as it pertains to a sports team or league, newsworthy means is this relevant to the performance of the team and/or the players and of interest to more than a few people. But this is way too simple because you can argue almost anything involving them is of interest to someone given the obsessive nature of some fans. For example, a feature on a player’s unusual hobby may not be relevant to his performance but it is an interesting story about a public figure so it qualifies. With experience, journalists develop a sense of what matters and what doesn’t. The problem with the news business is there are no hard and fast rules for what is or is not newsworthy. So it becomes a judgement call way too often and clearly there are fewer and fewer people today with good judgment, simply because the mainstream media is facing a far more competitive environment than it used to.
CASE 1: Edwin Encarnacion is sued for failing to disclose an STD to a sexual partner
Q: TMZ broke the news of Edwin’s STD lawsuit. The news came from a public source (the court record). Once TMZ broke the story it obviously became fair game. Suppose you had come across the court filing on your own before TMZ. Do you write about it?
SMA: In today’s world I think you have to cover that story. If it’s a public record then if you don’t write about it someone else will. That said, you still have to adhere to principles of journalism in how you cover it. Get both sides of the story and get the facts right. With that kind of story you’re playing with fire if you try to turn it into an opinion piece. But as news, this is obviously a story.
DS: This is a good example of what is relevant to a player’s performance and what is not. On the face of it, it can be argued this has nothing to do with Encarnacion’s play. But once an issue is big enough to get into the courts it is difficult to overlook. I don’t think many sports writers regularly check with the civil courts when it comes to players but occasionally are told about lawsuits by other sources. Then it becomes a judgement call. This was a serious accusation against a public figure, one that called into question his reputation as a solid citizen and all-round good person. If I had come across this on my own, I would reluctantly write about it. Once TMZ broke the story, of course, it had to be dealt with by every news outlet.
DN: I don’t think I would because I don’t see the public interest in this story. It’s also an intensely personal matter which I don’t believe relates to his profession. As he is a public figure and the matter is on the public record, I respect the right of anyone to report about it. But it’s not the kind of journalism that excites me. In this instance, I did not touch it on my radio show even though it had been reported by other outlets. In general, I try to avoid stories where I’m not sure what the second line of the story or the commentary should be. For instance what is the second line of the “Edwin is being sued for allegedly giving a woman an STD” story? Is it “Edwin needs to use condoms”, “Edwin needs to buy better condoms”, “Edwin needs to make better judgements on with whom he has sex”, “Edwin is being scapegoated by a gold digger” or “Edwin is a great athlete because he hasn’t let this distraction affect is performance at the plate.” Whenever I can’t say what the second line of a story is, I stay away. By contrast, I know exactly what the second line of a story about Johnny Manziel being drunk in public while playing for the Cleveland Browns is. Both are personal matters, one has an obvious follow, one does not.
SFG: Once something is filed in court, it is a matter of public record. Given the allegations, the financial numbers involved and the athlete, would the public be interested? Very likely. Does it have anything to do with safeguarding the public good? Not really. There would be interest. And, again: Public record.
Q: Things like the Derek Jeter “morning after gift basket” are, I assume, horribly embarrassing for the player. As a journalist what responsibilities do you have to your subjects when you are writing a story like that? Do you call Jeter to let him know? Could Jeter say anything to you that would make you NOT write that story?
DN: Derek Jeter is a public figure and as long as that story is true, it’s fair game. The only way Jeter could talk me out of it was if I had a relationship with him that was beneficial to my readers and writing this story might jeopardize that relationship with them. In other words, I would ask myself “is this one story worth it if it means I cut myself off from many other more meaningful stories?” Reporters ask themselves questions like this all the time and often hold information back on one story to keep the information flowing on others. Whether or not you call Jeter to let him know about that story depends on your relationship with him. You could also give the Yankees a heads-up. But you’re not obliged to if the story is true. It just helps the chance you will still have a decent relationship with him or the team if you do.
SMA: Does a story like that belong in the sports section? To me, no. The difference with the Encarnacion story is that there someone is taking legal action which makes it news. The Jeter thing is gossip.
DS: The Jeter gift basket story is simple gossip, not hard news. No serious journalist should be writing this stuff. But yes, if you somehow have to write this, you have to talk to the player at the very least. Yes, he could say something to make me not write the story – tell me it’s not true as I’m cringing about calling him in the first place.
SFG:That is a story that seems to cross directly into the territory of gossip. Unless it somehow became part of a broader discussion — the player discusses them publicly, or people start leaving gift baskets outside the stadium as some form of protest — then I’d be comfortable leaving that alone.
Q: The personal lives of athletes — gambling, recreational drug use, groupies, bad business deals — are generally speaking off-limits. When does that general rule give way? For example, suppose a player is slumping and acting out on the field, and you know he is currently going through a nasty divorce. Would you ever write about that?
SMA: I would connect the two because that’s a human element that anyone could relate to, whether it’s a sick kid or a divorce or a dying parent. That’s bound to have an effect on your performance. As a reporter you would offer that as a possible explanation for the on-field results. And I would expect someone with the team to step forward and acknowledge that personal matters are affecting his performance. I don’t think athletes are any different than you or I in this respect.
SFG: Unless it gets into the courts, or the arrest sheets, or becomes part of the broader public discussion around the team — the player discusses the divorce during an interview — it would rarely find a place in the story. (Several people tied to the Argos, for example, were victims of fraud in a case that went to court a few years ago. That would become news, separate from anything happening on the field.)
DS: The great Toronto Star hockey writer Frank Orr had an excellent rule when it came to the personal lives of athletes. He used to tell players do what you like but don’t get arrested. Once the police are involved all bets are off. The only time to ignore this rule is in the rare instances when it becomes obvious something in a player’s personal life is affecting his performance. As noted, this is a judgement call so it should not be made lightly. Given what appears on social media and even alleged serious news media these days, not enough people give this much thought.
DN: The first thing that makes these matters off-limits is many of them are hard to prove. And if you can’t defend your story as true, you can’t report it. Something like divorce is different because it is on the public record. I would report something if I could prove it was true and believed it was relevant to the players performance or standing with the team. This is where pro athletes hate being public figures. The personal lives of public figures are a matter of curiosity for the public, if not a matter strictly of public interest. And that makes them newsworthy because public interest drives pro sports.
Q: We saw an example of this when some outlets reported on the Raps being out at a Cleveland casino late at night during the 2016 playoffs. How did you see the newsworthiness of that case?
SFG: Professional athletes live on different schedules than the rest of us. They have to be in peak form at a time of day when most of us, generally, are winding down. Hanging out at a casino late at night — not breaking the law, or falling down intoxicated — does not seem like something out of the realm of normal behaviour.
DN: I would not have reported that story as I don’t believe it was relevant to the game being played the next night. If the players were drunk, disorderly etc … then it’s a different matter. But being out late at night, not really. An alternative would have been to ask coaches/management if they had a problem with it before reporting the story, although logistics make such an inquiry difficult to make before deadline sometimes. I once saw a backup goalie drinking in a bar after midnight, when his team had a playoff game the next afternoon. I didn’t write it, but had he had to come into that game and performed poorly, I think I would have because it would have been relevant to his performance and the fans deserve to know that.
SMA: If columnists wants to use that as a reason for why the team came up flat or whatever then that’s their right. But if you do then you need to talk to the players and the coach and the GM and the teammates and tell the story on its merits.
DS: None of the players seen at the casino were breaking the law nor were they drunk and causing a scene according to the story. I don’t think they were even breaking team rules. This should only have been a story if they were.
Q: What about parents or spouses who insert themselves into the story? For example, Vince Carter’s mum.
DN: Legitimate. When a relative has an influence over the performance or conduct of a professional athlete, it becomes relevant and a matter of public interest.
SFG:Fair game. LaVar Ball in the U.S., is becoming a bigger story than his kids.
DS:Players’ family members who insert themselves into stories are usually a royal pain. A lot of them can be ignored but not Carter’s mother. In this instance, you had someone who was given privileges way above other players’ parents by an indulgent owner. This was an indication of bad judgement on the part of ownership and thus worth writing about. See also Lindros, Carl.
SMA: That’s fair game. Vince’s mum made the decision herself to be a public figure and so she should be prepared for possible blowback. If I recall correctly, it was part of Vince’s contract that she get her own parking spot. That’s putting yourself under the microscope.
CASE 2: Fan’s identity published after throwing a beer on field during play
Q: During the Jays playoffs we saw an internet army try to identity the beer tosser. Eventually his identity was discovered and published. Was his identity a newsworthy sports story?
DN: Yes. An individual endangered the health of a professional athlete during a game. It projected an image of Toronto around North America. Criminal charges were laid. It was absolutely a matter of public interest.
SMA: That was an interesting case. He’s entitled to a certain degree of privacy from the media but at the end of the day when it came out that he’s journalist and that he has been charged, to me that adds layers that makes it an interesting story. Personally, I wouldn’t go cheer for a team. I know some journalists feel differently about that. But for me that angle was a twist that clearly made it news. If anyone should know that loss of privacy is a risk it is someone who works in journalism.
SFG: Absolutely. It impacted the game. It became a national talking point. It had real consequences off the field, in the real world.
DS: Yes, because aside from being incredibly stupid what he did had a direct impact on a player during a game.
Q: There was a similar quest after the TFC FHRITP incident. Unlike the beer-tosser, the perpetrator did not interfere with a game or break any laws. Do these cases rise and fall together?
SFG:It was reprehensible behaviour done in public. It is absolutely a story. And it fed into a story about the broader problem, helping to spur a discussion that needed to take place.
DN: Individuals should always be prepared to be accountable for the way they conduct themselves in public, at a sporting event or otherwise. Absolutely legit. If you don’t want to be depicted in the media as acting like a moron in public, don’t act like a moron in public.
DS: This probably is more in the category of annoyance since it had no impact on anything the reporter was covering. But since the perp inserted himself directly into the story by sticking his face on camera and saying something vulgar he deserves the fallout.
SMA: With social media people want to know the identities of these guys. That puts some amount of pressure on media organizations to find out. Is it too harsh to lose your job for that? Maybe.
Q: In general, when should media name names? Does the public have any good reason to know the identity of people who do dumb things at sporting events?
DS:If it’s just someone falling on the field while trying to grab a foul ball, no. But if you cross into Bartman territory you’re news.
SMA: I’m a bit old school on this due to my early jobs working at weekly newspapers. We would never print the names of people arrested for drunk driving or speeding, and this was often the subject of internal debate. If a larger newspaper would print this, why shouldn’t we? So I am waffling a bit but I see both sides.
SFG:The two cases above are rock solid examples of when naming names is worthwhile.
DN: If you don’t want to be identified as someone who does something dumb at a sporting event, don’t do something dumb at a sporting event. It’s a simple matter of being accountable for one’s actions.
CASE 3: Two media members are blacklisted by Jays players
Q: Richard Griffin and Cathal Kelly were “blacklisted” in the Jays clubhouse towards the end of the 2016 season. Some outlets chose not to report on this. Others reported on it without naming names. Other media came right out and discussed the incident and the names of the individuals. (As far as I know, neither Griff nor Kelly published any statement). What reasons would there be for other media to identify the writers?
SFG: If either of the blacklisted reporters wanted to discuss it in public, they would be absolutely free to do so. It has happened before, in other sports. I have seen a football team — an entire football team — freeze out a beat reporter for weeks. If that becomes evident, during a live televised scrum for example, it can enter the public discussion. Otherwise, it seems like a pretty boring thing to pass along to readers, or listeners. Players and journalists can go through peaks and valleys in their relationships. Just like any people who are thrust into a room together for extended periods of time.
DN: I think it’s newsworthy that a group of players blacklisted two reporters. The public’s right to judge whether they think this is right or wrong requires them to know who these reporters are. I think it is fair to report the story and the names of the reporters. The newsworthy quality of this relates to what it reveals about the sensitivity the players have about the way they are portrayed in the media.
DS: Generally, we should write the news not make it. In the case of one or two reporters being blacklisted because some players don’t like what they wrote or said it is not a story unless there is an ugly incident like a physical confrontation. The blacklisted individuals are free to mention it, though, and probably should. But behind the scenes, all media should support efforts made with the team’s public-relations staff to repair the situation.
SMA: This is something a sports media columnist would and should cover, but those columns are gone for the most part. As a beat reporter, this kind of stuff happens a lot. Players will routinely get mad about what someone writes, even if it’s not you but a colleague. But to your question: I don’t think a reporter from one outlet should be writing that player X isn’t talking to reporter Y who works for a different outlet. That’s not news. In a situation where the entire media gets backlisted then obviously that’s something that needs to be talked about. I really think the decision whether to write about it has to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Q: Have you ever been blacklisted by an athlete or a team? How do you repair those relationships?
SMA: I can tell you that I’d take heat for things Bill Houston would write about media members when I was at the Globe.
DN: Never been blacklisted. Was once threatened with violence. Stood my ground, the person who threatened me was fined by his league and later apologized both publicly and privately.
DS: Yes, in a lame fashion. When I was a rookie reporter covering the Calgary Stampeders there was an attempt to blacklist me for writing about how lousy the team was. The players’ ringleader informed me there were three groups of players – one that would not talk to me, one that would talk to me but say nothing newsworthy and one that would talk to me freely. I don’t think he had much support because I never noticed a difference other than the two or three players who already weren’t talking to me. A few months later, I happened to answer the phone in the office when the ringleader called looking for someone else. He never mentioned the alleged boycott but he did try to sell me life insurance.
SFG: I have not been blacklisted by a team or an athlete. It must be due to my incredible charm.
Q: We have seen an increase in public hostilities between media and athletes (Westbrook, Durant, Cousins, Lynch, Kessel, etc.) Is the increase real or just perception thanks to social media?
DS: Both. Social media means players no longer feel they must talk to the media and it also means way more frivolous, salacious and false information about them is made public. Given the fading importance of the mainstream media it also means more blurring of the newsworthy lines in the fight for eyeballs and ears, so that adds to the fire. A lot of players don’t care enough to make the distinction between real and social media so they just blame the mainstream media for everything.
SMA: Money has changed things a lot. There was a time when journalists and players were in similar income brackets. Now the gap is so big and that changes things, including the social aspect of the relationship with players. You don’t eat at the same restaurants now.
SFG: Social media brings everyone closer to the inner workings than ever before. Ricky Foley, a long-time CFL player, logged onto Twitter to complain the Toronto Argonauts had issued his release through a text message. That was on a public forum. That likely never would have become public a decade ago.
DN: Not sure we’ve seen an increase in it. This, to me, is a myth. I think the publicity over these events makes it seem so but I am not at all convinced this is the case. Heck, Steve Carlton was one of the best pitchers in baseball history and he never spoke to the media for most of his career.
Q: More generally, have you seen a change in athlete-media relations over your time in journalism?
SFG: There is more at stake now, and athletes — and coaches and managers — generally exercise a great deal more caution. The safe play: Speaking without saying anything. The sports cliché is the safe exit, and many choose that route. Being colourful has never been as risky as it is today.
DN: The biggest change is just that guys are more cautious and there is more of an us-versus-them mentality. They understand that something can get out right away via Twitter etc. PR staffs are way more aggressive at controlling and mostly limiting access. In general I think people exaggerate the changes of the past 25 years. To really find a time that it was different I think you have to go back to the 1970s, which is before my time in this business.
DS: Yes, as noted above, an already adversarial relationship can be more-so. The biggest effect, though, is from the teams themselves. The attempt to control the message means access to players and coaches is far less than it used to be. They are trotted out one at a time so every interview is a scrum, the subject utters a few platitudes, the PR person steps in after a few questions and ushers him out. There are very few opportunities for one-on-one interviews or even a simple conversation, which is where you could learn something valuable about the player and his team.
SMA: I did media training back in the 90s when I left the NHLPA and working with athletes I would stress honesty with the media. Not in terms of ripping the coach, but just being forthright. Media trainers now train athletes to “manage” the media rather than talk to them. A lot of the frustration we all feel when we get quotes about “110%” or “pucks in deep” is the result of that training. The perils of social media have also made athletes a lot more guarded as well.
Q: How can a team’s PR department affect your work as a journalist? What separates the good ones from the bad ones?
SMA: There is nowhere near the same level of access now. Managers and players are trotted out for very short periods of time. I used to be able to stay around after most of the media left and ask a few more questions on on one. That doesn’t happen as much anymore. This limits access but it also limits the ability to develop relationships.
DS: There are very few good PR departments now, as most sports leagues instituted the above method of handling interaction between the players and the media. It is also common practice for the PR rep to eavesdrop on every interview, even the increasingly rare one-on-ones, with an eye to cutting it off if any question is considered out of line.
DN: The good ones understand your job, you respect theirs and you work together in a trusting relationship. The bad ones treat you like the enemy and make themselves obstructionists whose mission becomes to prevent you from doing your job. Yes, there are lots of good or bad ones. And some jobs are harder than others. Like all relationships in all professions, trust and respect are essential. When they don’t exist, it makes It harder for both sides. A team is not going to like every story a reporter does. And a reporter is not going to like every rule a team has. Both sides need to learn to live with that and work on a basis of common sense.
SFG: A PR department holds the keys. They can dole out and monitor access in the locker room, and they hold enormous influence over which calls are returned in the off-season. They can be helpful, or they can be obstructionist. And they can often be both in the same day. There are good ones and there are bad ones, as there would be in any field. The good ones can understand the context of the situation, the needs and the limits.
Q: Are PR departments becoming more protective? Should you convey that fact to the reader?
DS: PR reps have some discretion but since they are the ones who often get blamed by management if a controversy breaks out, they are exceedingly protective.
SMA: There has been a visible change in approach and that comes from the top. There are some outstanding media relations people who are really good at what they do but they are being dictated to by management.
SFG: It depends. In some situations, PR reps can exercise absolute power. Generally, they operate as shepherds in a dressing room, nudging players to safety if they wander into dangerous areas. There is more at stake — more attention, more money, more #brand awareness — so many have become a bit more protective. And that point can be made to the reader when necessary: Say, if someone cuts in to end a scrum about a player in the middle of a crisis.
DN: Most times, the only time PR departments constrain questions is if you ask for a one-on-one interview with someone. In such instances, the player will want to know what is being asked and the reporter is obliged to tell him if he wants to get the interview. If a PR department is going to prevent me from asking the very questions that are the reason for the request, then I won’t do the interview. If they are going to ban me from talking about something I don’t care about, then I will do the interview and won’t bother conveying that to the reader.
Bonus Round: professional respect
Q: What ethical responsibilities do media organizations or individuals have to credit each other’s original reporting? Are there industry guidelines about this? Are there grievance mechanisms for when an outlet breaks the rules?
SFG: There are no industry guidelines, but it is important to cite original reporting. It is an important part of transparency for the reader, for one.
DS: You are always responsible for giving credit to any information that comes from another media organization or individual. Failing to do so is theft. Every responsible media organization has rules about this. Some follow them better than others. There are industry associations to turn to if the rules are broken and they can issue sanctions, which usually means the offender’s employer is notified and the punishment comes from it. Often, public embarrassment is the most effective punishment.
SMA: It’s almost impossible to get a scoop anymore because everyone is getting their news from the same places, including social media. This has, in an interesting way, led to the success of blogs because 15 minutes after a trade is announced you can read really good commentary. The idea of holding on to something for 12 hours so it can make it to print is laughable in today’s era. I do believe there is too much of a pack mentality with everyone doing the same kind of stories. And that reflects this idea that if someone else is covering something then you should be as well. The work that stands out comes from people doing their own thing. There is still a lot of professional respect. I come from the era when you’d go out and try to beat everyone when it comes to the story but at the end of day you’re all heading to the bar together. With all the cutbacks that has changed, but there is mutual respect between the good people in the industry.
DN: This is a murky one. Most news organizations have rules about attribution but in today’s age, with news breaking all the time, from multiple sources, some mainstream and some not, the old rules aren’t always easy to apply. For instance, on trade deadline day, one of TSN or Sportsnet is always first. Are we really expecting TSN to state every time that Sportsnet is first to break a trade and vice versa. And who really cares? I there is a grievance process, I have never seen it applied in 26 years in this business. Here is how I operate: if another outlet breaks a story, there is no obligation to credit them for being first, provided you get the story confirmed independently yourself. If you can’t get it independently confirmed, then you have two choices – ignore it, or report it and give credit to the organization that reported it. This business of one organization being outraged for not being given credit for being first by another is silly. If I report a story first, that’s my reward. I don’t require other people to tell the world I was first because most of the world does not care. They only care about the story. Just as ridiculous is a member of one organization taking to Twitter to congratulate his colleague on being first. This is like media public masturbation and it needs to stop.
Firstly thanks to everyone for participating and for their thoughtful answers.
Every week I have interesting conversations with people in media about the industry. What often emerges is that while people have very different views, each person is to a large extent on an island. I usually ask: “what do your colleagues think?” and the answer is “we don’t talk about this kind of stuff.” There is not a lot of internal discussion on these issues even though everyone faces them.
As someone looking at it from the outside, this seems odd. Everyone would benefit, I think, from a more honest and collaborative approach to thinking about best practices for tough situations. This would be of use to grizzled veterans — at least the ones who are open to the possibility that not everything they do is 100% optimal all of the time — but especially for people just getting into the industry. The current choice facing new journalists is between a) making it up as you go along and hoping that you don’t screw up, and b) finding an honest mentor who is willing to share his or her experiences — both good and bad — with you. From what I can gather, option (b) is exceedingly rare. This leaves most journalists in the position of making ethical judgments based on gut feelings. This pushes people into the wildly popular option c): avoid saying or writing anything controversial. This explains why we see so much “safe” journalism churned out by the industry.
My main point is that there would be value in having more discussions with colleagues. Unfortunately there is no forum where that can take place.
This is why I am always thrilled when people participate in these roundtables. It would be presumptuous of me to assume that the big shots in sports media read this site, but just having the discussion helps to keep these issues on some people’s minds.
Thanks again to Sean, Dave, Dave, and Steve for their candid answers. I’ll have some more follow-up thoughts over the weekend.
Over to you:
- Do you see a lot of professional respect between media?
- Is there a solution to the pack journalism problem that Steve mentioned?
- Do you agree with the consensus that people who do idiotic things at sporting events should have their names published?
- Who is doing original work in today’s media marketplace?
- Do you want to know who is feuding with whom?
- Do media protect athletes too much?
- Is it OK to withhold information that the public wants to know in order to protect a relationship with a subject?
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)
photo credit: Deadspin?