There was a bit of a hullabaloo in local media circles when Toronto Maple Leaf Iced Hockey team player Phil Kessel didn’t talk to the media one day and a lot of newspaper beat guys lost it a little. The Maple Leafs site Pension Plan Puppets nails the dynamic really well here. The point here is that the media may not be making the best use of their access to players:
That presser-fed formula is really what we’re talking about: interview scrums that generate easy quotes, but not interesting ones. Lazy narratives, rather than valuable ones. But beyond tearing down the shoulda-been-obvious, I was wondering what makes sportswriters worth following – how can an author avoid rehashed, mealy content?
The author “Bower Power” goes on to suggest three pretty reasonable alternatives to the current “quote-and-go” approach that marks the current approach: timeliness, analysis, and unique insight.
I think the issue here isn’t really with those “damn lazy reporters,” but with the entire mode of newspaper reporting described by PPP above. This is the culture of, there is a match—go write a report about it in the newspaper, and include quotes for colour. It basically presumes the Internet still doesn’t exist, and if it does, it’s just a bunch of nerds wanking off to stats.
To be fair, I think a lot of the better, seasoned beat guys are moving away from this approach, even if some of their editors are not. But sometimes you wish they might move a little quicker, you know?
Here’s why, and this will likely fall under the “analysis” category. I’ve witnessed Kristian Jack doing his thing lately at Toronto FC matches, and it’s really cool to watch. He doesn’t sit in the press box with a laptop counting the plays. Instead, he wanders all around BMO Field taking countless photos and making notes. And then he’ll sit it in on the post-match press conference and ask a very specific question to the manager, often outside the conventional line of questions that usually involve “Ryan, tell us about the last minute goal.”
Finally, he’ll fly out to do approaches with the players, as he did with Tim Cahill for this incredible post on how the LA Galaxy and former Evertonian attacking mid prepares to defend set-pieces as well as use them to pivot into attacks.
Here’s why what KJ does is unique, though. It cuts through the cliche about dumb players not offering up anything more to the media than tired motivational quotes (a lot of players say boring things only because they’re performing in the same kabuki theatre as the journalists). It also goes even further than the long-form interview which puts sports aside to get a sense of “who the player really is.”
KJ is a studied enough football guy to know which players are doing layered work on their game. He had a specific plan of attack that would provide a story that would live well-beyond the single match outcome, and moreover, he got some genuine insight into how Cahill actually prepares to play a football match. You read this, and you’re smarter for it. It’s the same as our very own Drew Fairservice did in his talk with Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox. No personal sob stories, nothing about “trying harder everyday to win it for the guys.” Actual insight into what Pedroia does to get better, in concrete terms.
I always think it’s facile to point to something that’s getting old and say, “This is why the newspaper business is failing.” More interesting match reports aren’t going to revolutionize the business. But there’s evidence that a lot of these guys could do a hell of a lot more than write a broad match report. Working under the assumption that readers already know what happened on the pitch, reporters might consider going to games once in a while to work a particular angle.
The problem with any changes to the current status quo though might mean a more targeted use of personnel in an industry that is hiring less and less and buying out guys left and right. But it’s hard to see the value in continuing with the current approach.