You know, I like a lot of the terrific journalism work that Shane Ryan is doing at Reesenews.org, but I just can’t stomach this diatribe of his at his Seth Curry Saves Duke blog (and not because it’s a pro-Duke blog). He starts off by telling the story of his experience at last week’s ACC Tournament and how he sat next to a radio guy who gave him a hard time about being a Duke alum and then lectured him about not cheering on press row when he showed just a teensy flinch of emotion about a great play by Nolan Smith. From there, Ryan proceeds to lambaste basically the whole group of sportswriters at the tournament. An example:
You can’t cheer on press row. You can look at your computer, and back at the court, and back at your computer. You can share tired jokes in an attempt to sound gruff. You can hammer out your two-bit tale in the moments after, trying like hell to beat a deadline. You can gobble up the free food they give you at every venue, augmenting your complacence. You can slowly grow bitter and tired of the thing that brought you here in the first place. You can focus on baskets and touchdowns and home runs and forget why you came. You can forget the people, and the inner human drama that these games actually represent.
But the sneaky, waddling, frantic lackeys I witnessed this weekend are not the heart, the soul, or the brain. They’re the fleshy tire around the midsection, weighing the body down. They’re dead weight, and they need to be shed.
Here’s my point: I don’t want to march in lockstep with the drones of inadequacy. I can already tell it’ll swallow me whole. My place is with the fans in the crowd. Failing that, it’s in front of a television. And I don’t have $150 to spend on a scalped ticket, so I’m not going.
I actually agree with one of Ryan’s chief complaints — the absurdity of some of the questions in the postgame press conferences. It’s always been a pet peeve of mine, as the whole postgame press conference is like some absurd stage act where the coaches and players know exactly what the media will ask them and the media knows exactly what the coaches and players will say, with very few exceptions. Some of the questions, in effect, are just another way of saying, “Give me a quote, coach.”
Now comes the part where I start poking holes in the rest of Ryan’s attack on the sportswriters at the tournament.
1. Ryan holds up Dan Wiederer as an exception to the “drones of inadequacy” he’s raging against and points to a three-part series Wiederer wrote about Mike Krzyzewski as example of his excellence and observes:
Interestingly enough, in all the postgame press conferences we attended, I never once saw Dan Wiederer ask a question. Maybe it’s coincidence. Or maybe his narratives are organic creations that don’t have the taint of prefabrication.
But here’s the problem with Ryan’s reasoning. The three-part series he points to is a big feature that was done under completely different circumstances than at the ACC Tournament. The deadline for that feature, I’m sure, wasn’t two hours after the game ended, and I doubt the interviews that went into that series were done in postgame press conferences. So what did Wiederer write from the ACC Tournament? Some examples:
To be absolutely clear, I’m not offering these examples to say that Dan Wiederer is not a good writer. This post is not about him, and I haven’t read enough of his stuff to form an opinion one way or another. Instead, I offer these links to show that it’s comparing apples and oranges to pit his Coach K feature against stories coming out of the ACC Tournament. Note that his stories from the tournament contain many of the same quotes and cover the same storylines that appear in many of the other stories written by those “drones of inadequacy” at the same event under the same circumstances. Oh yeah, and some of these are the quotes that came from the “dumb, leading, and boring questions” that Ryan is lambasting. The point is, you can’t compare live-event reporting to features. Many of the other sportswriters at the ACC Tournament have written excellent features when they’re not laboring under a tight deadline.
Also, consider how little sense Ryan’s reasoning makes in suggesting that perhaps not asking questions at the postgame press conference is a sign that a writer’s story doesn’t have the “taint of prefabrication.” If the questions being asked are indeed signs of prefabrication, then won’t a key part of getting to the “real” story be asking good questions, rather than no questions at all? If the questions being asked are not getting the real story, and you don’t ask the questions that do, then how is what you write going to be anything but prefabricated? Again, I’m not saying that as a slam to Wiederer, just to show that it makes little sense to say that because someone didn’t ask a question, it could be a sign he’s not going into his story with a prefabricated script (By the way, I didn’t ask a single question in those press conferences either, so by Ryan’s logic, I should be feeling pretty good about myself).
2. Ryan also writes:
But the old world is dying while the old order persists. Except for pieces of local interest, sports sections of newspapers go unread. Especially by young people. I honestly can’t think of one friend who starts his or her mornings by opening a newspaper to read the latest Duke or UNC story.
The problem with that argument is that most of the people covering the tournament were there to cover teams of local interest. In many cases, when the team in a particular newspaper’s coverage area got eliminated, the reporters from that paper went home because there’s no longer any local interest there. That is why there were more and more empty seats on press row as the tournament progressed. Also, while I, too, cannot think of a young person who starts his or her day by reading the latest Duke or UNC story in a newspaper, I sure as heck know plenty who read that same story online at the newspaper’s website.
3. Ryan says sportswriters live for the negative because it makes them relevant and because they only wield power when something bad happens, and that’s why coaches and players try to be bland in interviews. All I can say to that is that in the decade-plus that I’ve worked with sportswriters, I’ve never known one to “live for the negative”. In fact, some of them hate it when a team they’re covering is struggling because it becomes more and more difficult to cover the team without coming off as too negative. I’m simultaneously amused and angered by such attempts to paint sports reporters (and those who work in the media in general) as evil trolls wishing ill on those they cover for the sake of personal gain. I’ve seen journalists who are egotistical, and I’ve seen ones who are incompetent, but in no greater proportion than in any other field. Sportswriters, for the most part, are ordinary folks. They have a job to do, they do it — some better than others — and then they want to tend to other parts of their lives. They aren’t some subspecies of the human race with a particular genetic disposition toward villainy.
4. Ryan writes about his dislike of the “no cheering on press row” rule:
You can’t cheer on press row. But it’s also hard to love the game.
As I wrote [intlink id=”5117″ type=”post”]in my previous post[/intlink], I was at that same tournament, sitting on the same press row, and in a similar situation — it was the first time I had been to the ACC Tournament and I’m not a regular member of the sports media at games. I can relate to the feeling that Ryan describes. On press row, you are in the middle of all this emotion and fanfare, and yet you are not a part of it. However, as I wrote in that last post, I don’t find it hard to rein in my emotions or my love for UNC — which I’d pit against Ryan’s love for Duke any day — when I’m sitting on press row.
The way I see it, experiencing a game as a fan and as a reporter are different things and require different approaches. When I’m on press row, I’m there to do a job — to observe the game and then to explain to people what happened. To do that doesn’t require me to live and die with every Harrison Barnes 3-pointer or Nolan Smith drive; instead, it requires that I take a more analytical approach. As some of the commenters on Ryan’s post said, you can have all the emotions you want, just buy a ticket and sit in the stands. Complaining about the lack of cheering on press row is like complaining that the staff at a beach resort isn’t enjoying the fun in the sun as much as the guests are. The people on press row are there to do a job, and I know most of them are plenty passionate and knowledgeable about the game. Don’t mistake the lack of cheering for a lack of love for the game.
In his post, Ryan takes some pretty vicious swipes at the sportswriters at the tournament. Yet, strip away the fluff, and this is what I hear: “I sat next to a prick at the tournament who gave me crap about showing a little bit of emotion on press row, and I found that I don’t like watching my team play without being able to cheer, so not only am I not going to do that again, I’m going to flame everyone who does.”
Is the radio guy in Ryan’s story a jerk? Maybe (certainly from the way he tells it, though a commenter on his blog who was also on press row offered a different take). You don’t like watching your team play without being able to cheer like a fan? No problem. I totally understand, and if you ask me to pick, I’d want to watch as a fan rather than as a reporter. But if you’re going to flame an entire group of people, you better have something substantial on which to base your criticism. In Ryan’s post, aside from the complaint about bad questions — one that I share — I saw little else of substance to back up the rest of the diatribe. I know, I know. Letting words like “facts” get in the way of a good rant is another one of those stupid passé journalism rules like “no cheering on press row.”
To his credit, after receiving some not-so-positive feedback on his piece, Ryan has posted a mea culpa apologizing for speaking “too broadly, and too extremely.”
It seems like a classy, sincere apology, and thus I’m appeased. (See update below)
So after doing right and offering what seemed like a sincere apology, Ryan then wrote in his next post:
*Apology for any Sportswriter I Might Have Offended
Please forgive my swear words and general attitude of rebellion and disrespect. If you were about to give me a job at a high level or even low level organization or were just going to let me cover junior high volleyball for free, please direct me as to which parts of the post I should delete. Better yet, I’ll just give you my login information and you can write this yourself. If I’ve upset any of you fine folks, I sincerely apologize and hope you’ll drop me an e-mail telling me where you’d like me to make confession. Oh wait, I already know; I’ll see you at the Church of the Divine Silence, the Holiest Incarnation of the Blessed Grimace, i.e. press row.
(Grabs crotch defiantly, skateboards off into the distance while a pair of black un-belted pants slowly fall down.
In the context of the post, I can’t decide if he’s just kind of kidding around a bit with this or if he’s serious and has suffered another bout of ass-clownery.