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  • Access and Accountability

    Back when I was in college, I was a huge Golden Gopher hockey fan (well, still am; can't wait to see the boys battle Boston College on Thursday). Since I was majoring in journalism and had an acute interest in sportswriting, I figured it would be wise to seek an opportunity to cover the team for a media outlet.

    I ended up landing in a volunteer position with the school radio station. The gig consisted of watching Friday night games from the press box, calling in to give live on-air updates between periods and collecting sound bites from coaches and players in post-game interviews.

    Watching the game as a member of the press had its perks, no doubt. I was rubbing shoulders with professionals I admired, gaining valuable experience, and there was even free food.

    But overall, the process was tedious, challenging and stressful. It was work.

    I've covered numerous sporting events over the years, including the Twins at Target Field, and what I've invariably come to realize is that it sucks the magic out of the game. Cheering in the press box is taboo (which was especially tough at Gopher games), you're forced into awkward interview situations with players and coaches who largely view you as a nuisance, and you're so busy framing story ideas and scrambling against deadlines that you can't really slow down and appreciate or enjoy what's happening.

    On occasion, when the Gophers were trailing by a goal late, I'd find myself hoping in the press box that they wouldn't score and send it to overtime, so I could finish up and file my work more quickly. That's certainly not how the fan in me would feel.

    When Phil Mackey went on a mystifying rant about how "sports bloggers" are suffering from a lack of accountability and gloats about how "access paints such a more valuable picture," it miffed me and others. Mackey's remarks set off a whirlwind of debate, with other mainstream media pros chiming in words of agreement and bloggers firing back.

    I've stayed out of the whole fracas, for the most part. It's a frustrating situation – drama driven by egos, professional pride and poor communication. John wrote a piece here about how corporate journalists are feeling threatened by independent writers. I wouldn't go that far. I don't think the mainstream media need to fear us, but they do need to understand us.

    We write from the perspective of a fan. Fans don't have access. If we crossed that threshold we'd be writing from a different and in many ways more limiting perspective. Obviously readers are thirsting for the type of relatable, removed-from-the-subject insight that bloggers provide, otherwise these "too large" platforms that Mackey complains of wouldn't have grown so large in the first place.

    Having media members cover the team from inside the clubhouse, reporting news and providing first-hand viewpoints, is absolutely quintessential. There are several people who do that in this market – Mackey better than most. But while access adds another dimension it also involves a lot of extra work. Reporters get paid for that work, bloggers don't.

    That, really, is the bottom line here. I can say with great confidence that if it wasn't their salaried job, these reporters wouldn't be in the clubhouse covering the team every day. Most of them probably wouldn't even be writing about the Twins, or about baseball, at all. There's an assortment of really talented writers in this market who have other jobs but take the time to write about the Twins for meager compensation (if any) simply because they're passionate about it.

    When it comes down to it, which would you rather have: passion or access?

    Why should you have to choose?

    This article was originally published in blog: Access and Accountability started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 24 Comments
    1. mysonlikes7's Avatar
      mysonlikes7 -
      ChuckkJay and luckylager - I couldn't agree more with your opinions of Souhan, Mackey, and Pelissero (Vikings). Those three on ESPN 1500 are unlistenable. Souhan has never had an original thought in his life and does rewrite the same articles over and over again. Mackey and Pelissero are immature and have a sense of entitlement in their attitudes. They feel that their opinions are never wrong because they are paid to cover the local sports teams. They haven't been around long enough to be arrogant and as opinionated as they are. Once they have been around as long as Reusse they can get away with acting they way they do now. Joe C. is the only "beat writer" I read consistently. LENIII is ok at times, but he is too close to the players and won't say anything negative about them to avoid being ignored by them. I could care less what Gardy's thought process was why he pinch hit Revere for Plouffe. I would rather read what bloggers have to say.
    1. Cris E's Avatar
      Cris E -
      There are two aspects to covering a team: reporting facts and providing analysis of them. And there are two kinds of facts as well, those that come from seeing events and looking at the record and those private events that are only known by the people involved.

      Anyone can do analysis based on the facts. The quality will vary depending on the talent of the writer, how much time is devoted to research or thought, and the quality of the facts being considered. But in general it takes no special access to form an opinion and spew it out there. And these days a lot of the fact reporting happens on its own as MLB churns out game reports and stats on the internet for free. So the only realm left that requires access is the behind the scenes stuff that pros like Mackey dig out.

      I know I'm in MN, not Florida. I'm in my car or office, not the clubhouse. I talk to the idiots sitting around me, not Terry Ryan or players or TK. I form all sorts of stupid opinions based on, well not a heck of a lot, honestly. But that's what people have been doing for decades out in the bleachers or down at the bar because that's what we're supposed to do. Players and reporters and others in the know have been ignoring us for a hundred years. But now, through the power and majesty of the glorious internet, my water cooler-grade opinion is available to the entire world and is harder for folks to ignore.

      I'm sympathetic to Mackey's complaints, I guess, but honestly, people in the game have been putting up with this stuff for ages. It isn't new and it isn't fair and it isn't any different from what players have said forever about columnists who couldn't possibly know the true story etc etc etc. There's no accountability and we couldn't know and, well, shut up and do your job Phil. It's how things work no matter how frustrating you find it. Move on.
    1. mnjon's Avatar
      mnjon -
      Good read. Thanks, Nick.
      Not sure why people read this looking for your opinion yet get upset when you write your opinion. It's not as if he tricked you guys and titled this "Jeff Gray challenges Scott Baker for roster spot" or "Mauer requests trade after Butera demotion". You knew what it was about. Don't like it, don't click on it.
    1. gil4's Avatar
      gil4 -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      As a consumer of content from both sides, I just wanted to say "thanks" for giving me the option.
      I'll second that. While there is value in hearing from those with access, there is also value in hearing from those who can speak plainly without worrying about jeopardizing that access.
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