Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

You are the common factor in all of your problems.
That, and more waffles.
Ethnocentric Republicans, "Waffles at Eleven"

Apparently I broke some news yesterday: Beat writers tend to disdain bloggers.

By misinterpreting an aspect of a tweet I did overstate the case of one particular fuck you from the beats to the blogs. And for that I apologized to Scott Merkin as I'll apologize to Dan Hayes now, as the incorrect passage was excised. But the larger issue--a haughtiness that comes, perhaps naturally, with the beat territory--remains.

I'm not sure how that comes as a shock. I was once fervently pro-traditional media and anti-blog, at least in one specific aspect: collaboration. In the traditional publication-editor-writer relationship, there are crucial checks and balances, copyediting, and brainstorming, all of which give traditional media a huge advantage over even the best lone-wolf blogger. It is a rare case where a self-published piece (and that includes the "big" bloggers) doesn't have outright grammar errors, if not larger issues of sourcing, attribution, context.

But my view has changed per my last experience with traditional media. Although Comcast boasted no publication per se, I wrote thousands of words per day for the CSNChicago site. Mistakes were caught and headlines improved, sure--but not often enough. Editors have been replaced by producers, whose responsibilities only partially involve editing, too often only after a piece has been uploaded live to a site.

So the job of copyediting, brainstorming, fact-checking and so on--a process that used to be collaborative--is increasingly falling to writers and writers alone. Are many of us up for the task? Sure. But presumptively and virtually eliminating the job of "editor" in electronic media bodes poorly for its future.

Thus I have no choice but to modify my stance, given that all too often a beat writer is a blogger, with greater access, responsibility, stature, and pay.

At any rate, yesterday's post dealt with the White Sox beat forsaking the blogosphere, something I see as a very valuable asset--often in a rather uppity or resentful manner. Pretty much as simple as that. And who knows, perhaps the Twitterpating that went on yesterday surrounding that post and the larger issue of getting to the bottom of Chris Sale's velocity issues will actually lead to a better relationship between the beat and fans.

I might have been different from the rest of my peers last season in that I was flying fairly solo in my writing endeavors. But when a fan was bowled over by a piece, it became a major editorial board vote and I took it as incentive to keep digging in that direction. And if a blog posted an intriguing question that hadn't been answered on the beat, I saw the opening and took it.

Two quick, late cases in point, September 2011. Cleveland Indians pitchers had been drilling White Sox with impunity, ably noted on Twitter. At the first pregame opportunity, I went to Sale, Sergio Santos, and Paul Konerko to get a read on why Chicago hurlers weren't retaliating, and whether or not retaliation was just an NFLization of baseball in the first place, no longer playing a role in today's game.

Upon Ozzie's resignation, it was larry at South Side Sox who captured his blog post stating he was headed to the Marlins before it was pulled down. I happened to catch his tweet and passed the news on, fully crediting his find. Thanks to larry's open eyes, I was able to squeeze the fact into coverage as early as my rough gamer, before Ozzie had left the field. That made my story was the only one with apparent confirmation on where Ozzie was headed.

To me, that's just using open, available and willing resources, nothing to be intimidated or put off by. Had I worked this 2012 season on the beat, I'm sure I would only have increased my dialogue with fans and blogs, especially with Comcast moving on to more unified and collaborative blog overall.

While I hope White Sox beat writers begin to see some in the blogosphere as collaborative partners, I have my doubts.

* * *

I heard from Merk yesterday, and he wasn't happy, beyond my misinterpretation of the #GoBlue tweet cheer. But he jumped to some conclusions that were likely spur of the moment, thus untrue. As much as he thought my chastising of he and Dan's reactions was a cheap shot, his complaint that "I was recording everything" was a similar cheap shot.

But in the spirit of clearing the air, I'll open the door to the press box a bit wider. That comes with hazards, but I imagine no one will object to my reflections this time around.

Mark Gonzales of the Tribune is not the longest-tenured White Sox beat, but he is the most tenured of the writers. Alhough he blushes the notion away, he's a future Hall-of-Famer. There is not a more genuine guy out there, and that's a quality especially hard to find in sports journalism. Given all I knew of the horribleness of Tribune personnel before meeting Mark, I was utterly, pleasantly shocked by how great a guy he is.

On a personal note, Mark displayed kinship I had perhaps not yet earned, which stood out particularly with his disgust at how Comcast treated me. It was nobody's burden, of course, but Gonzo was the only one of my peers who offered any sort of serial sympathy for my plight. And beyond that, he has always been willing to offer supportive words for my actual work--as many as I ever got from my employer itself.

Merk has perhaps the most difficult job of all, both in that MLB keeps him hopping year-round and in that he has tighter editorial line that can't be crossed. I wonder sometimes how he would do without positive-spin restrictions, but then, he's chronically nice enough that it's hard to imagine him wielding a poison pen. Merk and I are fans of each other's work and we have been longtime (mostly de facto) teammates in White Sox Magazine. I do regret ticking him off, whether or not we agree to disagree per blogging.

Daryl Van Schouwen came to the beat in 2011 and had the considerable challenge of following in Joe Cowley's footsteps. He has proven to be the reasoned, assuring voice (say, a Robin Ventura) following one much yappier (Ozzie, anyone?). Cowley himself, I have many harsh words for. But it would be remiss of me to not say that while anything but brotherly, Joe has both complimented my work for its uniqueness and in his own way looked out for me, a newbie, on the beat. I wish I would have gotten to enjoy more authentic Joe on the beat, not the more clownish center-stage Cowley.

Doug Padilla, dearly departed to the Cubbies beat, was my closest competitor as such last year. Both he and Joe share a yearning for the spotlight, which can only help you in this line of work. Doug had a strange propensity to want to comment on my every outfit, which is a little odd for a guy wearing chronic polos and jeans. But he and I faced some similar challenges, both in the direction of coverage and in lugging around extra equipment: he audio, me video. Maybe I'll finally get to buy him a beer one day.

While I can't make heads or tails of ESPN's plan for baseball coverage in Chicago (and really, ESPN, ugh), I'll say that Jon Greenberg is by far the best columnist we have in town, across sports.

Scot Gregor is the longest tenured White Sox writer and has had the considerable challenge of adjusting almost exclusively to home coverage as the Daily Herald has shifted its mission. He still finds a unique angle to report from, and has worked hard to be the closest to Paul Konerko among the writers; you can't do worse than the Captain.

As for Scot's admitted old-school approach to bloggers, well, he's made his feelings known. I don't agree with them, and I still react to his back-and-forth with South Side Sox per Dayan Viciedo with sheer amazement. Did I use his curmudgeonly attitude to advance a relationship with "outside" media and fans, to help emphasize myself as a different flavor? Sure. I'm guessing I'm not the first to do so--and if I was guilty of anything, it's that I overprioritized my true boss, the fan.

I also had a lot of fun with two other "home" media, the AP's Travis Miller and The Northwest Herald's Meghan Montemurro. Talking to Edwin Jackson and Gavin Floyd, respectively, was never the same without them.

Yesterday I made a brusque brush of WSCR's Chris Rongey as gruff, but wouldn't you be, doing 162 postgames or more a year? Ranger is a calming and reserved presence in the clubhouse and dugout, sorta wry, sorta mysterious. As has been pointed out to me, his debates with fans even on Twitter are met with increasing respect on his end, and that's a wonderful sign.

I'll make no secret that two folks who performed above and beyond on my behalf at Comcast, producers Jeremy Lynn and J.J. Stankevitz. Jeremy was extremely engaging when it came to brainstorming and feedback, making him a standout editor for me as well as a true partner. J.J. was only just transitioning into a true support position there as the season wore on, but his unfailing energy on the night of Ozzie's departure made our total coverage package better than anyone's on that night.

I know little of my successor at CSN, other than to acknowledge he's brought a lot of energy with him, and that alone provides promise. I'd like to see Dan liven up what can be a pretty stolid beat. There will probably be a few missteps as he adjusts to the responsibility and humidity of his new home, but those missteps will be nothing his predecessor didn't do, and then some.

When I left Comcast, I had a lot to say, and in a rare twist for me, I mostly didn't say it. I left with a gracious mea culpa of a message to those I knew there. I sent a mock news release that edged more toward gallows humor to my peers on the beat. And that's it. For now, though there is unimaginably more to comment on, that's where I'll keep it.

I've benefited from the kindnesses of many along my sportswriting path: Steve Greenberg, Jason Langendorf, William Wagner, Scott Reifert, Anthony Hyde, Adam Kempenaar, Ben Osborne, Ming Wong in particular. I believe I have paid that forward with interest; as a former editor I've advanced story payments to help writers through rough patches, ghostwritten for my own pubs to free up budget. I've led writers to jobs permanent and freelance. I've offered an ear, a red pen, an encouraging word to keep others going.

Being on the beat is being part of a less intense, more sedentary, but still bonded band of brothers. I enjoyed my brief time in that brotherhood and hope that came clear in both my writing and my personal interactions. I said it yesterday: As much as it is hard for a fan to believe, the beat job is near impossible. For that alone, the beats earn our admiration even as they dodge our arrows.

This mea culpa disguised as insight and explanation could end up eulogy. I truly don't know where to head from here. It could be a post tomorrow, or it could be retirement to the farm, where I will cheer on the first-place Pale Hose in a way I (mostly, right Joe and Doug?) couldn't in the press box.

For now, just bang the gong.

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