Monday, July 30, 2012

The Club

You're in the club!
Being in the club means being stirred up by things!
You look about as stirred up as a cesspool!
Dead Poet's Society, 1989

Claire Standish: So academic clubs aren't the same as other kinds of clubs.
John Bender: Ah, but to dorks like him, they are. What do you guys do in your club?
Brian Johnson: Well, in physics we ... we talk about physics, properties of physics.
John Bender: So it's sorta social, demented and sad, but social. Right?

I was happy just gearing up to finish my Ken Williams series, when the haughtiness of the White Sox beat reared its head yet again.

I get that beat writers are protective about their territory. They worked hard, and for a long time, to get their jobs; and in many cases they have to work harder and longer to keep them. (Other times, you just have to get lucky, or know when to look the other way, or, if the media outlet is completely bereft of rules, ethics, or anything remotely resembling couth, you can literally sleep with somebody to get a "professional" gig. But really, that's another post entirely.)

I was there on two beats, Blackhawks and White Sox, and believe me, I was keeping close watch and making notes on any shortcuts some of my peers were taking. And they took 'em (with one exception, who should be obvious to any White Sox reader): Borrowed facts, fake or trumped-up sources, false hustle, bias up the wazoo (here's a fun any home game story and note how quickly and disparagingly USCF home attendance is referenced), bad writing, inept editing. The total package.

On the beat, I was all too often a one-man band, unlike my peers, who had a support staff of editors to check and improve copy. In rare instances maybe those editors would even--gasp--brainstorm ideas with writers. (There were two outstanding behind-the-scenes folks working closely with me on stories and providing such support when I was on the beat, neither of whom probably want to be named by me, shunned. But they were just two people. One a part-timer, with an apparent appetite beyond his ability to eat. So ... )

One thing I made sure to do was keep a careful eye on something else that my peers, for reasons practical and just plain lazy, didn't often, unless you're counting microbrew tips--interact with fans. Frankly, on a beat, you're just that, beat by the ritual and sameness, even in an Ozzie Guillen world, so it became important and interesting to take note of the plaudits and criticisms of fans, the range of which ran from the beyond sharp "bloggers" to just a casual booster of the team.

I was implored by the guy who hired me, a hyperkinetic fella with the depth of a tweet, one of the many in the business world who become expert at being busy while contributing nothing, to bond with fan bases via Twitter. This is something I doubt I would have felt encouraged to do on my own, because frankly, 140-character sharing seemed the ultimate in narcissistic, lightweight, empty, time wasting. But given the conscription, I tried to have fun with it, in my guise as @CSNChi_Beatnik.

I came to take the connections made there more seriously, for two reasons. One was obvious, seeing the sharp commentary from fans and realizing there was something for me to gain there, personally and professionally. Second was seeing how derisively many of my peers tended to treat tweets, and more so, tweeters.

It's how I came to ally myself with blogs (particularly South Side Sox) and be open to fans of any depth, rather than spending inordinate time sniffing jocks and stealing anything I could to stay ahead. On the job, I dealt with upper editors who were either absent completely, or utterly unrealistic in their demands (my company was unconscionably green in the field of journalism, so it was amateur hour, all the way, and I'm sad to say that little has changed): If I delivered desired breaking news or insider info, they had no way to package it and frequently ignored it entirely. If I followed my own instincts and delivered unique content that the other beats could or would not, it was met with mostly one long yawn. Wearing your own sandwich board gets too burdensome.

Blogs connected me with smart fans, way more than a chat would, or, frankly, no offense to cuddly Cubbies fan "Kap," more than a rushed CTL appearance did. A compliment from someone there meant as much or more than one from my peers, who often were just busy surviving the season. Criticism from a smart fan led me to correct or further explain, not to dismiss or ignore. I took all that stuff to heart.

Maybe it was my rudderless existence on the job, with so little true feedback, that drew me to Twitter crit. Or, maybe I'm just more amenable, engaging, and interactive than the average guy. That, as you probably now know, is the swiftest means of losing a foothold in the business world, where sociopaths rule and the good guys too often do finish last.

In the link up top, Scott Merkin of guy who once characterized me as a "true man of the people" for my varied, hilarious fan interactions--"respectfully" dismisses the exhaustive study of Chris Sale by SSS's colintj as "pie charts," while lauding Robin Ventura's "gut"--which even Merk might admit has been pretty lacking when it comes to all things Sale. Later, colintj winsomely takes it up with Dan Hayes, who dismisses Sale's clearly diminished velocity with true asininity--"Can't throw 96 mph & expect to pitch 7-8-9 innings." As if that was the point, at all.

*Deleted text; see below.

If you aren't challenging a beat writer, they are OK with fans and even "bloggers." But if you imply they are not doing their jobs, you must be an idiot. They are paid to write about the White Sox, you're not. And while you're at it, use your real name--and move out of your parents' basement.

Joe Cowley's outrageous tweets, mercifully now emptied into Lake Michigan along with all the other bile and detritus and sewage our daily digestion produces, are of course an extreme lesson in how not to interact with fans. But the more subtle, shake-your-hand stab-your-back engagement is even more dangerous. What choice does colintj have but to continue interacting with the Merks and Hayeses, in hopes they will deign a question or criticism with kid gloves and not dismissive hostility?

It's not just Merkin or Hayes, of course. Last summer when the SSS tiff with Scot Gregor over the Dayan Viciedo Conspiracy Theories, I was amusedly dialoging with some of the principals, reporting live from beat row on the harrumphing and mocking going down in the Gregor-Merk row in front of me as it all unfolded. Ranger Rongey, who met me in the dugout with a usual greeting of, "I hate people" throughout last year, has had a number of Twitter battles with fans--because he just doesn't get enough on postgame radio. If the Phil Rogerses or Dan McGraths or Dave Van Dycks of the world used Twitter for anything more than a one-way pneumatic for all that's fit to puke, lord knows there would be a Twit kerfuffle a day. 

Beat writing is an impossible task. I have told some bloggers I admire that in a way, it's not a fair fight. To do any artful writing at all is a beast of a challenge when you're faced with a day-to-day drill of locker room--manager--transcribing--game action--tweets--postgame--rinse--repeat. I had the thrill of juggling obtrusive camera equipment on the road, then praying I could upload the bounty back to Chicago in less than an hour or two, on top of the common beat duties as well.

And I have feet in both camps, still. I write for the White Sox and have occasion to step into the clubhouse. But given no daily, "professional" outlet, I'm way more blogger than beat. I'm not sure that's the wrong place to be.

*Note: This post was edited some hours after posting, as Scott contacted me to offer a brief explanation of what seemed to be the most dismissive interaction of his and Dan's tweets. I took it out of context and overreacted to that aspect, and for that misunderstanding I apologize.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Fair and balanced yet still make a point? Who knew it could be done?