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Sports writers: The sports beat itself is not the beat

Andrew Holleran / Photo editor

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To say that I am lucky to be the sports editor of Ohio State’s daily student newspaper is a gross understatement. In fact, I’m spoiled rotten. I get a front-row seat to some of the best sporting events in the country so that I may observe, chronicle and comment on them.
My objective in this privileged position, as I understand it, is to help keep an unbiased history, and occasionally impart personal opinion, on the sporting happenings taking place during the relatively small window of time that I’ll be on this campus. And so, in an ideal world, I should think professional sportswriters of America have these same aims, to inform the citizenry of their publication services.
At various times, and particularly in recent weeks, though, I’ve observed sports scribes taking pot shots at each other’s work, bickering about issues that only affect sports writers, and really just serving ourselves and not our respective audiences.
We’ve lost our way as sportswriters. Heck, I almost lost my own way yesterday.
Here’s an example: Orlando Sentinel sports columnist Mike Bianchi, prior to coming to Ohio Stadium to cover Central Florida football’s Saturday game against OSU, accused members of the Buckeyes’ football media troupe of “printing lies” and generally supporting a perceived agenda of first-year coach Urban Meyer with “fluffy” stories.
“No, these charges don’t come from some paranoid politician or neurotic football coach; they come from another member of media: Me,” Bianchi wrote in a Sept. 7 column.
Bianchi was firing back at a commentary from the Columbus-based website, theozone.net, which faulted him for sparring with Meyer during a Big Ten teleconference.
There’s a way to debate the coverage of an event or issue,
Here’s another example: OSU’s own “Twitter-gate” scandal.
Like outlets and writer-personalities all over America, The Lantern reported on OSU athletics spokesman Jerry Emig’s request to media to delay tweeting content from Meyer’s press conferences until the event was over.
In an email to The Lantern, Emig said the policy was intended as a courtesy to both reporters and football personnel. It was not until after the press conference, Emig said, that he was told Meyer’s press conference was being broadcast live by Columbus radio station WBNS 97.1 FM and streamed on the athletic department’s website.
“I simply asked those in attendance to not tweet while an interview was taking place,” Emig told The Lantern. “Once I was reminded of (the live broadcast) – after the press conference – I realized that courtesy or no courtesy, we can’t ask people to delay tweeting. So even though many in attendance were supportive, we won’t ask to delay tweeting any longer.”
The Lantern was the first to learn that this request was being lifted, and after I tweeted the news out to the world from our sports Twitter account, the news was re-tweeted by members of the media.
Fan interest in that particular matter, though? I don’t think there was a morsel of it. Again, we’re talking about our audiences – there’s a market for new and social media that would take great interest in that story, but a Buckeyes’ season ticket holder? Doubtful, and it’s reckless to assume the audience will gobble up any given sportswriter’s every experience.
I’ll grant you this, there was concern that our free-speech rights were being infringed upon, and that had broader appeal because of the inherent legal issues that could accompany a situation like that.
But does the average OSU football fan care if it takes an extra half-hour to hear about Meyer’s assessment of his players? I think they’re just happy to consume Meyer’s brutally direct evaluation of the program, even if it arrives a bit late.
Finally, we arrive at the example I almost presented to the world via Twitter yesterday. I got all hot and bothered by the fact that Meyer, speaking at his weekly press conference Monday, said he wasn’t aware of a Sunday water main explosion that caused 2,000 OSU students to be uprooted from their dormitories and displaced. I don’t want to delve too deeply into my feelings about Meyer’s lack of knowledge about the water main explosion, but you could say I was bothered by it. So I took to Twitter and saw that some were making light of the fact that Meyer was even asked a question about the water main explosion, a question I assigned a Lantern reporter to ask. Well, I had really had it at that point. I fired off tweets that hinted at my feelings about 1.) the validity of the question and 2.) how I felt about Meyer having no knowledge of this major incident on campus. Then a couple people disagreed with me – I was really, truly ready spout off.
But I didn’t spout off – I had to stop. The simple fact is that some blogger’s opinion of a question asked at a press conference doesn’t matter, nor does my criticism of he or she matter. Think about it: as OSU football beat writers, we’re covering the team, not the beat itself.
In that moment, as in the aforementioned cases, the beat itself became the beat and that is simply a pigheaded practice.
I imagine that sports writers’ respective audiences care about our finished products – accuracy in reporting, good writing and informative content. Do we really think they care more about our own petty, online squabbles? No, of course they don’t.
Does anyone care to hear me critique the sports-writing practices of UWeekly? Do you care to read about what UWeekly thinks about me? I think (and hope) you’d prefer to consume quality coverage of the teams you care about. Period.
As a student journalist, my head is buried in journalism texts on a daily basis. Maybe that constant exposure to the fundamentals of journalism, and the fundamentals of sports writing, make it too easy to for me to call for all sportswriters to share my idealistic vision for this profession. Maybe I’m naïve – sometime in the future I might get so hot about someone’s column or story or a concern about my access to the teams I cover that I’ll force my frustration right down the throat of my audience. I started to on Monday before, mercifully, I stopped myself.
If I ever get that close again, someone come tap me on the shoulder and tell me to get lost. Clearly, I’ll no longer be serving anyone’s interest in my own at that point.
The beat itself is not the beat. The sportswriters of America themselves are not the story. Don’t forget that, and don’t let me, my colleagues at The Lantern or any other outlet forget it.  

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