Media Saturation Apparent in Spring Reporting
One of the best and worst jobs, in my opinion, is that of a beat reporter. On one hand you get to cover a professional baseball team- a kids sport if you will- and work in casual clothing outdoors. You also get a paid trip down to Florida or Arizona for six weeks during the spring while it’s still cold and drab in some places.
The other side is not as glamorous. Covering millionaire athletes isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, especially when you are dealing with early-twenties types that are literally kids playing a men’s game. There are also the long stints away from home, unpredictable hours and, of course, answering to the constant demands from your news organization.
The modern beat reporter has to fight the battle for page views. I think the job has become more thankless and harder than ever. Despite that change, the pay hasn’t gotten any better. As a matter of fact, it’s probably worse than at any point before.
I started this venture from my house five years ago (March 26th will be 5 years, actually), and worked full-time jobs throughout. I was lucky that I had the flexibility to do this. My main goal was to use this outlet to network and improve my communication skills, which are vital to any career or industry. It grew into something more, something that has allowed me to develop my own brand and style of providing you news and opinion. My model is one that doesn’t require me to answer to a boss or news organization, and I can build my vision on my terms since I have other means to pay the bills. Unfortunately, doing this as a full-time gig doesn’t allow someone the same ability to create.
The industry has changed drastically in just those five short years. Mainstream outlets have blogs, podcasts and there is this thing called Twitter. The reader has an insatiable appetite for information that never seems to be craved. Even worse, technology has made it that the news never sleeps. It never did, but when you had newspaper deadlines there wasn’t as big a fear of being scooped at 3 AM, like the mainstream writers were by Real GM in their Dwight Howard contract story.
This leads to writers trying to compete and satisfy their news organization. New York baseball is a perfect example of what happens when there is too much time and not enough information to fill digital space. The problem is the industry is changing and fans are crying for better content, not faster content or contrived debate. I don’t believe the mainstream outlets have received this memo.
In Tampa, every bad outing seems to lead to questions about a Yankees pitcher. I said in January that Michael Pineda would suffer from enhanced expectations from the fan base because he cost the Yanks a popular top prospect. But even I didn’t expect each spring start to become a validation of the trade. Thus far, Pineda’s weight and velocity have been dissected multiple ways. Some even suggested that Pineda could be sent to the minors. There has even been some concern about Ivan Nova, who struggled this spring before his 4 scoreless innings against Boston the other night. The same guy that won 16 games and started an elimination game is getting the microscope during meaningless exhibitions!
In Port St. Lucie, it’s easier to fill digital space. The Wilpon Ponzi Scheme trial is going to hang over this team the next couple of weeks. Even a win in the courtroom won’t stop the questions about the team’s finances since there are more onerous debt payments due in the near future.
That hasn’t stopped the press from focusing on every ache and pain the team endures. Nick Swisher tweaked a groin last night, if he were a Met there would be a headline about it on today’s paper. I believe Terry Collins blew up about the injuries because he has to answer the same questions every day. Do you really think Ruben Tejada’s groin would be a story in Pittsburgh? Why do you think the Mets didn’t reveal the Ike Davis’ valley fever from the start? All Davis has done is answer “how do you feel” questions since the diagnosis became public. I can see a day where he finally tells the reporters “don’t call me; I’ll call you” when it comes to his health situation.
You can’t blame the beat reporters since they have a job to do. In a battle for page views, you don’t want to be the guy that was asleep at the wheel and was scooped by another in the story that Davis’ health situation took a turn for the worst, or David Wright is out of the year, or Ruben Tejada’s groin is more serious than the team let on. That won’t sit well with your editor or news organization.
The problem isn’t the writers- they are doing what they are asked- it’s incorrect assumption by the media on what the end user – their customer – really desires. The reader doesn’t care which writer gets the news first. At the end of the day no one remembers that fact, but they do remember good analysis. Readers remember who was fair and balanced in their reporting. They remember who gave them something to think about. Within ten minutes any broken story has filtered through all major news organizations. The awards for who broke the news are internal to the industry, not external. If the media is going to survive it needs to remember the external- again, their customers- are who they need to satisfy.
Maybe it’s time for a bold publication to tell its writer to forget the gossip and scoops. Cover the team in an insightful, thoughtful and analytical manner. The news will be there, but who cares if it’s there at now or a half hour from now. Twitter has destroyed the breaking of any news on a web platform, anyway.
Don’t think the players don’t realize what’s going on. That’s why you rarely, if ever, will get a good quote in a locker room. Show a player you know the game on a deeper level and I guarantee you will earn their respect. They will accept criticism if it’s fair and educated. They will talk to you for as long as they can. Show a player your main objective is TMZ gossip and you are lucky to get them to stray from the cliché-mode. Do you really blame them?
News saturation is apparent in every sport and town in this country. New York just has more reporters and people so it appears to be a bigger issue. You can’t go backwards since technology is here to stay. You can show courage and be the news outlet that strays away from the gossip and nonsense and try something different. Give me stories on positional battles, minor leaguers or even feel-good offseason talk. Let’s learn about who these guys are as people, and forget trying to stir the pot at a moment’s notice. Better yet, educate me on how the game really works. I said the other day if the players live on Earth, the media is on Mars, blogs and radio Jupiter, and the fans somewhere on Neptune. Let’s start bridging the gap
Have I been guilty of it? Sure, and there is a place for calling people out when they deserve it. That doesn’t mean we should all participate in the fake outrage that modern sports reporting has, at times, become. Leave that to radio, they have the market cornered, let’s see if the print and digital media can rise about it.
Better yet, can their bosses?
The past is the past. You can’t change it, but you can learn and grow from it.
By Mike Silva