New York Times goes way old school, Fox wrestles with ethics in MLB postseason
Two interesting journalism stories have popped up in these final stages of the baseball postseason.
First, and more fun, when the New York Mets beat the Chicago Cubs in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series last week, the New York Times created an early-20th century sports page and populated it with Dan Barry’s delightful game story, written in the language of 1908. That’s the last year the Cubs won the World Series, as you may have heard.
Poynter.org’s James Warren wrote about the story behind the story, interviewing Barry about the work that went into writing the epic gamer, which stretched to 2,200 words. Impressive length for a deadline piece, even if it weren’t written in the language of a century ago. Times sports editor Jason Stallman suggested the more formal byline D. Francis Barry, which, Barry says, “evoked the whole New York Times thing.”
I liked a little tidbit Barry passed along in passing. Talking about sportswriters can still write interesting game stories today, he says, “if you stipulate that you know the Patriots beat the Jets yesterday, you can tell them that here’s what it was like on the ground and in the locker room. And you can still go to Ralph Branca’s locker like [New York Post columnist] Murray Kempton did, rather than to Bobby Thomson’s.”
I’ve read Red Smith’s classic column from that day, but I’ve never read, or heard of, Kempton’s piece, which is a great example of a reporter getting out of the pack. And I couldn’t find it online. I’d love to read it. Have you ever seen it?
More seriously, Fox wrestled with a serious journalistic question during the broadcast of Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night. As Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post writes, the network had to figure out what to do with the information that Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Edinson Volquez’s father had died earlier in the day. That information was circulating on social media, but it wasn’t clear whether Volquez knew.
“If they delivered [the news] to viewers,” Kilgore writes, Fox producers “believed there existed a nontrivial chance they would also inform a man on live television of his father’s death.” Fox color analyst Harold Reynolds pointed out that the clubhouse TVs would be carrying the Fox broadcast, Kilgore writes, so Volquez would likely hear about it if Fox reported the news.
Kilgore quotes Fox reporter Ken Rosenthal liberally as he recounts the conversation and thought process behind the decision not to report the story—even though it was all over Twitter—until Volquez left the game and the Royals let Fox know he’d been informed of his father’s death.
Rosenthal says his instinct is always to go with the story, but in this case he and Fox asked an important question, which Andrew Seaman, Ethics Committee Chair of the Society of Professional Journalists, spells out in Kilgore’s piece: “What is the importance of this information to the public?” Seaman points out that “the world necessarily doesn’t stop turning because [fans] didn’t find out that this person passed away.”
“It’s a good journalistic conversation,” Rosenthal tells Kilgore. “It was hard. It was really hard. I felt good about it the whole time. I am sure we did the right thing. It was the humane thing to do. It’s not like reporting on a trade. This is a person’s life.”