I’ll be on the road next week in SEC country, so after a post on Monday the B/R Blog will be quiet.
I’ll be visiting journalism programs at the Universities of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana State. If you’re in Athens, Tuscaloosa, Oxford or Baton Rouge, in that daily order starting Monday, look for me on campus. Let my Twitter feed be your guide. I’m hoping to add another school on Friday.
What I’ll be talking about, aside from Bleacher Report and sports media in general, is B/R’s two educational programs, the Advanced Program in Sports Media, which focuses on writing, and the Advanced Program in Editing and Content Management, which I think is self-explanatory.
The APSM and the APECM are paid, part-time, 12-week programs to which students may telecommute. Bleacher Report hires quite a bit out of both. I think they both represent a great opportunity for advanced journalism students and early-career pros, and I’m looking forward to meeting a bunch of the former across the Southeast.
It’s been three months since the New Yorker made 231 of its greatest stories available online to celebrate a website design, so you must be finished reading that collection by now.
So you should have plenty of time to dig into 100 Years 100 Stories, a celebration by The New Republic of its 100th anniversary.
That’s it. Go read. I’m planning to start with George Orwell’s Brilliant Guide to Writing Well, from 1946. But you can start anywhere.
Data journalism is a hot trend in the last few years, but there are so many numbers in sports that you could argue sportswriters have been doing data journalism since before data journalism was cool.
We haven’t always done it well, but we’ve been doing it.
The main lesson is pretty much the same as the prime directive for tangling with things that aren’t numbers too: Question everything.
Butterworth breaks down two posts on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Think you drink a lot? This chart will tell you and Why the U.S. should start taxing soda like cigarettes and alcohol. He examines where the underlying data comes from, questions the motives and methods of various people behind them, and proceeds to generally, in his own words, “follow the footnotes and check out the data.”
The risk for wonk journalism is that you either lose in audience as you expand in analysis, or you dumb down and end up dumb. The rub is, you can’t tell good data from bad without doing analysis.
Early in my career, on the night sports copy desk at the old San Francisco Examiner, I made up a rule for myself that I still live by as both a writer and an editor. It’s an extension of the rule that says to check every name and every number: If you see any kind of math in a story, re-calculate it yourself, because you have to assume it’s wrong. At least 37 percent of the time—about one in five—it will be.
There were three really interesting pieces I read last week tied to departures in the media biz. They don’t really have anything to do with each other, but together they give three glimpses that serve as a little snapshot of some big issues in media at the moment.
OK, only two of them do. We’ll start with them.
The reason is a little complicated, but it has to do with what McKinney writes is his feeling that the Sun-Times “no longer has the backs of reporters like me.” He writes that he was taken off his beat, put on leave and later denied a byline after the campaign of Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate for Illinois governor, accused McKinney of having a conflict of interest. And then the Sun-Times, which declared in 2012 that it would no longer endorse candidates for elections, endorsed Rauner.
All this after the Sun-Times had called the Rauner accusations an “attack” that bordered on defamation. McKinney asks:
Was all this retaliation for breaking an important news story [in which Rauner looked bad] that had the blessing of the paper’s editor and publisher, the company’s lawyer and our NBC5 partners? …
Readers of the Sun-Times need to be able to trust the paper. They need to know a wall exists between owners and the newsroom to preserve the integrity of what is published. A breach in that wall exists at the Sun-Times.
It’s had a chilling effect in the newsroom. While I don’t speak for my colleagues, I’m aware that many share my concern. I’m convinced this newspaper no longer has the backs of reporters like me.
There has traditionally been a “wall” between a media outlet’s newsroom and business interests, as well as between the newsroom and the owners’ powerful friends and political interests. We’ve heard a lot in the last few years about that first wall becoming more permeable, and about how that can be a good thing, with content creators taking on a more realistic view that what they’re doing is part of a business, and needs to succeed to survive.
It’s the other wall that McKinney is talking about. Is that one becoming softer too? And if so, what will the consequences be?
Another unhappy departure is chronicled by Rebecca Carroll in the New Republic: “I’m a Black Journalist. I’m Quitting Because I’m Tired of Newsroom Racism.”
“It’s a strange and incredibly demoralizing time to be a black person in American media,” Carroll writes, continuing:
The words “racist and “racism” have cynically become clickbait, all while various newsrooms are claiming that they want to hire more writers and reporters and editors of color, but don’t. What it feels like you are hearing is: We’re not really trying to diversify our newsrooms, because we don’t actually have to.
Among the challenges that make racism so difficult to fix, and so odiously constant, is that white people often don’t even recognize when they’re saying or doing something that cuts their black colleagues to the bone. Or worse, they do recognize when they’re being racially insensitive, but then demonstrate some semblance of regret and move on unscathed. If we can’t say anything about this kind of behavior—or don’t—then who will? What’s more, if we do speak up, particularly if we are among the chosen few who are granted a voice in mainstream media, at what cost?
If you don’t think racism is a real issue in media—and if you don’t, chances are you’re white—you should read Carroll’s piece.
On a happier, if wistful note, is news that “iconic” baseball writer John Lowe is retiring from the Detroit Free Press. You may have heard the Fox broadcast crew mention this during Game 2 of the World Series. Here’s Fox’s Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal writing about Lowe.
They both mention how much Lowe loved baseball, loved writing about baseball, had a positive outlook, and helped younger writers. That’s a pretty good way to approach the daily grind.
It’s easy to forget that when you write about sports, you’re potentially writing about almost anything. Politics, economics, race, violence, substance abuse. There’s almost nothing that gets covered on news sites that couldn’t, somehow, end up on a sports site.
So while a rampaging shooter like the one who terrorized Ottawa this week doesn’t figure to be a part of sports coverage, it could happen, depending on where or at whom that shooter shoots, or threatens to shoot.
That’s why I think sportswriters, not just hard news folks, can get a lot out of this Mother Jones report by James West, headlined “Canada’s Coverage of the Ottawa Shootings Put American Cable News to Shame.”
West notes that while the situation unfolded live with lots of sketchy details and unconfirmed rumors, the CBC’s coverage, anchored by “the unflappable Peter Mansbridge,” was very different than what we’re used to in the U.S.:
This live bit of level-headed reporting by Mansbridge, from around 11:10 a.m. Wednesday, should be given to journalism students around the country. It basically contains everything you need to know about why CBC did its audience proud:
MANSBRIDGE: And so, the situation is, as we say, tense and unclear. And it’s on days like this—we keep reminding you of this and it’s important—it’s on days like this, where a story takes a number of different pathways, a number of changes occur, and often rumors start in a situation like this. We try to keep them out of our coverage, but when they come, sometimes from official sources, like members of Parliament, you tend to give them some credence. But you carefully weigh it with what we’re also witnessing. It’s clear that the situation is not over. It is clear the police are in an intense standby situation and continue to be on the lookout, and until somebody blows the all-clear on this we will continue to stay on top of it and watch as the events unfold.
West continues: “Exacting and painstaking, but never slow or boring, Mansbridge weighed the credibility of every detail, constantly framing and reframing what we knew and, most crucially, how we knew it.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post from 1965 to 1991, died this week at the age of 93. Whenever journalism giants die, there are lots of stories around about their lives and careers.
I usually find it fruitful to read as many of them as I can find.
Bradlee, familiar to non-Beltway insiders as the character played by Jason Robards in the movie version of Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men,” was not a sportswriter or a sports editor. But he liked sports and, evidently, understood well the role of sports journalism. His obituary, linked in the lede above, notes that when he took over as managing editor of the Post in 1965, its most famous writer was a sportswriter, Shirley Povich.
Here’s NBA.com and TNT reporter David Aldridge, who got his start at the Washington Post, writing on Facebook:
Working at The Washington Post was the anchor for my professional life. All the lessons I learned about journalism came from my nine years there, and all those came with Ben Bradlee at the helm. He didn’t run the Sports section, but he was the undeniable boss of the paper. He loved Sports and was quite fond of our immediate boss, George Solomon (the feeling was mutual). So, while he wasn’t there every day, Ben would come back to the section quite often to see what was going on. He was not that interested in the score of the game last night. He wanted to know if anything big was cooking. (Per David Maraniss’s outstanding biography of Vince Lombardi, It was Bradlee who first found out Lombardi was coming to D.C. in 1969 to coach the Redskins, having been given the scoop by his close friend, the late owner of the team, Edward Bennett Williams. Bradlee told Sports, which printed the story. THAT was Ben Bradlee’s idea of a big story.)
New Yorker editor David Remnick was a Washington Post reporter from 1982 to ’92. In a thoroughly entertaining remembrance, he writes of Bradlee, “Among his many bequests to the Republic was a catalogue of swaggering anecdotes rich enough to float a week of testimonial dinners.” The piece ends with one of them.
Here’s a great letter Bradlee once sent to a PR flack from a circus who had complained that the Post’s Style section hadn’t published a story about someone’s retirement. The kicker is a nice statement of purpose when it comes to dealing with press agents: “I would like to be sure that you understand that we trust our editors’ news judgment and that we distrust yours.”
Ben Bradlee Wrestled With Racial Issues by Richard Prince, Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
Ben Bradlee: His sense of Style brought a new sensibility to features by Martha Sherrill, Washington Post. The headline refers to the influential Style section, which Bradlee introduced.
A Story About Ben Bradlee That’s Not Fucking Charming by Peter Maass, The Intercept.
Journalists reflect on Ben Bradlee’s life and career by Benjamin Mullin, Poynter.org.
After all, the headline on Mallory Jean Tanore’s piece is “What media outlets can learn from the Ebola Deeply news site,” and we’re all media outlets, right?
The site, launched last week by Lara Setrakian, a former ABC reporter who also founded Syria Deeply, is dedicated to nothing but coverage of the Ebola outbreak. A note of disclosure: I’ve met Setrakian a few times and think the world of her and her work.
Increasingly, nontraditional news sites like Ebola Deeply and Syria Deeply are filling gaps by publishing stories that legacy news outlets may not have the capacity or resources to cover in depth.
Journalists can learn something from these sites, which break down complex information in a way that’s easy to understand. Ebola Deeply does this partly by offering readers a variety of ways to consume information.
In addition to written stories, the site features Google Hangouts, a Twitter feed, videos, a timeline of events related to the epidemic, and a case map [showing] the number of deaths and infections around the world.
Thanks for sticking with me, because here’s my point: Where are “the gaps” in what you cover, or might cover? That’s where the opportunities are to do great things. That’s something I’ve learned from, among other places, sites like Ebola Deeply.