Rick Reilly

Rick Reilly gives journalism school grads horrible, horrible advice


ESPN’s Rick Reilly was chosen to give the commencement address to journalism students from the University of Colorado.  His advice:

When you get out there, all I ask is that you: DON’T WRITE FOR FREE! Nobody asks strippers to strip for free, doctors to doctor for free or professors to profess for free. Have some pride! … If you do it for free, they won’t respect you in the morning. Or the next day. Or the day after that. You sink everybody’s boat in the harbor, not just yours. So just DON’T!

Well, Rick Reilly is certainly the right person to tell people not to write for free, but I can’t think of a single thing he could tell would-be writers that would constitute worse advice than that.

There’s an old saying that all writers have a million bad words in them and that, to write anything worth reading, they’ve got to get them out of their system.  Put differently: writers need to write. A lot. Indeed, the only way anyone gets better as a writer is to just … do it.  Your credential as a J-school grad is nice, but it is insignificant compared to experience. And, as the media world progresses further and further into the digital age, it becomes increasingly insignificant in an absolute sense.

What Reilly is really doing here is not giving advice to graduates. He’s giving them a warning: “Don’t take my job!  Don’t take my friends’ jobs!  They make a good living writing, and if you come in and undercut them with your blog or your contributed piece, you may screw with the system, so cut it out, will ya?”

And I have some amount of sympathy for that position. It has to be frustrating for someone who paid his dues under an old system to see others come up under a new system and no longer have to pay those dues. And who are essentially taking the jobs of those previous dues-payers. But that’s where media is now. I don’t have this job if I didn’t spend years writing for free, working at the craft and developing my voice. The same goes for a lot of people in this business. Including a lot of people who work with Rick Reilly at ESPN.

No, you don’t work for free forever because, hey, ya gotta eat. But most people do have to either take unpaid internships or blog and otherwise hustle to make it in the media these days. Advice that says “NEVER DO THAT!” is useless, because most of those graduates will be asked to do it. They key is to know what unpaid writing gigs could lead to the development of one’s career and, ultimately, into paying jobs and what unpaid writing gigs are essentially slave labor offered by a company simply looking to get something for free.

Someone who could help would-be writers figure that out would be a really useful commencement speaker.  Reilly? Not so much.

The international draft is all about MLB making money and the union selling out non-members

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 13:  A fan flies the Dominican Republic flag during the game against Cuba during Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic on March 13, 2006 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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On Monday we passed along a report that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are negotiating over an international draft. That report — from ESPN’s Buster Olney — cited competitive balance and the well-being of international free agents as the reasons why they’re pushing for the draft.

We have long doubted those stated motivations and said so again in our post on Monday. But we’re just armchair skeptics when it comes to this. Ben Badler of Baseball America is an expert. Perhaps the foremost expert on international baseball, international signings and the like. Today he writes about a would-be international draft and he tears MLB, the MLBPA and their surrogates in the media to shreds with respect to their talking points.

Of course Badler is a nice guy so “tearing to shreds” is probably putting it too harshly. Maybe it’s better to say that he systematically dismantles the stated rationale for the international draft and makes plan what’s really going on: MLB is looking to save money and the players are looking to sell out non-union members to further their own bargaining position:

Major League Baseball has long wanted an international draft. The driving force behind implementing an international draft is for owners to control their labor costs by paying less money to international amateur players, allowing owners to keep more of that money . . . the players’ association doesn’t care about international amateur players as anything more than a bargaining chip. It’s nothing discriminatory against foreign players, it’s just that the union looks out for players on 40-man rosters. So international players, draft picks in the United States and minor leaguers who make less than $10,000 in annual salary get their rights sold out by the union, which in exchange can negotiate items like a higher major league minimum salary, adjustments to the Super 2 rules or modifying draft pick compensation attached to free agent signings.

Badler then walks through the process of how players are discovered, scouted and signed in Latin America and explains, quite convincingly, how MLB’s international draft and, indeed, its fundamental approach to amateurs in Latin America is lacking.

Read this. Then, every time a U.S.-based writer with MLB sources talks about the international draft, ask whether they know something Ben Badler doesn’t or, alternatively, whether they’re carrying water for either the league or the union.

President Bill Murray speaks about the Cubs from the White House

CHICAGO - APRIL 12:  Celebrity Bill Murray clowns around with Chicago media before the opening day game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 12, 2004 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 13-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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I don’t know why Bill Murray is in Washington today. I don’t know why he’s at the White House. But I do know that he was there in Chicago Cubs gear, standing at the lectern in the press briefing room, voicing his full confidence in the Cubs prevailing in the NLCS, despite the fact that Clayton Kershaw is going for the Dodgers tomorrow night.

“Too many sticks,” president Murray said of the Cubs lineup. And something about better trees in Illinois.

Four. More. Years.