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Comment of the Day: some journalism deep-think

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Gleeman and I were chatting a while ago about why the news is so damn slow lately. We basically think it’s all about the lack of pennant races. If there were more races, more attention would be paid and national outlets would be sending their guys to big important series that, this year, aren’t happening.  Moreover, the multi-sport outlets and reporters are devoting themselves almost exclusively to football, treating it as a long lost lover that has finally returned.

I get it.  Kind of sucks if your job is reading and riffing on baseball news, but it happens. It’s just important that we use our downtime wisely and do things like contemplate our existence in the world. As a resident of a shantytown on the outskirts of Media City, my existence is more or less the world of journalism, so I contemplate it.

Which leads me to this comment from reader MKD. It came in the MVP thread, in which the notion of a journalist’s subjectivity was on the table.  I think there’s a lot of truth here:

When it comes to the history of journalism, I think we will look back on the period between the emergence monopoly newspapers (one paper per city) and the emergence of the internet as a peculiar time when people believed that “objectivity” was possible in news.

As it turned out, there were a million subjective biases being coded into “objective” news stories, but we never noticed them because our sources were so limited. With the explosion of the internet we’ve been forced to recognize that no matter how hard you try you cannot squeeze subjectivity out of reporting and so journalists have returned to their roots- coupling facts with analysis and opinion. I for one applaud the new willingness to acknowledge that objective news in an unattainable ideal. Long live debate!

Back when cities had a ton of papers, those papers felt more free to offer opinion, often sharp opinion in a way that allowed them to shape the news of the day in ways that late 20th Century media shied away from in the name of objectivity. The idea of “a paper of record” would have been nonsensical 100 years ago, but not in, say 1980.  Of course, that approach also led to a lot of misinformation being put out there too, which was the yin to the yang of all of that hard-nosed opinion-based stuff.

As MKD notes, the media world now is moving closer to the old model. It’s not the same — no Charles Foster Kane is going to be able to come along and tell people what to think in the Internet age — but the idea that news is not always about putative objectivity is becoming a fact of life. And I think this is good. Obviously not to the extent it leads to misinformation — we have to stamp that out that stuff — but it is good if context and informed opinion accompany the accurate facts.

I grow very tired of reading an article about politics in which 987 people believe X to be the case and 13 loons believe Y to be the case and the reporter — in the name of objectivity –says “there is disagreement, however.”  Fine. There’s disagreement. But put it in context and, even if your story is not on the op-ed page, feel free to call a loon a loon. Or if that’s too much, at least provide facts which put lie to what those 13 loons are saying. If you fail to do that you’ve distorted the matter even more. All in the name of objectivity! Blah.

It’s less stark in sports — I think sportswriters do a way better job of calling out BS in straight news stories, possibly because the stakes are seen to be lower — but I think there’s room for a lot more of it.  If the coach says something that’s nuts, it’s nice if the insane nature of his comment is pointed out soon after it’s quoted rather than to wait until the columnist takes up the matter two days later.

Anyway, the Internet age is moving us more in that direction. And, though there are risks that must be managed as the media becomes more and more dispersed, I think the risks are worth it. And I think it gives readers a much better product overall.

Are the current Collective Bargaining Agreement talks too friendly?

Scott Boras
Associated Press
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Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1. There have been comments from both commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA director Tony Clark suggesting that progress was being made and there has been no suggestion thus far that there are sticking points which could lead to a work stoppage. Heck, even a few acrimonious rounds of negotiation before it’s all said and done seem unlikely.

That’s good news for fans, but it’s not making certain agents happy. Smooth labor sailing likely means a new CBA that is pretty close in most terms to the current CBA. Agents — especially agents who represent veterans — don’t like that because they believe that the current rules regarding free agency, draft pick compensation, luxury taxes and qualifying offers penalize the players they represent. Today Ken Rosenthal has a story about that anger, talking to both anonymous agents and super agent Scott Boras about how baseball’s middle class is disappearing and baseball’s median salary goes lower and lower.

Major League Baseball counters that while the median salary is going down, the average salary is going up. And baseball is right about that. But it’s also the case that the average is propped up by a handful of superstar contracts while the somewhat less lucrative but still nice mid-level contracts for mid-level veterans are disappearing. The financial landscape of the game is morphing into one with a small upper class with nine-figure contracts and a large lower class of pre-arbitration players and veterans on shorter, smaller deals, squeezing the old veteran middle class out of existence.

Sound familiar?

Baseball, of course, is not the American economy. There are some good reasons why those mid-level contracts have gone away. Specifically, because they tended not to be very good deals for the teams who signed them. At the same time, baseball is far better able to tweak its rules to spread the wealth than the U.S. government can, and those rules — like the qualifying offer and luxury tax — have had a harsh impact on a lot of players.

There’s not a clear answer on what the best system is for free agents, draft pick compensation, draft bonus pools and the like actually is. I tend to favor the fewest restrictions on a player’s right to negotiate freely with teams, but I’ll also acknowledge that there is a less than perfect market at play in baseball given revenue disparities between teams and the need to maximize, within reason, competitive balance. It’s not an easy trick even before you get into the B.S. team owners tend to spew about pocketbook matters.

But it’s also the case that an all-too-friendly relationship between the union and the league — one in which a given set of rules is rubberstamped from CBA to CBA — is not an ideal situation. No one wants acrimony, but the fact is that the players and the union are slicing up a pie. If the person you’re slicing up a pie with is all-too-happy to keep slicing it the same way, it probably means that they’re getting a bigger piece than you. Maybe, if it’s your job to grab a bigger piece?

The agents Rosenthal talked to, who represent a good chunk of MLBPA membership, certainly think the union should be doing some more grabbing. I wonder if their clients do too.

Four baseballs autographed by Jose Fernandez wash ashore

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 03: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins looks on during a game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on August 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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This is just . . . ugh.

WSVN-TV in Miami reports that a black bag containing Jose Fernandez’s checkbook and four baseballs signed by him washed ashore on Miami Beach. Probably a bag to keep stuff dry while out on the water.

The bag was given to a lifeguard. Hopefully the bag finds its way back to Fernandez’s family quickly.