A great story from Eno Sarris, writing at The Hardball Times, about the life of baseball’s beat writers. He interviewed a handful of really good ones, including Nick Piecoro, C. Trent Rosecrans and Hank Shulman about their jobs. A nice summary at the end:
Maybe Piecoro sums it up best: “I love sitting in press box in San Francisco during day games. I love walking across the Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh. I love putting on a jacket during night games in San Diego. I love looking out over the city from up high in the Wrigley Field press box.
“But, you know, there are annoying parts of the job, too. Deadlines. Transcribing interviews. Boring games, or games that last too long. Trying to create a storyline where there isn’t one.”
A lot of you will probably jump to the “how dare they complain! They have awesome jobs!” If you read this, though — and if you’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of beat writers like I have — you know that most of them aren’t complaining when they talk about the hard parts of their job. They’re just stating facts. It’s a great job sometimes, it’s a pain in the butt sometimes. It’s like most jobs that way. I’ve really only ever heard a couple really complain in a serious way and those guys are not, surprise surprise, considered among the best at their jobs. And they don’t last too long either.
But I also can’t help but think that so much of what is a pain about the beat writers’ job is a function of a media paradigm that is antiquated at this point. The deadlines and having to come up with storylines on the quick are a function of print media and print deadlines. In an increasingly online world those, one hopes, will go away eventually. The early flights and transcribing are likewise functions of a certain mindset in media. One that may be harder to shake than the existence of actual printing presses, but one which may be worth shaking all the same.
We’ve talked about this a lot over the years, but I feel like the model of beat writers doing game stories and getting player quotes is not the best way to deploy journalistic resources. If you had one guy doing deeper dives and more interesting stories that required player-reporter interaction, and someone else doing game analysis without relying on conventional game stories with (often empty and meaningless) player quotes, reporters wouldn’t have to stay up late to watch the game and then catch that early flight. The guy doing the transcribing wouldn’t have to rush to the press box to think about that night’s game. And, in the end, we’d have two great products from two people doing distinct jobs — or one guy doing both on less-crammed schedules — instead of a product often compromised by the nature of access and reporting.
Obviously it wouldn’t be an easy transition and many who are paid to think about this stuff for media companies have spent a long time trying to figure it out. But I remain fascinated with what sports reporting can be if we think less and less of the old newspaper model and move more and more to a form which follows the function of today’s technology and fan/consumer tastes rather than last century’s.