Back when I was in college, I was a huge Golden Gopher hockey fan (well, still am; can't wait to see the boys battle Boston College on Thursday). Since I was majoring in journalism and had an acute interest in sportswriting, I figured it would be wise to seek an opportunity to cover the team for a media outlet.
I ended up landing in a volunteer position with the school radio station. The gig consisted of watching Friday night games from the press box, calling in to give live on-air updates between periods and collecting sound bites from coaches and players in post-game interviews.
Watching the game as a member of the press had its perks, no doubt. I was rubbing shoulders with professionals I admired, gaining valuable experience, and there was even free food.
But overall, the process was tedious, challenging and stressful. It was work.
I've covered numerous sporting events over the years, including the Twins at Target Field, and what I've invariably come to realize is that it sucks the magic out of the game. Cheering in the press box is taboo (which was especially tough at Gopher games), you're forced into awkward interview situations with players and coaches who largely view you as a nuisance, and you're so busy framing story ideas and scrambling against deadlines that you can't really slow down and appreciate or enjoy what's happening.
On occasion, when the Gophers were trailing by a goal late, I'd find myself hoping in the press box that they wouldn't score and send it to overtime, so I could finish up and file my work more quickly. That's certainly not how the fan in me would feel.
When Phil Mackey went on a mystifying rant
about how "sports bloggers" are suffering from a lack of accountability and gloats about how "access paints such a more valuable picture," it miffed me and others. Mackey's remarks set off a whirlwind of debate, with other mainstream media pros chiming in words of agreement and bloggers firing back.
I've stayed out of the whole fracas, for the most part. It's a frustrating situation – drama driven by egos, professional pride and poor communication. John wrote a piece here about how corporate journalists are feeling threatened
by independent writers. I wouldn't go that far. I don't think the mainstream media need to fear us, but they do need to understand us.
We write from the perspective of a fan. Fans don't have access. If we crossed that threshold we'd be writing from a different and in many ways more limiting perspective. Obviously readers are thirsting for the type of relatable, removed-from-the-subject insight that bloggers provide, otherwise these "too large" platforms that Mackey complains of wouldn't have grown so large in the first place.
Having media members cover the team from inside the clubhouse, reporting news and providing first-hand viewpoints, is absolutely quintessential. There are several people who do that in this market – Mackey better than most. But while access adds another dimension it also involves a lot of extra work. Reporters get paid for that work, bloggers don't.
That, really, is the bottom line here. I can say with great confidence that if it wasn't their salaried job, these reporters wouldn't be in the clubhouse covering the team every day. Most of them probably wouldn't even be writing about the Twins, or about baseball, at all. There's an assortment of really talented writers in this market who have other jobs but take the time to write about the Twins for meager compensation (if any) simply because they're passionate about it.
When it comes down to it, which would you rather have: passion or access?
Why should you have to choose?