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  • Access and Accountability

    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 Ė 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 Ė 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?

    This article was originally published in blog: Access and Accountability started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 24 Comments
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      The horse is dead, stop beating it already.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      As a consumer of content from both sides, I just wanted to say "thanks" for giving me the option.

      Good take Nick.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by gunnarthor View Post
      The horse is dead, stop beating it already.
      I have written about this subject zero times before.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Nice take Nick.
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      Nice piece here Nick. Well done!
    1. MWLFan's Avatar
      MWLFan -
      Nick,

      I think the point is that it has been covered by others to death, I just finished listening to the G&G podcast and they droned on about it for a few minutes at the end. To those of us with no dog in this fight it is becoming a bit of a bad reality show, the Real Housewives of the Twins Blogosphere. I would beat that most of us read you, Gleeman, Bonnes, Stohs and company quite a bit. But we also read LEN3, JC, Ben and Rhett. We probably listen to a bit of Sports radio. I find all this interesting, even Mackey's Wrestling obsession, Bonnes beer choices and Gleemans travel phobia. I draw the line at hair pulling though. All involved find a house, lock the doors for a week while the Twins are on the road, send Reusse and Shooter to cover them if you must, turn on the cameras and have it out. Drink Nordeast, eat chicken and ribs, talk sabermetrics or not, discuss the intelligence of most of us commenters, trash Gardy or not, exchange some really great Mauer stories if any exist, compare Punto versus Nishi versus Butera as a internet topic and not as player, Drink some more Nordeast have some more Chicken and have TK throw the losers out the back door wrapped in a Houston Jiminez jersey.

      You know I would watch that. But then again we are a easily amused species and I reflect that. Heck I would watch what would happen with Reusse and Shooter on the road too.
    1. WYTwinsFan's Avatar
      WYTwinsFan -
      I think this is a good summary of the issue. And honestly, sometimes I think the blogger's analysis tend to be more negative than necessary but I do appreciate that they are fans along with the rest of us. I don't feel that the writers have that same appreciation of the game/team.

      I always find it disappointing to find out that the ones who have access and develop friendships with some of the players, coaches, etc. end up not really being big fans. I envy their access so I guess I don't relate as much to them because I can't imagine that scenario.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by MWLFan View Post
      I think the point is that it has been covered by others to death, I just finished listening to the G&G podcast and they droned on about it for a few minutes at the end. To those of us with no dog in this fight it is becoming a bit of a bad reality show, the Real Housewives of the Twins Blogosphere.
      I went back-and-forth on whether I should write anything on the topic, for the reasons you mention here. In the end, I felt like I could add a unique perspective because I'm someone who's seen the issue from both sides over the years, and I think it's a compelling story in the local media scene. I'm not really attacking the "other side" here (I don't see much need for battle lines to be drawn, personally). Rather, I'm just pointing out that there's plenty of room for both forms of content and that chastising bloggers for writing without inside access is misguided at best.

      Ultimately, credentialing a bunch of independent writers would create more redundancy in coverage while also undoubtedly pissing off most of the beat reporters trying to do their jobs in an already sometimes overcrowded setting. Frankly, I feel like some of the people complaining would only be happy if bloggers went away completely, and whose interests would that serve other than their own? Certainly not those of the readers.
    1. mattsaari's Avatar
      mattsaari -
      Accountability is such a stupid word. It doesn't mean anything. Sure it has a definition, but it's such a slippery one as to mean nothing. It's main function is to shift responsibility to someone else. For example, to be held 'accountable' means that someone else takes responsibility for your action/words, via reprimand or termination or whatever. A blogger essentially takes all responsibility for her/his own actions because they don't have a parent publication or anything.

      I think the debate got an interesting counterpoint when John Heyman ran a complete nonsense story and then refused any responsibility for his lack of fact checking. He laughed at the critics, telling them to get over it, more or less.

      John is going off the deep end, but isn't that what people like for him to do?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      God, I hate it when someone essentially says "you shouldn't write that" or "you shouldn't write about this anymore." If you have nothing to say about the content of something . . . ignore.
    1. Curt's Avatar
      Curt -
      My only argument would be that having media members in the clubhouse is hardly quintessential. I say that because I don't consume any of that media yet I am somehow able to follow the Twins.
    1. mattsaari's Avatar
      mattsaari -
      But you do consume the media secondhand. The bloggers distill it for you.
    1. ChuckkJay's Avatar
      ChuckkJay -
      I'm a huge Twins fan and scour the web looking for good info on them. Now with Twins Daily, I don't have to scour anymore, because there's tons of good stuff here. Great site.

      Agree with Curt - I stay away from the "mainstream" media, because I don't find much insight there. Honestly, I had heard of Phil Mackey before this, but only vaguely and didn't even know he is considered a Twins media expert. Souhan is, well, he's Souhan and I'm still trying to figure out how he has a job. In my opinion the only "maintstream" media member who covers the Twins and is worth reading is Joe C.

      But there are a lot of bad bloggers as well. You have to love their passion and dedication, but that doesn't mean they write well. I personally have no time for Gleeman, I'm still trying to figure out what he brings that everyone likes so much. But that's just a personal opinion, one that I know most on this site probably disagree with.

      I will say that reading pieces which are informed by statistical analysis certainly resonates more with me than hearing what Gardy had to say after a win or a loss.
    1. ChuckkJay's Avatar
      ChuckkJay -
      @mattsaari - I'm not sure which bloggers you're referring to. Most of the good pieces on this site cover subjects I don't see anywhere on the mainmedia. Take Parker's piece about Doumit's walk rates. Who in the mainmedia wrote about this, that Parker is just "distilling"? Let's see some examples if you're going to make those kinds of categorical statements.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Even if you have access to the team, you're still only privy to the information that they want you to have. And many beat writers don't say what they really think for fear of having doors closed on them. In many ways I find the "official" beat stories to be lacking in depth and insight.
    1. luckylager's Avatar
      luckylager -
      Souhan seems to rewrite the same dozen or so articles every season. I read and subscribed to Mackey on Twitter for a while last season. I grew very tired of his immaturity - He argues like my 15 year old son. I like LEN3 and Joe C, they seem to know what they are talking about, but I still do not get the insight that I get from Seth, Nick, Gleeman, etc. Most Strib articles are written for the casual fan/reader. I really enjoy the new Twins Daily site. Except for a couple perpetually negative contributors - it is always a pleasure to read.
    1. mattsaari's Avatar
      mattsaari -
      Yo CJ! I didn't say the bloggers only distilled info. Their blogs often do just that, essentially meaning that you are getting the mainstream coverage secondhand by coming here, in addition to the blogger input. Here's an example: http://twinsdaily.com/content.php?38...s-Set-Rotation. John took JoeC's info and expounded on it.

      Lucky: Mackey is no fun to listen to or follow on Twitter, agreed. I like his articles, but man, the Brotastic radio persona has got to go.
    1. ThejacKmp's Avatar
      ThejacKmp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      I have written about this subject zero times before.

      Doesn't mean it hasn't been covered a million times by Twins bloggers on this site and elsewhere. Nothing new is there - we get it, you all disagree. Stop beating the dead horse.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Thanks for the post Nick.

      Just listening to G&G and it occurred to me the challenge that Twins daily and bloggers will certainly face.

      If a blogger is more in the role of analyzing than reporting then they need something (often data) to analyze. Unlike reporting, that is difficult to on a daily basis. There is not a lot of data gathered in a given day or week or even month. A blogger's solid analysis of depth at a position or roster composition or other decisions the Twins have made can't realistically be altered by a week or month of data. If it can, it probably wasn't that sound.

      The challenge is to keep the analysis sound and grounded in data. It will be the challenge of the bloggers at Twins "Daily". If the content of the analysis is unsound in order to keep volume and interest up, the site and bloggers lose credibility. If the content is not refreshed enough, it will be more difficult to generate interest.
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      I'm glad you decided to write on the subject, Nick. Thoughtful and reasoned, as always.

      I also commend you for taking the high road. I would have been tempted to offer a far less dignified response. The stuff he said was childish, illogical, insulting, and flat out wrong.

      It's pretty ironic to me for him to complain about bloggers not being accountable for getting things wrong like he is. Seems to me he got this one pretty wrong, but I doubt he'll face consequences for it. (At least none beyond the same ones that bloggers face - a loss of credibility after a bunch of other people point out how wrong you are.)
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