Why we need baseball writers

Posted By on February 28, 2009 11:19 am

I’m still all worked up this morning, even though I probably shouldn’t be taking this so personally. What got me started was this article on Fangraphs about how great it is that non-traditional, free content has sprouted in the baseball media in the wake of dying newspapers. The author of that article, Dave Cameron, didn’t mean to infer that the death of newspapers is a pleasant result of the rise of blogs, but rather an unpleasant side effect.

However, it’s clear that many of the people who have commented on his story and mine do not feel that way. Many of them — and feel free to ignore this if you aren’t in this group — have said: “Good riddance to those reporters. We don’t need them.”

It just really strikes a nerve with me when people fail to see the value of mainstream, professional, trained reporters. (I’m referring to those whose work appears on the web, as well as newspapers.)

I get plenty of emails asking me about what the Giants front office is doing (free agent moves, trades, etc.). Frankly, all I can tell them is what I read in the Chronicle, the Mercury News and MLB.com. The Giants don’t exactly invite the public in on their internal discussion, and it takes the hard work of professional reporters to seek those answers. It is work that you just can’t do unless you have experience, access and — to be honest — someone paying you to do it.

Even on the easier stuff — “What’s the plan for Madison Bumgarner this year? Why did you take out Lincecum after 120 pitches? Why stick with Frandsen-Burriss instead of going after Orlando Hudson? What position is Angel Villalona going to play?” — you need someone there to ask the questions.

If you are a pure between-the-lines fan and have no interest whatsoever in profiles of players or finding out who might have used steroids, there is still plenty of on-field stuff you need reporters to ask for you.

Sure, you can argue that a lot of reporters don’t fully understand VORP or Win Shares, or maybe even that they don’t use the right criteria in voting for the Hall of Fame, but none of that is the critical part of the reporter’s job. A reporter’s job is to report everything you can’t get by watching a game or reading the box score, which is a lot of stuff. A lot more than (some of) you realize because you take it for granted.

In the meantime, every time a newspaper shuts down or a reporter loses his job, some of that information is lost.

And that isn’t good for anyone.

Comments

12 Responses to “Why we need baseball writers”

  1. Cory says:

    Jeff, I think you have a strong point about the value of the mainstream media and especially about how many of the blogs we all love to read, use paid reporters work as the backbone of their speculation and analysis.

    However, I think it is a reactionary move to stop reading Fangraphs forevermore because of one article by one of its writers.

    I think sooner than later you’ll realize this and Fangraphs will be back in your portfolio of websites in your Google Reader account (I hope you use Google Reader, if not, you should).

  2. Mike says:

    Hear, hear! A certain North Bay newspaper’s baseball coverage will be severely lacking this year thanks to cutbacks. Readers have already noticed the difference. You can’t understate the importance of trained, professional reporters.

    Now that I know, I’ll avoid Fangraphs too. I quit the Live 105 morning show for good this week after they cheered the possible shutdown of the Chronicle, saying how they get all their news from SFGate anyway. Um. . . . . yeah. Morons. Sadly, most folks have no idea where their news comes from, or the work that goes into getting it.

  3. giantsrainman says:

    Glad to see you have seen the error of your attack on fangraphs.
    But, more importantly I do have to join you in fearing the decline of main stream media. Here is hoping they find a business model that works in this new internet and tweeter world. We still need them (and you Jeff) and in my judgement always will. It will indeed be a great loss to us all if we ever really do lose them.

  4. Mike says:

    Ever since your site and Joan Ryan’s site have recently started up I must admit I prefer them to the blogs such as McCovey Chronicles. On the MCC site you were mocked a bit by bloggers because your site’s title makes mention of “real baseball writer”. Some of that mocking probably came from envious wannabe “journalists”. After reading your blog and Joan’s blog, I see a big difference in insight and quality of content. Thanks for the good work, and keep it coming!

  5. Dave says:

    Aren’t most newspapers going with an online version of their content? I never read the dead tree version of the Chronicle or the Merc, but I still get info from Schulman and Baggerly.

    Now if those online versions disappear, there would indeed be a difference in the information stream. It is incumbent for news organizations to find ways to compete but if they don’t someone else will step in. Sports leagues need to get the info out and they may well certify other media providers for their content distribution.

    People don’t use phone booths much anymore but they still talk on the phone.

  6. E-Ticket says:

    I find the ever decreasing availability of traditional reporting and journalism depressing. And this coming from one who constantly criticizes main stream media, and sports journalists,

    The most under served and under-informed amongst us need more responsible writing, insight, and context, not less. Most of the disagreements that I have had and or have with mainstream writers is with a handful of notorious controversial opinion writers and with the context in which they report facts. Not reporters, and not truly professional journalists. ESPN literally resides in its own Disney world and it is not them to whom I am referencing.

    But if we think about a world where millions of folks without the internet acumen to separate the garbage from the real and objective and contextualized information, that can only be provided professional, trained, educated, ethical, intellectually honest reporters, then we have to ask ourselves if any of us are actually better off.

    These sentences from Jeff’s post say it all:

    “The Giants don’t exactly invite the public in on their internal discussion, and it takes the hard work of professional reporters to seek those answers. It is work that you just can’t do unless you have experience, access and — to be honest — someone paying you to do it.”

    And its not just the Giants and sports. If we mistrust folks in sports, what about government and other institutions (schools, big business, special interest groups, media, etc) that have substantial sway on how each of us, as an individual conducts and enjoys the pursuit of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness on a daily basis, how ill-informed, misinformed, and uninformed will we all become.

    I think this dying of newspapers is about the larger, bigger picture of honest information, communication and education. While we may have a tendency to view Major League Baseball and professional sports, as separate from real life, it is not. It is merely a reflection of our culture.

    And as much as I like to read my own writing and that of my pals, and others whom I find entertaining, educational and thought provoking, when it comes to consistent and trustworthy reporting, I have to agree that we are in deep trouble if we lose the resources and assets that are the Jeff Fletchers, Henry Shulmans, Joan Ryans, Susan Slussers, and Andrew Baggerlys of the world.

    Yes, hopefully their stuff is available on the web in the future. But I can’t see anybody worth a crap doing the strenuous and thick-skinned work of actual reporting doing this for free or at nominal recompense for very long. So there is a very real problem as Jeff suggests.

  7. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Dave, when newspapers shut down, their web sites shut down too. When they lay off writers, they stop writing for the web sites, too. The problem is that pepole don’t feel they should pay for content online, so if there’s no paper, there’s no revenue (and revenue from online advertising is still relatively miniscule compared with the costs of producing the content).

  8. Paul says:

    Jeff,
    I agree with your assessment of the current state of reporting and journalism; my dad is actually a reporter at the PD (and has been for the last 30 years). He and many others worry every day about their job security, the quality of journalism that has already been lost to job cuts (less reporters doing the same amount of work), and newspapers dropping left and right, pension issues, lack of pay increase, etc. etc. Who are we going to be able to trust for our information gathering? If people aren’t paid to do journalism, who will be willing to do it for free? Blogs are great, but much different than newspapers.
    I don’t know if there are any Wire fans out there, but David Simon, an ex-reporter for the Baltimore Sun and co-creator of the Wire, has talked a lot about journalism and information the past 5 years. He thinks that one solution is paid-for online content done by professional reporters, locally, with a small amount of subscribers (like 10,000 for a town the size of Santa Rosa). What do you think about that? Does the internet have the potential to pay journalists?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Jeff,

    I’m a little late getting into this argument, but I have some points. You make a strong point that there is something reporters add that normal fans don’t have access to – players, the front-office, the clubhouse, etc. This information adds a lot of value/knowledge to fans and would be sorely missed if lost.

    I think many of us see too many Bill Plasche’s (spelling?) out there in the media, though. Idiots that provide less insider information and more stupid, controversial opinions (often just to be controversial) that are essentially on the same level as the blogs of normal fans. Guys like Bruce Jenkins too eager to take a shot at many of our favorite player (Bonds), who makes a point to ensure we hear their opinion rather than giving us the information we want from them. We can get uninformed opinions from a blog – and oftentimes I’d rather hear from other passionate fans about these subjects than media members.

    So I think there’s a balance between the two – guys like Baggs at the merc give us one piece of what we’re looking for, while McC and the stat guys like Dave Cameron (even though I don’t think their stat work is nearly as good as it’s credited) give us another dimension we, as fans, enjoy. I think there’s a lot of fan backlash against the media though, because we’d like to see some of the idiots in “journalism” (their version of it) cut out of the picture entirely.

    One last point to top it off. Sportswriters get the opportunity to be closer to the game than us, covering the game on a daily basis and getting paid for it. We, the fans, are envious of this and I believe we have a fair request of a group that has so much power on the game and on fans. If we can put the effort in to learn more about the game, find out what VORP, WAR, UZR and other new stats are to better our knowledge, can you please put the effort in to improve your knowledge about the game as well? It’s discouraging when the writers covering the game don’t care as much as the fans. Not directed at you as an individual Jeff, but sportswriters in general. Especially the ones that are proud their knowledge of the game hasn’t kept up with time.

  10. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Bill Plaschke happens to be one of the best sports writers in the country. You may not agree with his opinions, but the guy can write. Let’s not forget that we are writers and reporters first. Not analysts. Don’t confuse the jobs.

    By the way, I would also submit that the vast majority of baseball fans are interested in a lot of the stuff that the sabermetric, analytical crowd believes is silly or beneath them. I’d have been fired long ago if I told my editor I wanted to write Fangraphs-type analysis in the paper every day.

    As interesting as that stuff is, it is just a sliver of what you need to paint the whole picture. We in the mainstrem media have to cover it all.

  11. B says:

    Jeff,

    Sorry didn’t mean to post annoynomously before. I think we’re mostly in agreement here. I do keep in mind you guys are writers/reporters first, but I think a number of writers should focus a bit more on the reporting and a bit less on the writing. To be honest, unless you write like Halberstam (which very few people do), I don’t really care how well a reporter writes. We clearly disagree on Plaschke, though I’ll concede I don’t read him often since he isn’t a Bay Area reporter – but the few articles I have read and the stuff he says on ESPN….ugh.

    Overall, I agree with your points – and I think they highlight what the blogging world can provide to supplement what we get from sportswriters. I realize you can’t (and shouldn’t) be writing something like fangraphs, but I still think it’s reasonable to expect sportswriters to keep up with the knowledge of the game – even if you don’t prefer to look at the more advanced stats, at least learn what they are, it really doesn’t take that much time. At this point I would say I have a pretty good understanding of the stats being put out there by the likes of fangraphs, but I still like to look at BA, OBP and SLG to see how good a hitter is (especially since I have a better idea of the variance of these stats and what qualifies as star/good player/starter/bad player, etc…).

    I’ll end with this – I’d just like to see more reporting and less of the stuff ESPN likes to promote (blogger-like opinions) out of the MSM. Also, I can’t quite think of a good way to word this, but I don’t like fans/bloggers who think they’re somehow above aspects of the game because they know/use the newer statistics…all of it should add to our enjoyment of baseball.

  12. [...] Giants beat writer Jeff Fletcher understands this. He summed it up perfectly on his blog a few months ago: “Even on the easier [...]

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