Conflict between media members and the teams they cover is as natural and inevitable as the seasons changing.
Sometimes a journalist’s job makes a coach’s or a manager’s job harder. Sometimes they make a media member’s job more difficult. There is a natural push and pull to the relationship. Like most relationships, it is complicated and takes understanding and respect from both sides.
But what happened between Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price and Cincinnati Enquirer reporter C. Trent Rosecrans exposed an evolving trend that has coaches/managers, players, and fans misunderstanding the media’s role, regarding media members as disloyal interlopers instead of impartial observers.
The job of a traditional media member is not to root, root, root for the home team, or aid its quest for victory. It is also not to intentionally undermine it. It is to report the news or provide insight or commentary. We strive for Swiss neutrality. But in an era of league-owned television networks, fawning team websites, and partisan fan blogs, it’s easy to see the lines between journalism and boosterism getting blurred and folks such as Price getting confused.
By now you doubtlessly heard about Price’s epic, expletive-filled philippic last week — 77 uses of the F-word in less than six minutes. He profanely complained about Rosecrans reporting on April 17 that Triple A catcher Tucker Barnhart was being called up before Price could notify the man Barnhart was replacing, Kyle Skipworth. Rosecrans was on the same flight from Cincinnati to St. Louis as Barnhart.
Price also took issue with a report that revealed that All-Star catcher and cleanup hitter Devin Mesoraco was not with the team in St. Louis because of an injury.
“Your job is not to sniff out every [expletive] thing about the Reds and [expletive] put it out there for every other [expletive] guy to hear,” said Price. “It’s not your job.”
Actually, that is exactly what Rosecrans’s, or any other beat writer’s, job is.
If a baseball lifer such as Price, who apologized for his profanity but stood by the sentiment of his rant, really doesn’t understand that, then there is a problem. But Price is not alone.
I once had a Patriots defensive back come up to me and another media member and say our local roots and allegiance should be reflected more in our Patriots writing.
The ability to emotionally divorce yourself from your rooting interests is what separates journalists from team personnel and passionate, well-informed fans. The allegiance is to the truth, which Rosecrans uncovered. In Patriots terms, he did his job.
You can’t blame Price or any other sports figure for being misguided about the role of the media in an era when independent outlets, team and league-run media entities, and unapologetic fan-fueled commentary are lumped together into one monolithic entity.
Since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, it has never been easier to disseminate thoughts and views for public consumption. That is a welcome development.
The ability to express a thought or an idea should not be the sole domain of large media companies.
But following sports has become a lot like following politics. Subjective presentation is now preferable to objectivity.
The 101 media flavors have created an environment where objectivity is negativity.
The ironic part is that the material written with the unwavering fidelity of a fan expresses an obvious bias, but because it is a palatable and popular one the bias is ignored.
We have reached a point where expressing an opinion or relaying a truth that is inconvenient or not favorable to a team is immediately labeled “trolling,” which is a self-serving and self-centered way to deal with a dissenting viewpoint or unwelcome news.
Complete objectivity is impossible. Reporters are human, too.
Was I happy when the Patriots won the Super Bowl? You bet. Is it less pleasant to work with a coach or an athlete that has treated you shabbily? It is.
But you strive for neutrality.
If Price and the Reds wanted to create the impression that an injured Mesoraco was available to pinch-hit when he wasn’t even with the team, then they should have done a better job of keeping his whereabouts a secret.
It’s pretty obvious to any decent reporter when one of the team’s best players isn’t present in the locker room/clubhouse.
The Patriots are the best team in the business at keeping issues under wraps. Coach Bill Belichick provides information on a need-to-know basis, and the media doesn’t need to know much.
A Patriots player could lose a hand at the 50-yard line and the team would say he was out with an arm injury, return questionable.
But you have to admire the Patriots for their execution. They’ve been able to keep information they don’t want getting out hermetically sealed in Gillette Stadium. The team was able to conceal all season that left tackle Nate Solder had undergone treatment for testicular cancer after being diagnosed in April 2014.
Old friend Mike Reiss broke the story the same day as Price’s rant.
It’s understandable that Price would be upset that he didn’t break the news to Skipworth that Barnhart was taking his place on the roster.
For the Reds, it was an unfortunate coincidence that a reporter was on the same flight as Barnhart.
But it’s doubtful that Price, who went 76-86 last year in his first season as Reds manager, would have unleashed his diatribe if the Reds had won four straight or seven of eight, instead of losing four straight and seven of eight.
Price said he didn’t need writers to be “fans of the Reds.” It seems he wants them to behave like Reds employees.
Media members such as Rosecrans aren’t working for the team or against the team. They’re just working.