The Truth about the Sausage of (Sports) Journalism

Good Day Gents and Ladies,

A couple weeks ago, my colleague Andrew stopped by my office with an offer: he’d noticed that the latest issue of Foul and Fair—an edition which had cost me half a normal night of sleep—had landed in his inbox with several typos. But he didn’t stop with this observation. Instead, he said he’d serve as our volunteer copy editor. I accepted his offer immediately.

Here’s the truth. By the time we’re ready to push our weekly post live, Bradford and I aren’t on our editing A game. We’ve been combing through iterations of the same grafs for hours and our brains have arrived at the point where they’re compensating for words we forgot to type out and rationalizing misspellings. Knowing that Andrew gets to see this haystack of words before y’all do: a balm to my screen-saturated eyes. And a loving reminder of my own humanity.


Leadoff hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch.

Journalism won an Oscar on Sunday and this essay celebrates editors. Get it? 

Journalism won an Oscar on Sunday and this essay celebrates editors. Get it? 

This story serves as an example of why diversity in the newsroom is so important. It isn’t because diversity is charity, or because giving opportunities to people other than white men is a Christlike thing to do, but because everyone has blind spots, and everyone is f---- up.

Several weeks ago, SB Nation published a story about a serial rapist who sexually assaulted poor black women. The “sports” angle: The Oklahoma City police officer, otherwise known as Daniel Holtzclaw, played college football. Journalist Jeff Arnold told this story in 12,000 words. It stayed on the website for nearly six hours. And then it was gone. In its place, an apology from SB Nation’s editorial director Spencer Hall. Later, the news that the site had terminated longform director Glenn Stout. Then the announcement that Arnold would never again write for SB Nation, nor for the Associated Press.

Part of what troubled me about the news—beyond the pro-rape culture vibe of the story itself—stemmed from seeing a freelance writer scapegoated for a systemic newsroom issue. From outgoing Deadspin reporter Greg Howard’s post-mortem:

The failure here was in part a function of structural problems at SB Nation, which set up a system that would allow it to enjoy the benefits of running longform stories without actually having to do much work on them, and in part a function of the style and sensibility of Glenn Stout, who has, we can report, already been fired. We also found that this failure could have been averted if only Stout and top editorial staff had listened to one of their colleagues, senior editor Elena Bergeron, who explicitly and repeatedly drew attention to the story’s flaws in the days leading to its publication—and was, somehow, ignored.

Writing may be a form in which we can process, rationalize, argue, persuade, and convince, but in almost every case, it cannot be done alone. As one of the most powerful forms of communication, writing understands that rarely can one human alone articulate herself and her understanding of the world by herself. Her vernacular, her cultural assumptions, her pacing, all necessarily self-reference. We call this voice. We realize that these turns of phrases, these unpredictable sentences, these triple entendres, all keep us turning pages, all keep us scrolling. But writing has higher aspirations than stir-frying words into sentences and playing ultimate Frisbee with words. We’re gunning for transcendence. We’re after the Truth.

Part of the responsibility to communicate this falls on the writer. Most of it falls on the editors: women and men who assume the fallibility of writers and keep them accountable. (“Editors don't get enough credit for saving writers from themselves,” tweeted sportswriter Molly Knight. “If you have an editor who makes you better don't ever let that person go.” I couldn’t agree more Molly.) They delay pieces with jumps in logic, missing voices, inconsistent sources, and sloppy punctuation. They kill pieces that deviate irreparably from their original angles, miss the point entirely, or communicate a distorted reality. Better that than a blow to the publication’s name. Better that, (Rolling Stone),  than misleading people about the facts—and then tarnishing their receptivity to the truth.

Naturally, editors themselves aren’t omniscient, despite the deistic like presence that they play in a life of a story. Each of them bring their own myopic tendencies to the table, characteristics often shaped by income, education, class, race, and gender. Of course, broadly speaking, these predispositions may be the same factors which lead to our hiring. But too many editors with the identical life or professional credentials can easily result in systemic blind spots—that everyone just perceives as consensus.

“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” Bergeron tells me. Bergeron, who’s black...says her basic critique was that the people Arnold spoke to hadn’t been prodded or treated critically enough, which gets at the piece’s real problem. For a story that centered on Holtzclaw to work, it had to look at the people around him...not as sources, but subjects. Instead of retrying the case through one-sided interviews, it would be far more illuminating to explore exactly how and why these people couldn’t reconcile the facts about Holtzclaw with what they knew of him.

No all-knowing editorial process exists, not the least of which because of the scarcity of time. Still, newsrooms must prize and prioritize diversity. It may not be possible for multiple eyes to see everything multiple times, but ideally editors have engaged in conversations with people offering a wide variety of perspectives and consequently can identify lazy tropes or stereotypes. (Beyond vetting, story ideation is often constrained by the editor’s own interests and their personal contacts.)

Despite our collective reluctance to pay for the news, most of us still look to journalism to provide us with facts and ideas with which to structure our lives, raise our families, build loyalties, end relationships, and pick society’s heroes and villains. Most news organizations—though not all—establish internal procedures to make accuracy and truth-telling systemic, not a fluke. As a journalist, I’ve witnessed these systems come to life, second-guessing the overgeneralizations, adjusting the long-winded sentiments, and proofing the proper noun acronyms. No doubt, I would have far less credibility without my editors. I’ve also observed what ideas transform into articles, what facts we deem newsworthy, and what consideration we give to our readers’ attention span. We are strategic and methodical but only some of this is science.

Indeed, journalism’s appeal comes from its humanity. Our content doesn’t come from an algorithm stringing words together and vetted by autocorrect. Nor should it be.  

But it’s silly to believe that journalists aren’t influenced by the same prejudices and parochial tendencies that afflict us all. We may fight them more strongly than others, but we aren’t immune to being influenced, no matter how objective we aspired to be.

A diverse editorial team realizes our collective fallibility while simultaneously prioritizing credibility. It acknowledges that its reflection of reality is only as precise as its blind spots. So help us God.


Stick to sports: In which we stay in our lane.

Meet the man who only stuck to sports. Absolutely hilarious and near to our heart, ActionCookbook of SB Nation imagines what life might be like for one man to relate all aspects of his life to a love for sports.


Delay of game: All you can read before the clock expires.

Lin drives home the problem with this trope. Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin felt some type of way about Chris Rock's really bad, really offensive joke about Asians during the Oscars. We don't blame him, especially since the Taiwanese American was almost stereotyped out of the NBA before his break with the Knicks led to the rise of Linsanity. After carving out successful roles with the Rockets, Lakers, and Hornets here's what he had to say in response to Rock:

“I just feel like sometimes the way people perceive Asians or Asian Americans today can be disappointing in the way they view them. Even Asian American masculinity or whatever you want to talk about, just a lot of the ways that Asians are perceived I don't always agree with...if we can start branching out a little bit or at least showing that we are different than what other people think we are, maybe we can start to break down some of those walls.”

Hopefully the next time a 6'4" point guard with an uncanny ability to drive to the rim declares for the draft, he won't be judged by his Asian identity.

Damn Yankees. The New York Yankees adjusted their ticket policy by banning print out tickets and requiring all digitally formatted tickets purchased on secondary markets to be accessed via the Ticketmaster app.  F&F Spotlight uncovered a message from Yankees’ COO Lonn Trost  to fans caught browsing the secondary markets for deals.

If you’re very wealthy: we apologize for the inconvenience. The New York Yankees welcome you to participate in our #Chasefor28.

Okay, to the rest of you plebes. You and your deal-hunting, StubHub browsing, ticket-printing self have no place schlepping around The House That Hal Steinbrenner Built. Just because the Bronx Bombers regrettably play in the poorest district in the United States doesn’t mean we’re here to give you a handout! Please, buy yourself a smartphone and purchase through the Yankee Ticketing Network to ensure the secondary market prices are artificially inflated. And by all means, if you somehow collect enough pennies to afford Legends Seatings, please, show some class! You’re scaring away our preferred clientele.

Please enjoy newly acquired Aroldis Chapman’s high octane bullets, preferably from the comfort of your own home.

Your team,

The New York Yankees

Another race Trump is winning. NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France endorsed Donald Trump. Here’s Luke Kerr-Dineen from FTW on why NASCAR should hit the brakes on political endorsements,

It’s great if you agree with the person running your sport, but infinitely frustrating if you don’t. Suddenly your escape has become just another vehicle others employ to get their message across. Suddenly the sport you love feels tainted, like you’re being used, and rather than an exhibition of what we aspire to be, it all starts to feel rather seedy.

El único. Fredi Gonzalez, of the Atlanta Braves, is el único: the only Latin manager in MLB. Meanwhile, Latinos make up nearly 30 percent of ballplayers.  In the past three seasons, seven white managers have received a job without any managerial experience. Something’s amiss. Outside The Lines noticed something was amiss, so they interviewed veteran coaches Alex Cora and Eduardo Perez, along with former World Series winning manager Ozzie Guillen, to understand why Latinos are struggling to get leadership roles. Seven minutes of video, all worth your time.

Made you look. Erin Andrews tries not to recall the violating “peephole” video too often. However, during her civil suit against the hotel that leaked her video, she tearfully revealed that her four-lettered employer forced her to publicly discuss her stalker and his video. Preferably on Good Morning America.

 

Q: So did ESPN require that you give an interview? Yes. Because there wasn’t an arrest, because we didn’t know where this happened, my bosses at ESPN told me, “before you go back on air for college football we need you to give a sit-down interview.” And that was the only way I was going to be allowed back.

Q: Now, you did have the right to select who that interview would be done by, right? I did. They were highly recommending it be GMA [Good Morning America], because ESPN and ABC are the same, and they wanted it on GMA. But like my dad had said the other day, I didn’t want it to be a two second thing where it’s like, “Was this a scandal, or, was it not?” No, this is my life, and I feel terrible about myself, and we want to figure out how this happened. So, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to be a part of it, and I just said, you know what, “I know because she’s very public about it, Oprah is a crime victim.” I talked to her producers, I told her I didn’t want to do it. But this was the only way I was going to be put back on air, so we went to the Oprah show.

 

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Morgan y Bradford