Columnists Should Also Be Reporters
Maybe you were in Africa this week and missed the latest coach-reporter spat. This one was a doozy.
Not only did it involve a 40-year-old coach of a major university, but also a female columnist, who rose quickly to her title without enough time on a beat.
First, you should watch the video of Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State coach, whose team defeated the Texas Tech Red Raiders last Saturday. Instead of discussing the victory, he chose to blast a column written by Jenni Carlson of the Oklahoman.
Now I won’t opine on who is right or wrong. I can’t. I’ve never been a coach of a Big 12 program in the heartland of America where football is king. I don’t understand or realize the pressures that go with such a job.
Also, for me to criticize a coach who acted on emotion, well, I would be a fraud. I’m cool most of the time, but when something hurts me deeply, I can’t contain myself. I’m capable of such an outburst.
However, I do believe with credibility, I can comment on the journalism side of this story. I have been a columnist as well as worked sports beats for metro dailies. I understand the differences between reporter and columnist and the demands of each.
Carlson’s piece, and Gundy’s biggest contention with it, is that it’s based on inaccuracies. Speculations. Hearsay. Second-hand information from colleagues, sources and dare I say message boards.
Carlson uses ambiguous phrases to disguise her lack of viable attributions.
“If you believe the rumors…”
“Tile up the back stories told on the sly…”
“If you listen to the rumblings and rumors…”
This is the part I have most trouble with. I’ve met many sports columnists who join a fistfight late and since they hold the title, they feel they should deliver the knockout blow. Unfortunately, they do research by reading the beat reporter’s stories for the season. They scour the Internet. They call a booster. They use their intuition, which has gotten them by in similar situations in the past. They do everything but observe a practice, question the coach, talk to the subject of their column.
What’s worse, many columnists believe — and this is ego — they know exact what’s going on in a locker room or how players feel. There’s no need to do the reporting.
Don’t blame those columnists too much. The job is hard enough trying to produce insightful, inspiring and informative columns several times per week. But to also understand what a hot route is or how to attack a Tampa 2-deep defense, and then try to come in late and decipher a team’s mojo, that’s quite a challenge.
Plus, many columnist have never played the game, never understood the pressures to perform in front of a nationally televised audience. So how can columnists accurately portray what’s going on between coach and players behind closed doors?
The answer: Don’t try.
Not without the coach or player openly stating there’s a problem.
For Carlson to question this young man’s heart, desire and courage—the staples of a football player and some would say the very attributes of a man—by suggesting that he is weak because his mother fed him chicken, crosses the line.
Never mind that most college kids love having their mothers around to feed them.
Football is brutal. You don’t have to play the game to know that. It takes tremendous courage to strap on the helmet, tighten the cleats and go out and dominate your opponent.
There is not one cowardly football player, chicken hand-fed or not.
I understand, though, why Carlson chose to use the chicken analogy after being told about it by the beat reporter. Some columnists, who never played or don’t have a level of understanding of the game but try to be above it, the key is to mask weaknesses with witty, sarcastic and even humorous copy.
Sometimes in this attempt to bowl over the reader, columns become personal and hurtful.
Should columnists be allowed to do that without retaliation like the one Gundy gave?
If you believe what I’ve told you on the sly—then absolutely not.
OUT AT HOME: I think I’m a land person. It seems I’ve talked to quite a few people lately about their homes. I’ve noticed that they either boast about their house or simply say, “My rancher is cute, but I have a lot of land.”
VIDEOS OF THE WEEK: My heart is still broken.
I’ll drown my sorrows with this clip.
And a bonus: Check out Michael Conley’s mad skillz.