Friday, July 24, 2009
Biting The Hand That Feeds You
The job titles in my industry have changed through the years, but the primary job function has remained the same (for the most part). My business card happens to read: Associate Sports Information Director.
I promote the athletics programs at my university by helping the media do its job. Many of my daily responsibilities revolve around assisting our media contingent so that it can easily cover the programs, coaches and student-athletes at my institution/alma mater.
I enjoy that part of the job. And while differences arise from time to time, I believe that most media members appreciate the efforts my colleagues and I put forth on their behalf (and yes, I do understand my institution also benefits from said efforts).
The rise of the social-networking era and the evolution of online information dissemination have changed the landscape of how news is covered. Many reputable outlets risk their credibility on a daily basis by placing an emphasis on "being first" rather than "being accurate."
Along with this trend also has come a tendency to shamelessly transform typically mundane topics into items of newsworthiness. In doing this, I've recently seen one media outlet bite the hand that feeds it, so to speak.
WE'VE ALWAYS BEEN ON YOUR SIDE
On July 14, 2009, I received two virtually identical e-mails almost simultaneously. The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the United State Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) had issued a joint statement regarding media guides--the extensive, sport-specific books published by universities to provide the media with a useful tool to assist them in their coverage of the schools' respective programs.
It was around this time of year that a nationwide debate was raging among college administrators on whether or not to eliminate printed media guides as part of a comprehensive push toward "cost containment" within collegiate athletic departments.
The statement by the FWAA and USBWA supported the stance taken by the Southeastern Conference--of which my university is a member--to "preserve 208-page printed media guides for football and basketball."
The journalist-driven organizations believed there was "still a strong need for printed guides in football and basketball" after polling their respective memberships.
Officials within my department were among some of the SEC's most vocal proponents of preserving media guides as a means of assisting the media.
Bottom Line: We recognized that the media found value and usefulness in the guides, and thus, we fought to be able to continue to publish them. You want it? We print it.
While my contributions to the football guide the last couple years have been quite minimal, my colleagues go to great lengths--and dedicate most of their summer--to publish a tremendously thorough volume. They pour their hearts into the annual project and it shows; our football guides have won numerous "Best in the Nation" citations from the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) in recent years.
Knowing how much time and effort goes into the guide every year, it was awfully disheartening earlier this week when--on the very day the guides were distributed to the media fresh off the press--one local editor decided that a minor misprint in the book was somehow, in itself, newsworthy.
The editor decided to post a short article basically poking fun at the oversight. And he did not put a name with the article, attributing it only to "staff." In addition to the article (which ran online and in the following day's print edition) the error was Tweeted about as well.
"Disheartening" is how I characterize my feelings on this issue because our staff goes to great lengths to publish a valuable tool for the media, only (in this instance) to see the media pick it apart and poke fun at its oversights.
What the editor might as well have said: "Thanks for printing this 208-page resource that my staff and I will reference time and time again in the coming months. It will help us write accurate stories. It will help us meet deadline after night games in the fall. I appreciate it so much that I'm going to point out a minor oversight to thousands of readers throughout the world who otherwise would likely never to have noticed.
"Oh yeah, and can you help arrange an in-depth one-on-one interview with your head coach and one of my writers?"
OF ALL THE PEOPLE TO PUSH US OFF THE LEDGE...
Errors happen in publishing. It's a part of life in that business. I know a former newspaper man who says, "If you ever publish a perfect newspaper, you might as well quit."
When you print a 208-page book, there are going to be misprints, errors and oversights.
If anyone were to appreciate this, I would expect that it would be someone in the newspaper business. Especially someone at a paper that prints errors and inaccuracies with regularity (as I suppose most do, because like I said, these things are just part of the process).
But one newspaper veteran lacked such an appreciation. He saw an opportunity to take a shot and he took it. And my colleagues and I will brush it off and continue to help him and his staff do their job more easily than they could without us.
This blog is my small outlet to vent; very few will read it. But at least I get to bang out my feelings on my keyboard and leave it at that. There will be no grudge or get-backs. Vindictiveness does one no good--especially in this business.
The frustration from this whole episode has been tempered somewhat by the overwhelming outpouring of support from numerous local and regional media members. Even many of the trigger-happy editor's colleagues reached out to apologize, empathize and even admit embarrassment.
That softens the blow a bit. But the fact remains that someone took a run at my "teammates." And that hurts. They've probably handled it more gracefully than I have.
Regardless, we'll all turn the other cheek.
We'll provide assistance however we can tomorrow. Even if "tomorrow" is a Friday evening or a Sunday night.
We just enjoy that part of the job. And we're not going to let anyone ruin it for us.
* a reference to a viral YouTube classic, search: Charlie Bit My Finger