SMG Weekly (A newsletter)

Newsletters are a big deal in the online journalism world.

As part of an ongoing experiment here (and looking ahead to my online journalism class in the spring, when students will be required to keep one), I've started SMG Weekly. Subscribers get links to all of posts here, podcasts I publish, and links to the best stories I've read.

Subscribe here, and follow along with the experiment:

powered by TinyLetter

RIP Jaws: Remembering Charlie Jaworski

The news began to trickle through the old network late Monday afternoon.

A flurry of text messages. A few messages through Facebook. A tweet here, a post here. The old newsroom from Vestal Parkway coming back together in a digital world, hearing unexpected and horribly sad news.

Charlie Jaworski, the former longtime sports editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, my old editor, had died unexpectedly.

A life lived in journalism is one that's inextricably linked to certain people. For me, one of those people was Charlie Jaworski.

Charlie hired me from Olean in 2004. He had wanted to hire me a few years earlier for a high-school beat job, but I passed on that one. Life works out funny, because two years later, he did hire me to cover Binghamton University basketball. A year later, he trusted me with the Binghamton Mets beat. He was my boss until the day I left for grad school in 2009.

Charlie was a legend in the Southern Tier. He covered Binghamton hockey back in the 1970s, in the league that provided the basis for Slap Shot. He ran the annual Press Doubles bowling tournament like a dedicated father. He knew everyone and everything. He was respected, even by the people who disagreed with him. He was the best kind of old-school newspaper guy - the one with stories for days.

He was one of the best line editors I worked with. Very quickly, I started to hear Charlie's voice in my head as I wrote and reported stories, anticipating the holes and questions he'd find in my stories and trying to answer them before filing. I may never have been a great reporter, but he made me a better one.

Oh, he could be infuriating to work with. He had his way of doing things, and woe to anyone who messed with his system. When editing a story, he had a habit of calling (either by phone or across the newsroom) every time he had a question, rather than waiting until the end of the story with a list. He could drive you mad asking questions that he could just as easily Googled himself. One of my favorite things to do, when he'd call exasperated with a question, would be to say "read to the end of the sentence, Charlie." He'd pause, see that the information he wanted was after a line break, and said "OK, bye."

He could be tough. He had high standards, and held you to them. If your work slipped, he'd call you into his office, in a hallway just off the sports department, and give you hell for it. But at the same time, if you told him you were slipping up because of a crisis at home, he would instantly switch into a compassionate person. He did his best to protect the department during the endless layoffs in 2007-2009. He cared about his guys. We invited him to our wedding, on a football Saturday, and he came.

And Charlie worked. God, did he work. I never, in five years, beat him to the office on a Saturday afternoon. I never stayed later than he did. I've never met anyone in the business with the work ethic Charlie Jaworski had.

And he worked because he cared. God, did he care. He wanted his sports section to be the best it could be. He loved talking about The Chase - those moments when you are tracking down a hot story, calling people, piecing it together, the cliche moments you've seen a thousand times in the movies. Those moments of working the phones, talking to people, finding the story, that's what we live for in this business, and Charlie embodied that.

Charlie made me a better writer, a better reporter. And because he hired me in Binghamton, he made it possible for me to meet my wife.

He was old school in the best possible way. He was a newspaper guy, but he knew the industry was going digital and did the best he could. He respected the digital side, even if he was at home in print.

If you worked hard and cared, Jaws had your back.

That loyalty, that work ethic, that caring, is what made Charlie Jaworski one of the best editors a reporter could have had.

Ken Rosenthal's amazingly professional apology

The baseball trade deadline always seems to bring out some rough sports journalism.

Last year, it was the Wilmer Flores trade that wasn't. This year, it was Yasiel Puig's non-storming out of the Dodger's clubhouse.

John Cheney used to say that on defense, as in life, you are going to make mistakes, and that the key is how you recover.

By that measure, Ken Rosenthal set a standard by which all journalists should be held.

To quickly recap: Rosenthal incorrectly reported that Puig stormed out of the Dodgers' clubhouse on the day of the trade deadline. In fact, Puig had been told to stay home and wasn't at the stadium. Along with correcting the story, he issued a series of Tweets explaining the first report:

There's a to learn from Rosenthal's apology. It's an actual apology. He could have done what Chris Broussard and so many other reporters have done, and fallen back on the "my sources told me something, and I reported it" non-apology. He didn't. He said his story was wrong. He explained what happened (sources told him wrong information). He took responsibility for what he reported and for his mistake.

Most importantly, he corrected the story.

From Barry Petchesky:

Fans and readers should demand Rosenthal’s brand of pellucidity out of all reporters, because infallibility isn’t realistic: getting things occasionally wrong is the cost of doing business. The key is being confident enough to embrace your fuck-ups.

Look, mistakes are going to happen. Every reporter makes them. They get accelerated and accentuated these days because of social media. You're reporting live right now, so mistakes are more likely. The key is how you recover.

Rosenthal showed how a pro recovered.

The words of an extraordinary young woman

There is not much to add to the story about Brock Turner, convicted rapist.

You've seen the story, and you've felt the outrage. You've read the horrible "character references" and shaken your head at their tone-deafness ("Rape on college campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.” is what one of his friends wrote, when that's EXACTLY THE REASON WHY). You've expressed anger at the judge's ridiculously lenient sentence. You've noticed, like Ellie Fialk did on Facebook, the media coverage of this story:

You've also read the victim's letter to the judge. You've shaken with rage while reading it.

But let's stop the rage. Just for a second. We can come back to it, to help fuel the legal and cultural changes that need to happen. But let's focus on this sentence from the statement.

"Right now your name is tainted, so I challenge you to make a new name for yourself, to do something so good for the world, it blows everyone away."

Those words.

Read those words again. And again. One more time.

Remember what this young women has been through at the hands of the man she's addressing in this statement. And now, read them again.

They are the words of an extraordinary young woman.

Access and analytics

One of the most talked about articles in our little space of the internet recently was Mike Wilbon's piece for The Undefeated about race and analytics.

I didn't post about it, because I really didn't have much to add to the discourse that wasn't already being said. But it did lead to two interesting interviews on the Hot Takedown Podcast from 538. The first featured Wilbon and quickly turned into a battle of worldviews - pro and against analytics. The second, with Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, went a little deeper into the cause of the chasm between traditional sports journalism and analytics. And the idea of locker room access as a normative value in sports journalism came up. From Herring on the podcast

Ozzie Guillen would always critique the hell out of Jay Mariotti because he said that guy never sets foot in my clubhouse, and so how can you criticize the game and this team when you're never here, and you're basically not man enough to set foot in the locker room that you're criticizing. And so there's always this idea that you can't be fully respected if you're not spending time around the game and are in front of the players and talking to the players.

This is a very big topic, one I'm looking at in my own research and hope to explore here a little more. But there's one point here worth making about what Herring says about access.

The idea of being in the locker room isn't always about having access to players.

It's also about players having access to you.

When Ozzie Guillen railed against Jay Mariotti for not being in the clubhouse (a criticism Mariotti, Mike Lupica and a lot of high-profile columnists have been receiving from their peers for years), it's not just out of some notion that the only way to tell a story about sports is by talking to the players.

It's about accountability.

Mike Vaccaro taught me that lesson years ago, he repeated it to my students earlier this semester, and he's one of several reporters who have said this. The idea is that if you write something on Monday ripping a guy, you damned well better show up on Tuesday. Let him see you. If he wants to talk about it, if he wants to yell at you, if he wants to try to throw a punch at you, if he wants to passive-aggressively say loud things when you're close to his locker, he can do that.

The idea is to be accountable for what you write, what you say. Not in a phony "man-up" sort of way, but in an real, professional way.

We as journalists demand accountability from the people we cover. Rightfully so. It's only fair that we are accountable in person ourselves.