The locked-out Carolina Panthers held a team workout earlier this week. Reporters weren't allowed to watch or talk to players, and police stood guard at the gate. Michael Silver, Yahoo's NFL columnist, blasted the players in a column. A couple points of interest: - Let's start with Silver's ending:
If I sound angry, I am – not because I have a desperate desire to see the Panthers parade around in shorts in June, but because I think they’re fools for not enthusiastically welcoming anyone in my business who wants to watch. Access is something I take very, very seriously, and when people deny it for no apparent reason, I tend to be a lot less receptive when they or their agents inevitably hit me up for coverage down the road. I know there are many of you out there who think I’m merely whining and profess to prefer a reality in which reporters are routinely denied access and stonewalled at every turn. And I think you’re delusional. I demand access because, in most cases, you, the fan, seeks information. From what I can tell, many of you have a ravenous appetite for stories and rumors surrounding your favorite NFL teams and players, even in the middle of the offseason. Would you be cool with subsisting on team-issued press releases and players’ Twitter feeds? To be totally honest, the Panthers’ decision to put a cop outside their practice session is but a minor annoyance to me. On a metaphorical level, however, it’s infuriating. My job is to care because you care, and you should be thankful that I’m good at it, even when people put up barriers. ... Nice work, Panthers. On a positive note, once the lockout ends and the games begin, you’ll have to play a lot better than you did last year to merit any coverage whatsoever from reporters like me.
As I've written before, I'm a huge defender of access. Reporters should be given access to the locker room, to the practice fields, to talk to players, coaches, team officials and referees. Access is one of the advantages journalists still have in the marketplace of ideas. Journalists don't necessarily corner the market in knowledge, nor are their opinions the only valid ones. But what journalists do have is access. They can be there when we can't. I can't be at Buffalo Bills practice every week, so I rely on the guys at The Buffalo News to be there and tell me what they see and hear and what they're told. That's the value they bring.
In this vein, of course the Panthers were dumb, stupid and shortsighted to not allow reporters access. For one thing, it just engenders ill will among the press (see that column). For another, they could answer any question any way they want. They can say "I'd rather not talk about this. We just want to play football" and that's it. No grand statements. No shots fired. But let reporters do their job.
The one issue I would have with Silver's column is the tone. Yes, he's angry, and angry journalism is wonderful. But there's a fine line between being legitimately aggrieved and sounding like you're whining about your job being hard. The threats of non-coverage make the column feel petty. That's the danger in writing "They won't talk to me" story. It's easy to take a legitimate complaint and come off as complaining that your job (which involves typing and talking) is hard. And Silver crosses the line into condescension - "I think you're delusional" " "You should be thankful that I’m good at it, even when people put up barriers." Oh really? I should be thankful you're good at the job that pays you incredibly well and gives you an enormous amount of prestige?
Also, I worry about a backlash against the local beat guys. Silver doesn't have to cover the Panthers. He's got 31 other teams to cover, and as a national columnist, he's paid for his thoughts and his words, not his access to the Panthers' locker room. But I wonder if the local beat guys will be punished for this column. I wonder if once the lockout ends, some players will hold Silver's column against the Charlotte reporters. "You guys crushed us over the summer, no way I'm talking to you." that kind of thing.
It has to be said - I think Mike Silver's one of the best NFL columnists writing. He always has a different take. He reports well. He talks to people, goes to games. He puts a lot of original thought into his stories - even the ones I disagree with.
But here, I thought he crossed the line a bit with his attitude. His overall point is on-target, but he lost me on some style points.
Then, there's this note from higher in the column:
Letting reporters film a little video and take a few notes during these player-run practices would seem to be a no-brainer. Pausing on the way back to the car to give a few innocuous quotes for the cause doesn’t seem like an especially painful price to pay, either. Trust me, the reporters being kept out by the police officer weren’t there in search of some sort of sneak peak into new coach Ron Rivera’s playbook or a blow-by-blow account of the impending quarterback battle between No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton(notes) and 2010 second-rounder Jimmy Clausen(notes). Rather, they were looking to give their readers and viewers a glimpse into how the Panthers’ players are handling the lockout and coping with the challenges of this unusual offseason – and a chance to enunciate their views on a very contentious issue.
OK, now we're getting into my turf. Here's a simple-sounding question: If the reporters were just there to get "A little video" and "take a few notes" and get "some innocuous quotes," why were they there?
Seriously. Because what Silver describes isn't something that's really newsworthy (prancing around in shorts, etc.). If that's the case, why go there at all? The answer lies in routines. Covering something like this a routine for sports journalists. The players assemble, be it for an OTA or a workout on their own, the reporters go. It's part of the routine of covering a beat.
But it raises the question: In an era where reporters' time and attention is limited, when newsroom staffs and news holes are shrinking, when reporters have more to do and less time to do it, is it worth covering an informal workout in an attempt to get a few innocuous quotes?
The routines, the norms, say yes. And there's merit in that attitude. But is that routine still viable?
What's everyone else think?