Low, hanging fruit from Craig Wolff in The Wall Street Journal. My feelings on access are well-defined. I believe that in this evolving media landscape, access is one of the main advantages sports reporters offer is access. I've said it before, I'll say it again, but I can't be in the Buffalo Bills locker room. Mark Gaughn and Allen Wilson can. Also, the point of access isn't a one-time quote for a story on deadline, it's building a relationship. Joel Sherman, the brilliant New York Post baseball columnist, once gave me a great piece of advice: Every day, he tried to learn something new to put in the paper (a trade rumor, an injury update, etc.). He felt that by always being on the look out for the little stuff, you're more attuned/ready/prepared to break the big stuff.
A couple points jumped out at me in the story. First, there's the "Access is hardly a reporter's entitlement, unless the assignment is the White House or City Hall." Yes, because the sports department is just the toy department and not real journalism. Then there's "Imagine, too, the view of an athlete, not yet showered and still absorbing a blown save or a missed shot, confronted by a swarm of notepads and microphones and pressed to answer the brain-numbing question: How do you feel?" Well, I'd love to be in a profession with a union-guaranteed minimum salary of $350,000 a year. Answering a few questions? Fair trade.
Wolff mentions the banality of most quotes. He cherry picks a couple examples from recent Stanley Cup and NBA playoff stories without context. He quotes Malcolm Moran and Linda Robertson about how athlete quotes tend to be cliche and uninspired.
Lord knows I felt the frustration of bad quotes. I have 10 years worth of stories littered with bad quotes, cliches, banalities, etc. I covered an NHL Game 7 between Buffalo and Pittsburgh in which Darius Kasparatis scored the game winner. I was in the scrum for him after the game but never actually heard a word he said (another reporter held my recorder close up). But to use that as a hook to say that reporters should not be in the locker room is preposterous. It limits journalism to mere stonography.
Want better quotes? Ask better questions. Don't settle for the cliche. Ask a follow-up question. Ask "why" and "how" a lot. Avoid the scrum if you can. Wait for the cameras to walk away then move in to ask your question. That doesn't always work, but it works more than you think. Don't go into the locker room seeking a quote. Go in there seeking perspective. Try to learn something about the game or the player.
Look, the dirty secret is that sometimes, you just need a quote. You have a 10-inch hole to fill, 20 minutes to deadline, and you just need to get a comment or two from the locker room. Is that the best use of your time as a reporter? Maybe, maybe not. That's a routine for sports reporters. You get a quote from the coach and the "star player." It's the convention, the way things are done.
And in that regard, Wolff raises a good question. Is this convention a good thing?
Again, maybe, maybe not.
But at a time when, as Wolff notes, players are becoming less and less accessible to the media, I'd hate to see the cliched quote used as an excuse for closing off access. Because without access, reporters have one less tool to offer their readers.
What's everyone else think?