I posted this quote over on my Tumblr* last night, but I feel like it warrants some discussion. (* I recently started a Tumblr version of this blog. It's very new, and I'm still feeling my way around the platform. I'll have a post soon on my ideas for the future of this blog and that one).
Over at Grantland, Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell had one of their period e-mail exchange columns. In talking about Shane Battier and how good a quote he is, Simmons started discussing the media landscape:
Do we really need 25 people crammed in baseball locker rooms fighting for the same mundane quotes? What’s our game plan for the fact that — thanks to the Internet and 24-hour sports stations — a city like Boston suddenly has four times as many sports media members as it once had? Why are we covering teams the same way we covered them in 1981, just with more people and better equipment?”
(Side note: If I covered the Heat, I would talk to Battier for every story I did. Every single one.)
I've never been the world's biggest Sports Guy fan, but I think these are excellent questions we should be asking about sports journalism - and especially ones that sports journalists should be asking of themselves.
The short answer to Simmons' last question is that it's routine. That's how you cover sports - you watch the game, you go into the locker room or media room and ask questions of the players and coaches. That's the job.
But should aspects of the job change?
Simmons and Gladwell address these points primarily from the point of view of the athletes, but I look at it from the readers' point of view. Are we getting anything of value for the readers in these locker room scrums? That's the question that should drive every journalistic practice - is this best serving what the reader wants and needs?
I've written before that the "locker-room scrum" explanation for bad quotes has always felt like an excuse. Want good quotes? Ask good questions. Or don't rely on quotes, and instead use your own insight and expertise as a beat reporter or columnist. I don't necessarily think it's mundane quotes that's the problem as much as the "get a quote" mentality we tend to have - and let me be perfectly frank: I had that mentality when I was a sports writer. I was totally a part of the problem. I understand that when you're on deadline, you're rushed and you need to get in and get out of the locker room. I understand that if I filed a story without quotes, I'd get screamed at by the slot guy and by my editor and by the executive editor and probably half my followers on Twitter. I understand the norms and practices and routines of the industry.
But Simmons raises good questions, ones that we should consider asking ourselves. Why are we still covering teams like it's 1981? Are our norms, practices and routines serving our audience? How can we do things differently, and maybe, better?