When I was a baseball reporter, I would go into the clubhouse after a game and talk to the players who had an impact on the game. If a player hit a home run, or had a key hit, I would ask him about it.
In hindsight, it was kind of a dumb thing to do.
Athletes often act on instinct. They see and react, faster than any of us could imagine. A guy who hit a home run wasn't thinking about it or planning it. He saw the ball and hit the ball. At best, he could tell me what pitch it was that he hit, but that's it.
Why did I do it? Because it was a home run or a key hit, and I figured I had to have a comment about it from the person who had the hit. Without it, my story wouldn't have felt complete. Even if it added little to the story or to the reader's understanding of the game.
I've been thinking about this all day, after the latest Marshawn Lynch post-game press conference. Lynch, who's notorious for not talking to reporters, answered each question by saying "Thanks for asking."
I loved it. I thought it was hysterical. I'm growing to agree more and more with Dan LeBatard and his call for a little more chaos in the cathedral of sports. If I was covering the Seahawks, I would have written such a fun story off that interview. But as Deadspin's Barry Petchesky writes, journalists are not happy with Lynch.
Last month, I asked whether or not reporters should interview Lynch if they know he's going to say nothing, just out of obligation. It's still a valid question today, as Petchesky points out in addressing the reporters' "questions, which often begin with phrases like "talk about ...":
What Petchesky describes here is the institutionalized nature of sports journalism, which is the focus of my research and my dissertation. When you hear media sociologists talk about "institutionalization," we're talking about the patterns and behaviors of organizations and actors within organizations that obtain rule-like status. Whenever you hear the phrase "That's the way things are done," or "that's just the way we've always done it," that's institutionalism. It's not inherently a bad thing. Large organizations seek institutionalism in part because it leads to stability, and that stability allows the organization to grow, and to satisfy external beliefs and expectations. But in an era when so much is changing in media, where there's so much content out there, it's worth asking how the reader is served by the traditional, formulaic, 800-word game story Petchesky describes .
Look, two things can be true here. Lynch should talk to the media, and this was kind of a jerk move. On the other hand, maybe reporters shouldn't interview someone who doesn't really want or like binge interviewed just to get a quote they feel they should have even if it (the quote) doesn't really serve the readers at all.
UPDATE (12/22, 5 p.m.)
Scott Lauber, a good friend and my former colleague in Binghamton who now covers the Red Sox for the Boston Herald, posted a comment on my Facebook page's post of this entry. I'm adding his comment here with his permission:
"As a reporter who speaks to professional athletes -- on and off the record, in a group setting and one-on-one -- on an almost daily basis, I'm not offended by Lynch's unwillingness to talk about a big play. If you need his comments to round out your story, it probably isn't a particularly good story. Chances are, a defender who missed a tackle or a lineman who made a key block can offer far more color and detail about the play than Lynch.
I do, however, believe Lynch owes his fans an explanation for missing the beginning of the game with a stomach illness. He doesn't have to offer graphic detail of what was bothering him, or how he overcame it. But "Thanks for asking" is not an acceptable answer.
As far as the "Talk about ..." convention of asking questions, I find it lazy and, quite frankly, insulting to reporters who ask thoughtful questions with specificity. Not sure when "Talk about ..." became so common in our industry, but Lesson No. 1 in Journalism 101 should be not to use those two words to frame your question."