Cuba-Rushford vs. Allegany-Limestone: Why the basics matter

From my posts this week inspired by Tim Layden’s piece in SI, it may appear that I’m 100 percent anti-objectivity, against the traditional notions of sports journalism. .

I’m not.

I don’t teach my sports writing and reporting students that it’s OK to cheer for their teams. Quite the opposite. We spend the first part of the course doing the basic, traditional game story. We start the course learning how to cover sports in a dispassionate, fair and (yes) objective manner.


Because Cuba-Rushford/Allegany-Limestone soccer.

See, my first job out of college was as a sports writer for The Times Herald in Olean, N.Y. My primary job was the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball beat writer. I went to Bonas, so this was the classic case of a young reporter having to put his fandom on hold for his job. I like to think I did a fair job covering the team through ups and downs. But it was easier to cover a beat where there were stakes, where there was an emotional investment on both the fans and myself. I knew my coverage of the team would benefit my career, so I cared. I had been a fan of that team, so I knew what it meant to cover them.

But at least half of my job was spent covering high school sports in the Twin Tiers of Southwestern New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania.

That meant covering Cuba-Rushford playing Allegany-Limestone in soccer, along with dozens of other school districts you’ve never heard of playing all manner of sports.

These are sports and games in which I had no emotional investment. My audience did, but I did not.

It’s easy to write about the things we care about.

The mark of a professional is being able to bring that same level of craft to that which we are not emotionally invested in. Because our audience does care.

Which is why we learn the basics. Which is why we learn to put our fandom aside in some cases and report on what we see and what we are told. Maybe that means rooting for a story.

The central question shouldn’t “are you a fan or are you an objective journalist?” Those are loaded terms.

The central question should be “Is your work fair and accurate?”