Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is MLB “journalism” hurting the game?

I usually spend up to half an hour online every morning reading various accounts of games, first and foremost for the Jays, but also for any other team that had an interesting game the night before.

It may just be a Toronto thing, but some of our media outlets don’t have full-time baseball reporters any more. Quite often I’ll see Associated Press as part of a byline. That alerts me right away that the coverage will be generic – and also pretty useless. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the real baseball fans want real coverage, by someone who knows the team, is objective, and is not afraid to shake up the status quo when it needs shaking up.

When Internet access became almost completely ubiquitous, baseball was affected like everything else. MLB jumped in with both feet, taking command of both league’s access to the Internet with the result that everything is now homogenized into one large (w)hole. As a consequence, every team now has a resident journalist or two, someone who is around the team all the time, but also gets their marching orders from management. They are employees of MLB.

These writers aren’t journalists (although they probably would describe themselves as such), they are paid shills. Case in point, I read an account by Bill Ladson of the Nationals playing at Fenway last night. The final score was 7-4 for the Nats. Reasonably close game, you’re thinking, right? The description of it in the article sounded anything but. The game is described as “the Nationals pounded the Red Sox, 7-4.”

Huh? Three runs is now a “pounding”? Okay, Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nats wonder-rookie, enjoyed very good games, but how about being a wee bit more objective? If I see the descriptor “pounding” in a sentence, I expect the winning margin to be really impressive. 7-4 is not impressive. Ladson is there to build excitement around his team, apparently not to tell us what actually happened in any particular game. The Red Sox MLB reporter, Ian Browne was more balanced, but he was still clearly shilling for the home nine. Both did their jobs: put more fan “bums” in the seats (that’s “rear ends”, for all you non-Canadian readers).

Real fans want to hear what’s actually going wrong, not just get a report from a homer whose job is to gloss over a team’s faults. Good reporting means having a balance in the coverage.

We know the broadcasters for a particular team are going to be, at the very least, partially biased. (Luckily for Jays fans, we have broadcasters – the radio crew, especially – who aren’t afraid to say what they think, and Gregg Zaun, an analyst who is pretty damn blunt.)

But as other media outlets without a corporate axe to grind become thinner on the ground, are we going to be left with only corporate shills? I get more out of it when hard questions are asked, accurate analysis of a game takes place, and real problems are addressed. MLB reporting is like having your best buddy tell your wife why you got arrested on the way home from the bar last night. You know you’re not getting the real story.

We baseball fans deserve objective reporting, not more spin. We get enough of that in political reporting these days, thank you.

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