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Vol. 53, No. 2 • January 2016 • .pdf version
Let's begin a healthy discussion about access
By PAT FORDE / Yahoo Sports
There is a natural tension that exists between college basketball reporters and university sports information directors. Or at least there should be.
We wouldn't be doing our jobs correctly if we got along with the media gatekeepers 100 percent of the time. Our push for access will inevitably be met with resistance. Stories that we deem fair and objective will be considered unfair and subjective. Our belief in how to serve our readers will butt into an SID's belief in how to serve his head coach and athletic director.
It's not the easiest of relationships. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find some common ground and understand each other's responsibilities.
Toward that end, there have been some recent, positive discussions between USBWA members and SIDs about having an informal get-together. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. We're tossing around ideas.
The point of the exercise would be this: making sure SIDs know what we're trying to do, and SIDs communicating what they're trying to do. Instead of both sides fuming to their colleagues about how the other side doesn't get it, we can fume collectively.
Or, better yet, not fume at all. Have a beer together, have some chicken wings, have a civil and constructive conversation.
Maybe it could happen at the Final Four, where so many of us from around the nation gather in one place. Maybe there could be a series of satellite meetings at conference tournaments, with the aid of the league offices. If any of the membership has any bright ideas, send them to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
But the location is less important than simply having the meetings and getting issues on the table.
The better basketball writers can articulate why we want access to practice, or the locker room, or the chance for a sitdown with the star player, the better our chances of getting it. In some cases, those chances will remain slim at best, but maybe we can open the door a crack.
The better basketball writers can explain why disproportionate access – i.e., coaches or schools playing media favorites – is a risky strategy, the better our chances of creating a level playing field. Or something close to it.
The better basketball writers can make clear why we occasionally write "negative" stories – or simply non-fawning stories – the better our chances of stopping a feud before it happens. Or de-escalating an ongoing feud.
In my experience, dialog is almost always good. I believe it's good for us as writers to let those who feel aggrieved vent, if they can do so in a calm/constructive way. The key is to not let our feelings get bruised, and to actually listen. We shouldn't be above learning a few things.
We might learn why Mike Krzyzewski does his postgame news conference at the exact same time the Duke locker room is open, forcing writers to choose one or the other. We might learn why Tom Crean takes a long time to appear for his postgame press conference. We might learn why Virginia doles out access with an eye dropper on a weekly basis.
Not every explanation will be agreeable or even make sense, but you never know until you hear it.
On the flip side, we can make clear the challenges of deadline reporting, the pressure to live-tweet a press conference, the difficulty of trying to capture both audio and visual recordings at the same time, the reasons why we ask certain questions. Heck, I'd like to make the simple request to have a 6-foot-10 player stand up when being interviewed in a postgame scrum, as opposed to sitting down and only being audible to the few reporters directly in front of him.
Most SIDs I know would value the chance to explain their roles – and the challenges they face – in a non-charged atmosphere. Most basketball writers would value the same opportunity to explain their jobs and the way they do them, and to ask questions.
A few years ago, I was part of a media panel that met with Big Ten SIDs for a Q & A at the league offices in Chicago. It was great. The questions from the media-relations folks were almost all thoughtful. Some were a bit heated. But on the whole, I believe that everyone left the meeting with a greater respect and understanding for what we all do.
Hopefully we can convene a meeting – or a series of meetings – that do the same sometime this year. I'd like to hear ideas on this matter from the membership, so we can open a dialog that serves us all.
We don't have to always get along, and probably shouldn't. But let's try to understand each other better.
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