Children grow up dreaming of playing for their favorite teams.
For most, that dream never materializes, so they choose the closest option: to become a media member covering their favorite team.
But when the dream job of covering a favorite franchise is fulfilled, what’s next? Covering a lifelong favorite team can be a huge challenge for a young writer if they are to be objective. How can you be a fan of the team you cover and have an open mind?
Jason Mackey, Pittsburgh Pirates beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said being a fan of the team you’re covering is the number one taboo in sports journalism.
“Oh god no. Absolutely not, that’s rule number one, you can’t be a fan,” he said. “You can’t provide unbiased reporting. You have to be open to criticism and ask uncomfortable questions.”
Mackey provided an example of one of the times he had to ask the tough questions about the Pittsburgh Penguins when the great Sidney Crosby was in a time of crisis.
“We had these conversations back and forth and he was like, ‘You know, when you’re asking these things about my stink, do you think I don’t know or do you think you’re putting even more pressure on me? when I’m already dressing myself, you know?’” Mackey said, contemplating an interview with Crosby.
“He doesn’t get mad. I remember talking to (Patric) Hornqvist about the same thing. As if these guys wouldn’t get mad. If you do it accurately and fairly, you know, all this stuff, how I try to respect every ounce of what these guys put into this thing.
Steve Ruman, a freelance reporter for The Vindicator and Tribune Chronicle, sees things differently. Since its inception in 1999, he has covered the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, formerly a Low Class A affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians and now a member of the MLB Draft League.
“They try to do both,” he said. “It’s not your fault, you know, if you follow the same team and the same players day after day, you get to know the players, you get to know the coaches. Regardless of how you will present the stories and facts. It’s not your fault, you have some attachment.”
Ruman believes that covering more than one sport allows him to cheer on the teams he covers in a way journalists who cover one organization year-round cannot. He feels this way because he’s not with the same group of guys 365 days a year.
“I interviewed Homer Bush with the scrappers yesterday,” he said. “They have a different manager and group of players almost every year. Heck, you know, these players come and go on a weekly basis. So it’s always something new and fresh. Then this season ends and boom, I’m into football and you know how this is. That carries me for 15 weeks and then to basketball, you know, it definitely makes a big difference.”
At the end of the day, it comes down to whether you’re a fan or not, whether you’re being objective and doing your job right. As long as athletes and management are properly held accountable, fans or business people shouldn’t have a problem with that.
Ruman and Mackey are total opposites. While Ruman is a fan, Mackey’s perspective is completely different. Mackey grew up in the city of Pittsburgh and said beat reporting for the
Pirates “beat” the fandom out of him.
“I like baseball,” Mackey said. “I like the sport, it’s not like I’m a terrible person. I just don’t cheer for a team, I enjoy it when the players do a good job. I don’t go out and buy a jersey or an autograph.”
Zach Buchanan, Arizona Diamondbacks beat writer for The Athletic, largely agreed with Mackey and even feels he can’t watch baseball 24/7.
“So I think you’re losing that little part of yourself,” Buchanan said. “For me, I grew up as a (Texas) Rangers fan. I grew up in Dallas. I don’t care about the Rangers anymore. My dad still cares a lot about Rangers and likes to talk to me about them, but I’m not that interested in sports. I spend so much time thinking about sports for work that when I get home I don’t want to host another baseball game.”
A shocking attribute for most Mackey fans is that most writers like games to be decided early and actually prefer a boring game.
“It’s a joke among beat writers, they fire for no extra innings, no rain and for the game to be decided in the fourth inning,” he said. “It shortens your night and you write your story to get you home. If it’s a 3-3 game and it’s a walkoff then that’s great for the fans but for me it’s hectic because I haven’t been able to get any work done in the last two hours and it’s going to extend my night and make it harder to meet my deadline.”
Writers who have a deadline have it much harder because they’re pressed for time, but radio announcers and broadcasters have a very different take on the game.
That walk-off home run is what gets them noticed and their money.
Richie Juliano, play-by-play TV and radio broadcaster for Youngstown State Athletics and YSN, agrees with Ruman about being a fan. Taking it a step further, Juliano believes it’s essential in broadcasting.
“Being a play-by-play broadcaster for a particular team makes you feel like a member of the squad,” he said. “You get to know the players and coaches on such a personal level, the excitement and energy spills out when you announce or win a big game. I think it’s important that the audience senses your enthusiasm for the team and the game. Nobody wants to listen to a monotonous show, the fans want to feel part of the team and the game.”
The final judgment seems to be to do what you love. As your career grows and you start exclusively covering one organization, you may lose that fan base as you climb the rungs of professional athletic ladder.
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