I hope you had the opportunity to read part one of my report on my summer covering the Pawtucket Red Sox as an independent blogger. That piece gave you a window into how I started my reporting venture and how it developed. Today I want to delve more into my daily routine and other observations from the McCoy Stadium press box.
Many a sports blogger has speculated that being a beat writer isn’t that difficult and how great it is to get paid to write about sports. For me this was a true labor of love for the craft of sports writing. Everything I did for PawSox Blog was on my own time and for no fiscal remuneration. Some also criticize the beat writer for being too cozy to those they cover, for not standing up to the manager and players and bravely question their work or play on the field. These bloggers have every right to their opinion.
Being a beat reporter is more challenging than one would think. It’s not as easy as just reporting to the press box just before the first pitch, eating some free food, then talking to the manager and players after the game. To do this right you need to spend some time cultivating relationships with the players, the manager, and the coaches. And I wanted to do this right.
What some bloggers don’t understand is that you can’t be a fan and be a beat reporter. You need to tread carefully into the domain of these teams. You need to be objective. Yes, at times you need to ask probing questions. But you can’t be such a bulldog that you alienate those you cover. If you do, your beat will be worthless.
Professional baseball media rules dictate that the press can gain access to the clubhouse 3 ½ hours prior to the game until about one hour before the first pitch. That means for a 7:05pm start the clubhouse opens at about 3:30pm. Most beat writers on the Major League level report to the park that early, take-in batting practice, and talk with players and coaches for features and notes. You need to be where the action is to remain competitive.
Each team also has its own set of protocols for press access. When it comes to the PawSox, batting practice would end approximately two hours before the first pitch and Manager Ron Johnson would meet with the press for about 10-15 minutes. You knew as a reporter that if did not get in to meet with Johnson at that time there was no guarantee he would have time for questions before the game. That’s fair.
Players were a little more receptive to speaking before a game, although there are some who would rather not be bothered as they prepared. Game day starting pitchers are always off limits.
A typical day for me would begin at my day job at 8am. I would do my best to leave early so I could get to the park by 4-4:30pm, in time to meet with Johnson and some players before the 7:05pm first pitch. Earlier starts would cause a conflict for me that resulted in many times not getting access to the team before the game.
After the pre-game locker room session reporters would spend the rest of their time writing their features and notes columns prior to the first pitch. There was also plenty of time for reporters to enjoy the daily pre-game meal.
During the game itself reporters would file any features and notes columns while scoring the game and taking notes. For many a newspaper reporter, the first edition deadline is between 10:30pm and 11pm. With that in mind reporters are writing their game story as the game unfolds, making changes as events warrant. When the game is complete reporters would leave room for a few quotes that are inserted after the post-game locker room visit. Most nights reporters would make their deadline, but there are others when games go into extra innings when partial game reports are sent to the editors.
I always approached each game as if I was a reporter for a daily newspaper. Even though I did not have a deadline, I too would write my game story while the game was taking place. I would also live blog each game I attended in person, providing updates every two innings or more frequently as events warranted. 15 hour days starting with my job made it important for me to wrap-up my work by the time I left the press box. Rarely did I finish my reporting back at home.
PawSox post-game rules prohibited reporters from the locker room for at least ten minutes following the completion of the game. Johnson also appreciated being approached first for his thoughts on the contest before the media descended upon the players.
Johnson is definitely one of baseball’s new breed of characters. He had a brief Major League career with Kansas City and Montreal in the early 1980’s and has been a minor league skipper for more than a decade, the last four seasons in Pawtucket. He is extremely engaging and entertaining, but also aware of the need to toe the Red Sox party line when needed. He is always good for an interesting quote.
When it comes to the media covering the team I will say this…each of them are skilled journalists, but there appears to continue to exist a generation gap between the old school and new school beat reporter. The old school set understands and utilizes the Internet, but at times fails to look at the bigger picture when it comes to its future. They still look at newspapers as king, failing to grasp that by the time my generation passes, print journalism will be mainly a thing of the past.
The best example of this came July 31st at the training deadline. The big trade in Boston, of you may remember, was the shipping of Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers. PawSox outfielder Brandon Moss was part of the trade that sent him to Pittsburgh. After talking with Moss and filing related stories, one reporter (old school) was amazed that one paper had already posted online most of the stories that were set to appear in the next day’s paper…all by 8pm that night! When hearing that amazement the first thing to enter my mind was how this reporter could not grasp the fact that many readers will not wait for the morning paper to get the information on this breaking story. It really is eye-opening to see this first hand…and a little sad.
Beat reporters also act like you and I at work…there are times they would rather not be there! I often saw reporters languish over the slow pace of the game, mainly because it would impact their deadline. But for some you could see that it was a struggle for them to be at work. As much as many of us think being a beat writer is a great gig, it’s a job like any other to some people, and the opportunity exists where some fall out of love with it.
The other sad part about the press experience is the non-participation of the out-of-town press corps covering the visiting team. Minor league teams rarely have their beat reporters follow them on the road. Only once did I see a reporter from a paper of a visiting team follow the club in Pawtucket. Many of those papers will hire local freelance writers to string the game for them. The local Rhode Island papers are no different. It’s really too bad that papers are forced by their bottom line to cut back on providing a constant link to one of their true local community sports institutions.
I have to thank the Pawtucket Red Sox organization for having the confidence to allow me to cover the team without being a member of the established mainstream media. Not many organizations would welcome a blogger into the press box. They did. And they deserve to be recognized for their foresight.
I have yet to decide whether I will continue with PawSox Blog for the 2009 season. The recently competed season is still too fresh for me to make a decision at this point. If I do come back, I will probably do so with some assurances that I can contribute more than I did in 2008. Not to improve upon one’s craft when afforded the opportunity is an opportunity lost.