Monday, June 27, 2011

To Ensure A Future, Sportswriters Need To Show Bias

It is part of being a journalist – you are not supposed to be biased.

In a former life, I was a journalist and I lived by that creed. For four years, I covered local towns in eastern Connecticut and I never showed bias. For two years, I covered the business of Connecticut from Hartford and I never showed bias. Oh, people accused me of being biased, but I never attempted to. I knew that a biased article about an election could sway a vote. I knew that a biased article about a crime could sway a potential jury member. I knew that a biased article about a company could affect its future. I knew that I couldn't be biased because my bias could impact what happens.

I never wanted to be part of the story. I know that's an archaic notion in this generation of “me me me” journalism but that's how I operated. I never wanted something I did – unless it was breaking a news story – to have an impact on what happened next. I still feel that way though the Fox News and MSNBC's of the world are showing that biased reporting is now acceptable and even encouraged. Needless to say, it's not exactly a banner time for those in journalism or those who believe strongly in the Third Estate.

Yet for all the debate about whether mainstream reporters should remain unbiased, no one ever talks about another issue that confounds me on a seemingly daily basis. Why are sportswriters supposed to be unbiased?

For most of my childhood, I dreamed of being a sportswriter. I loved sports. I loved to write. Put two and two together and it just made sense. Then I grew older and I started to realized what being a sportswriter would entail. Oh sure, you could travel the country or the world following sports. You could interview the very best athletes on a daily basis. But there was one sacrifice I was not prepared to make – I would have to stop rooting for my teams at sporting events.

The idea that a sportswriter needs to be unbiased always confused me. Basically it boils down to a simple question, who cares? Sports are entertainment. They aren't a “real” thing like politics or an election. The outcome of last night's Reds/Cardinals game has a very tiny effect on the world. In fact, it basically has zero effect outside of either disappointing or encouraging the fan bases of the two teams, and any fantasy baseball team owner.

If there is bias in sportswriting, what happens? If a columnist is a blatant Yankees fan and writes bad things about the Red Sox, is that going to change the outcome of the game? Has any reporter in history ever been able to influence the outcome of a game? Bias in journalism is only a negative when it can influence future events. Sports are a very simple form of entertainment as teams either win or lose. What is written in the newspaper each day has no effect on that.

More than that, think about the writers who cover sports. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from sportswriters, either personally, in print or on television, about how their love of sports has decreased during their career. It's almost impossible for it to not happen. When you go to a game every night and there are 20,000 people screaming and cheering, while you're stuck in an isolated box prevented from cheering...well, wouldn't that be a drain on you?

In recent years, the disconnect between an unbiased sports media and the real world has been crystallized by the emergence of blogs and bloggers. That's who I want to get my information from. That's where I want to get an opinion from. When the Mets lose, I want to know what other fans are thinking, not what some guy who has no interest on who won or lost. When the Mets win, I want to revel in the glory with other fans who were cheering along with me, not some guy who didn't make a sound the whole game.

When the YES Network debuted, it was immediately put down as “propaganda” by most of the New York sports media. You know what? It was. And it is. And it should be. The YES Network is for Yankees fans. That's the way it should be*. It's the same as Yankees blogs, or blogs for any team or any sport, they are going to be biased one way or the other. And that's a good thing. Sports are fun. Sports are about rooting interests. Sports aren't about sitting in a press box and not cheering.

*My favorite thing I've ever seen was a show on the YES Network entitled, “Tales of Triumph: The 2001 World Series.” The hour-long program ended after Game 5, with only a passing mention of what happened in Games 6 and 7. It was glorious.

Let's be honest – sportswriters are biased. They have their favorite managers, players and teams. If they don't, then they're not human and they shouldn't be covering sports. My point? Let sportswriter tell us what they really feel. If a certain NYC columnist has Jose Reyes as his favorite player, let him tell us. If he or she hates the Yankees, I want to know that.

Newspapers are stuck in the past on a multitude on fronts, not the least of which is the fact no one reads newspapers anymore. For these journalistic bastions to continue to operate, they will do so online. For its sports departments, that means battling an army of blogs dedicated to teams and sports. If they want to be successful on that front, they're going to have to fight fire with fire. And that means stepping out of the stone age and admitting its sports reporters and biased. Because if they're watching and covering sports, they should be.

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