Is the Players’ Tribune actually revolutionizing sports journalism ?’

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One of my first assignments as an intern at the New York Daily News was to cover a New York Yankees game. Before I started, I had no idea what type of access would be available. It was a great surprise to learn that baseball reporters got access to the locker room before and after each game.

So on I went on my first day of the job, wearing my credential over my head with a Michigan lanyard. I walked into the locker room and Mark Feinsand, the Daily News’ Yankees beat writer, noticed my lanyard and immediately wanted to introduce me to Derek Jeter, one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Jeter had committed to play to Michigan before being drafted by the Yankees in 1994. So Mark walked me over to meet Derek, and before I could say anything Derek said, “Hey bud, I’m Derek Jeter. Nice to meet you.” We shook hands, made some small talk about Michigan. That ended up being the only time I talked to Derek Jeter the whole summer. Reporters don’t bother talking to Jeter. He simply says nothing newsworthy, a strategy that kept him out of trouble.

Unfortunately for myself, many players shared Jeter’s sentiment. Here is an audio recording of an interview I conducted with New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom, who was named the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year. The interview below was conducted well before deGrom reached the national radar. But he still had to approve my interview and answered questions in a very robotic manner.


Jeter’s unwillingness to say anything newsworthy to reporters is exactly why it’s not surprising to see him create The Players’ Tribune, a website devoted to giving professional athletes a new media platform where they can produce first-person stories. This way, players don’t have to rely on media professionals to tell their stories and, instead, they can just tell it themselves. Derek Jeter wrote in an original piece titled, “The Start of Something New:”

“I realize I’ve been guarded. I learned early on in New York, the toughest media environment in sports, that just because a reporter asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer.  I attribute much of my success in New York to my ability to understand and avoid unnecessary distractions.”

The funniest part of Jeter’s comments is that he goes on to write that this type of behavior is not fair to the millions of baseball fans around the world. He wrote:

“I do think fans deserve more than “no comments” or “I don’t knows.” Those simple answers have always stemmed from a genuine concern that any statement, any opinion or detail, might be distorted. I have a unique perspective. Many of you saw me after that final home game, when the enormity of the moment hit me. I’m not a robot. Neither are the other athletes who at times might seem unapproachable. We all have emotions. We just need to be sure our thoughts will come across the way we intend.”

So to combat the “no comments,” Jeter created the Tribune and its blown up since its start date over six months ago back on Oct 1. The site has nearly 70,000 followers on Twitter, and is publishing content daily.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for athletes to communicate,” Jaymee Messler, the President of The Players’ Tribune, told The New York Times. “At the core of this is to make sure athletes have a stress-free way to offer their perspectives. It’s a different conversation when you set the agenda with your story.”

Certain pieces on the site stand out more than others. Tiger Woods “wrote” a piece explaining how one reporter completely misrepresented who he is. Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin “wrote” a thoughtful piece, explaining his odd relationship with estranged ex-owner Donald Sterling. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson “wrote” a piece about being a bully when he was younger. I put the word “wrote” in quotation marks because the players don’t actually write the pieces themselves, and I will highlight that later on the essay through a New York Times article, interview with Players’ Tribune President Jaymee Messmer, quoted above, and with John Harper, a baseball columnist for the Daily News, who explains why this might be a problem.


There are two pieces I will go into detail in this post. First, I will highlight a story by Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, who underwent Tommy John Surgery, missing a full season, after it appeared he would become the Big Apple’s next star since … Derek Jeter. Harvey detailed a trip he took Laos, and the piece came across as incredibly riveting. I will also detail Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz’s piece on steroid allegations.

In his story, Harvey wrote about how he took long walks in Laos, where he was unknown to every person on the streets. It allowed him to clear his mind, as Harvey said, “I had never had an injury. Never missed a game. It was going to be the first time in my adult life that I wasn’t able to throw a baseball for four straight months.” He added, “As an athlete, being on the sidelines makes you feel useless. I felt helpless because I wanted to contribute. An injury makes you invisible.” These quotes are phenomenal.

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Any sports journalist would love to have these quotes. And I can assure you that many reporters were quietly angry that Harvey wouldn’t share the details of his trip with them before writing this piece.

“A lot of times, especially in New York, you can read stuff or hear things that aren’t necessarily true,” Harvey told The New York Times. “So for me to have an outlet where it’s first person and it’s true — everything is from me — it’s something I was really excited about.”

One journalist who covers Harvey on a day-to-day basis is New York Mets beat writer Kristie Ackert. Kristie was nice enough to take time out of her extremely busy schedule to answer a few questions about the Tribune via email. It was very brief, but speaks to how a journalist might view the Players’ Tribune.

Jason: As a beat writer, do you like the idea of the Players Tribune?

Kristie: I don’t really follow the Players Tribune much, only read the Harvey story. Waiting to see what develops .

Jason: Do you feel athletes are misquoted as often as Derek Jeter implied in his opening story?

 Kristie: No. I think sometimes sound bites may change the context occasionally, but I know how careful I am and most guys I work with are about fairly portraying their words.

Jason: How did you feel about Matt Harvey publishing a piece on the sit, rather than allowing a reporter who covers him every day, like you, to write the feature?

Kristie: It’s his story to tell. It would have been completely different if it had been in the third person. There is plenty to write about with Matt, he isn’t withholding things from us because of it, he is always cooperative with me. I thought it was an interesting story.

Kristie was understandably brief. Even if she wanted to say something more about Harvey’s piece, she couldn’t in this interview because if Harvey saw this post, he wouldn’t speak to her anymore — a reporter’s worst nightmare.

John Harper, a colleague of Kristie’s, and a columnist at the Daily News since 1994, took a similar approach to Kristie, but explained that Harvey may have been in better hands if he chose to allow a reporter to write his story, rather than a ghost writer. Harper also discussed how it’s funny that Jeter created this site after not allowing reporters into his head for his career, the site’s potential and if it’s good or bad for the industry. Listen below!

Harper mentioned that many athletes would be better off allowing a journalist to write their story — noting that there’s more to a story than just quotes. More so, this first person stories can backfire, like that of David Ortiz.

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David Ortiz is one of the most prolific baseball players of my generation, hitting 446 home runs to date. In today’s steroid age, power like Ortiz’s is always questioned. Ortiz has never actually been proven guilty of using banned substances, but has been a victim of constant speculation. He took to the Players’ Tribune to address these concerns. In his story, he calls out a reporter, who he describes as “the reporter with the red jheri curl from the Boston Globe.’’ That description fits Dan Shaugnessy, a well-respected, in most cases, Boston Globe columnist.

Dan Shaugnessy, a Boston Globe columnist, was called out by David Ortiz
Dan Shaugnessy, a Boston Globe columnist, was called out by David Ortiz

While it appeared that Ortiz got his point across, explaining why he is innocent and how Shaugnessy was in irresponsible with his reporting, his plan backfired. Shaugnessy eviscerated Ortiz in a column responding to Ortiz’s claims.

“I’m writing because I can’t figure out why you felt the need to reintroduce the topic of steroids and drug testing in your recent essay on Derek Jeter’s Players Tribune website,” Shaugnessy wrote. “It feels like a mistake. Better to leave it alone and stay in a world where everyone loves you unconditionally. Jeter failed you on this one. A good editor would have discouraged this theme.”

Shaugnessy went on to nitpick each claim Ortiz makes in his story, exposing some factually incorrect details.

“You write, ‘I never knowingly took any steroids.’ This is not good phrasing,” Shaugnessy wrote. “This is the old Barry Bonds defense. That word “knowingly” is a crusher. You are a professional athlete. It’s up to you to know what you are taking. Don’t use the ignorance defense.

“You write, ‘Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me. You know how many times I’ve been tested since 2004? More than 80.’

“Hmmm. In your never-ending paranoia and posturing that you are being unfairly singled out, you may have goofed on this one. Eighty tests since 2004 is highly unlikely. According to NBC Sports, the only way a player could be subjected to that many tests would be if he was “in the program” possibly because of a (non-suspendable) positive test for amphetamines.”

This above example is exactly how writing for the Tribune could backfire. Ortiz thought he was “writing” a thoughtful essay, but it resulted in him looking more like a cheater, and Shaugnessy and many other media outlets, alike, exposed the incorrect details in his post.

However, the most troubling part of The Players’ Tribune was recently exposed by Richard Sandomir, a New York Times media columnist. Sandomir detailed the inner workings of the Tribune and exposed that the true byline should not belong to the athletes. Harper also noted this problem in the above interview.

 

“Like nearly every post on the site, the Ortiz essay was not written directly by its bylined athlete but instead crafted from a recorded interview with a Tribune staff producer,” Sandomir wrote. “(Players’ Tribune editorial director Gary) Hoenig said these interviews are less traditional question-and-answer sessions than monologues with questions to nudge the conversation along. Editing is minimal, he added, and the athletes get the final approval. The staff producers who talk to them do not get bylines.”

 

So these athletes are ultimately taking credit for a story they did not write — that seems unethical, no? More notably, The Players’ Tribune editing process doesn’t seem to be complete.

“We do standard fact-checking,” Hoenig told Sandomir. Messler confirmed that in my interview that is below.

And in regards to Ortiz’s story, the one in which Shuagnessy clearly outlined factually incorrect statements, Hoenig said, “We knew the entire history of steroid testing in baseball. We knew how he’d been exposed in anonymous testing. We couldn’t verify the number of tests that he said he’s taken, but it was verified by his agent that he’d been tested frequently. Baseball would never tell us.”

So the truth may not be getting true in these stories. Players may fudge facts that these ghostwriters would just assume to be true. These ghostwriters, as Harper mentioned, wouldn’t question these players like a normal journalist would.

On the Boomer and Carton radio show, one of the most listened to radio shows in the country, Boomer and Carton shed light on this problem.

Katie Nolan, an American sports personality and television host on Fox Sports 1, also had some negative words toward the Tribune in this satirical clip.


It’s evident that Sandomir’s article raised some eyebrows about the site. It’s taken a lot media flack, as evident by those two radio shows. Some of it’s pieces are not having their intended effect, like Ortiz’s. And once the general public understands that the authors of these stories aren’t the players themselves, the site’s credibility will be instantly lowered. To respond to these claims and to explain the Players’ Tribune side of things, Jaymee Messler, President of The Players’ Tribune, was kind enough to talk to me.

In an exclusive interview, Messler shed light upon the Tribune’s writing process, editing process, how the ghost writers do their stories and about Matt Harvey’s role. Listen below!

 

As noted in the interview, The Players’ Tribune has broken some news lately, scaring some media outlets. Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello recently broke via the website that he had signed an extension with the Sox. Brady Aiken, the first pick of the 2014 MLB draft, broke via the website that he had tommy john surgery. This has some journalists worried.

“Hopefully it’s not another way to put newspapers out of business,” Harper said in the above interview.

Luckily for Harper and others, it doesn’t appear the reason for newspapers’ decline is The Players’ Tribune. There are simply too much unknown with how the site will grow. Couple that with people finding out that the players don’t actually write their own story, and I think the site’s growth will plateau. Most notably, Messler said a very troubling thing in the interview.

“Athletes haven’t had this opportunity before,” she said. “It’s easier for them when they can set the agenda.”

Obviously, it’s easier for athletes when they set their own agenda. But why should the athletes set their own agenda? That seems fishy to me — how does a reader know the truth is coming through?

They don’t, and that is a massive problem for The Players’ Tribune.

Is Facebook good or bad?

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Is Facebook good or bad? The answer seems obvious to me and a simple google search would answer all doubts. I immediately thought Facebook was not a force for good, so I googled, “Facebook is Bad,” and there were dozens of stories, some recently published, on the negative effects of the social networking site.

Last year, I took Gail Gibson’s English 225 class that dealt with higher education issues. For a couple of weeks, we discussed cheating in higher education and most of the conversations ultimately ended up being an argument about Facebook.

We intensely studied a piece published in New York Magazine, which highlighted a massive cheating scandal at Stuyvesant High School, a very prominent high school in New York City. The article is a featured the cheating ring’s mastermind, Nayeem, who pulled “off the most brazen feat of cheating in the illustrious school’s 107-year history.” Nayeem’s primary tool to facilitate the cheating was through Facebook messages and groups.

As the above article outlined, Facebook can be used to facilitate cheating in school, making it no force for good in society.

The reasons don’t end there. According to psychologytoday.com, there are several ways Facebook is bad for society.

According to the article, Facebook: “can make you feel like your life isn’t as cool as everyone else’s,” “can lead you to envy your friends’ successes,” “can lead to a sense of false consensus,” and “can keep you in touch with people you’d really rather forget.”

 

 

A critic might say that there is no empirical evidence to support such claims. However, as recent story in The Washington Post suggests there is data to support the negative thoughts toward the social networking giant.

“The more time you spend on Facebook, the more likely it is for you to feel depressive symptoms,” Mai-Ly Steers, an author of the study “Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms,” told the Post. “… The underlying mechanism is social comparison. So essentially the reason you feel these feelings is that you tend to socially compare yourself to your friends.”

A recent study says Facebook is linked to depression
A recent study says Facebook is linked to depression

Who hasn’t compared themselves to someone else? No one. So this study is sobering, and it’s clear Facebook, while it’s fun to post pictures and stay close with long-distant friends, is becoming a negative force within society.

To clarify her study, Steers released a statement, saying, “It doesn’t mean Facebook causes depression, but that depressed feelings and lots of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others tend to go hand in hand.”

That doesn’t sound good, either.

Interview with Anthony McCarron, baseball writer for the New York Daily News

Anthony McCarron is a baseball writer for the New York Daily News. He covers both the Yankees and Mets and does some national baseball reporting as well. He is one of the best in the business and has adapted well to Twitter, constantly interacting with followers. Anthony started working for the News in 1994 when Twitter didn’t exist (also the year I was born). He joined me  — and my fake production team, which is why I say “us” or “our” throughout the interview — on Wednesday morning to discuss how technology has changed reporting, whether certain reporters would compromise ethics to break news, how he uses Twitter and more!

Please give it a listen and follow Anthony on Twitter!

Michigan 5, Michigan State 3: PHOTOS

My job at The Michigan Daily never involves taking photos. After all, I am on the sports staff, not the photo desk. But for one night, I had to multi-task. In between writing the game story for the paper, I used my credential to sneak down to the photo areas to take some pictures. Luckily, the Daily’s assigned photographer brought an extra camera that he lent to me. I wasn’t able to take pictures the whole game, and it took me a while to figure out how to use an actual camera (they have gotten so complex!), but here are the highlights. I promise there is development. Enjoy!

P.S. — Please read my story as well!

 

The Shockbox: a concussion saver

There is no secret that hockey is a violent sport. There is also no secret that many parents would hesitate to let their child play the sport. And there isn’t a reason to blame them. After all, there is a serious issue with concussions in the National Hockey League — the game’s most prestigious league.

The graphic below details the concussion issue.

Concussions  on the rise in the NHL
Concussions are on the rise in the NHL (Chart via Canada.com)

The issue of concussions has gained steam in the past couple of weeks, after former NHL-er Steve Montador was found dead at age 35. Montador had a long history of concussions, and many believe head trauma led to his death.

Montador’s death has led to over 70 players joining a class-action lawsuit against the NHL, arguing that the league didn’t have strong enough concussion protocols. In fact, over

In The New York Times, Charles Zimmerman, the co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said,  “The N.H.L. can no longer ignore the impact of repeated head trauma and must finally acknowledge the serious conditions that retired players are facing.”

Steve Montador, a former NHL-er, was found dead at 35. Many believe it was because of a history with concussions
Steve Montador, a former NHL-er, was found dead at 35. Many believe it was because of a history with concussions

 However, finding a solution is difficult for a multitude of reasons. Most notably, the NHL is comprised of players who are willing to play through considerable amounts of pain. In fact, Michal Handzus, a former player for the Chicago Blackhawks, once played multiple games with a broken wrist and torn MCL. Just watch how happy Jonathan Toews was when he was told to leave the ice after taking a massive hit to the head. (Sorry for the explicit language)

But thanks to researchers at Virginia Tech, finding the safest helmet to wear is becoming easier. Researchers created a five-point rating system, the STAR system, which rates helmets based on extensive research.

“This is going to hit hockey like a ton of bricks.”

The more stars the better. And since the school applied the system to its football helmets, according The New York Times, “Sales for five-star football helmets have soared, and those for low-rated helmets plunged.”

More so, Dale Pfriem, president of ICS Laboratories, a company that studies equipment safety, said that STAR system implementation will “hit hockey like a ton of bricks.”

And just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any better, there is technology being developed that will make detecting concussions easier, regardless of helmet: The Shockbox.

The Shockbox is wearable helmet technology that can detect a magnitude of a collision. Based on the sensor’s reading, a red light will or will not appear. If the light turns on, a player should be removed from the game immediately. This way, concussions won’t go undetected.

The sensor currently costs $179.99. It seems like a no-brainer for parents worried about their kids getting hit. The sensor works by sending immediate info on every collision to a corresponding cell-phone App, so parents can track every hit even if they aren’t present at the game.

The National Football League decided to suspend the use of the sensors after using them in 2014 because the NFL and NFL Players Association couldn’t agree on how to keep the data. However, the NFL said they would continue to review the data it received last season.

As for hockey, the Shockbox could be instrumental in slowing down the mass concern over concussions. If they don’t, the future of the game will be in limbo as less and less parents will let their children play.

The Washington Football Franchise

Since satirical news shows almost never involve sports, I found a clip from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart that pertained to sports. It was a clip that dealt with the Washington Redskins and whether or not “Redskins” is an appropriate mascot.

As the Daily Show would put it, the Washington football franchise is wrong to use its current mascot. The Daily Show interviewed a group of native americans who scolded Dan Snyder, the owner of the football team in Washington. The clip was, engaging, hilarious and informative.

The Daily Show did a great job providing context to the situation and a viewer would’ve understood the issue even if it were the first time they heard about it. Not only that, in what could’ve been a boring debate, listening to just experts on both sides of the debate, the Daily Show did a great job using humor to portray the hotly-contested issue.

And that’s what satirical news does so well. They take large news stories that would normally be boring and stories the general public wouldn’t care about and turn them into funny news stories. By doing this, the public gets educated, at least somewhat, on news topics they ought to know. Below is funny, clever way that Stephen Colbert weaved news into his report.

 

By using jokes throughout the show, satirical news shows keep the viewers engaged. When the viewer is engaged, they are able to educate the public.

However, I still prefer to consume my news through the NBC Nightly News. I like hard news, with correspondents on the scene. But if a majority of the country finds that medium too boring, and would prefer to get their news through satirical channels, so be it. They both get the job done in separate ways.

Where is Lester Holt?

I watched the NBC Nightly News on Sunday, February 22. I usually don’t watch the news on the weekend, aside from 60 Minutes if I have time, but I watch enough news to know that it was strange not having Lester Holt anchor the NBC Nightly News on the Weekend.

Lester Holt
Lester Holt
Carl, the new guy
Carl, the new guy

Carl Quintanilla filled in for Holt and, for the most part, chose interesting stories, and did a nice job.

The segment led with the growing threat against big malls in America, namely the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Quintanilla points out the growth of a Somali-born terrorist group, Al Shabaab, who is believed to be behind the threats.

They then transitioned into a segment on ISIS. The story revolved around three British-born girls who recently flew to Turkey with intent to join ISIS in Syria. NBC then showed one of the girl’s sisters pleading for her sister to come back (very moving).

They then panned to Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign news correspondent, who reported that Turkey sent troops into Syria to take back 38 of of its soldiers and Engel says this is the first step in the growing fight against ISIS.

Quintanilla then had a very odd transition into the Daytona 500, a NASCAR event. There was much controversy over the safety of the drivers after Kyle Busch crashed into the wall.

Kyle Busch's car after the wreck (Screen grab from ESPN.com's article)
Kyle Busch’s car after the wreck (Screen grab from ESPN.com’s article)

From there, it went to Tennessee where the state is getting destroyed by snow and cold weather. (NOT COLDER THAN ANN ARBOR).

A commercial break ensued before Quintanilla discussed with the Chief Medical Editor about a new peanut allergy clinical study. They then finished the newscast with an Oscar’s preview.

Perhaps this won't be a problem much longer.
Perhaps this won’t be a problem much longer.

Overall, I liked the newscast and thought the stories were interesting. However, I think they should’ve done more about ISIS and Al-Shabaab than the academy award preview, which was given the same amount of time. NBC Nightly news isn’t supposed to educate viewers on movies, rather its supposed to report NEWS.

NBC Nightly News is very respected, even after the Brian Williams controversy. I just don’t understand how they could devote valuable air time to the academy awards — that is what E! is for. Television news is critical to informing the public. With less and less people reading the news, watching it has become more important. So report on news, NBC, not entertainment.