I’m pretty sure I’d hate being a beat reporter.
For one thing, beat reporters can’t be fans of a team or have favorite players. They can’t cheer in the press box. I wouldn’t survive ten minutes at a Reds game under those constraints.
When beat writers report positive news about the team, they’re accused of being homers. If one dare says anything negative, he or she risks getting shut out by the people whom they rely on for the material they depend on to do their job effectively.
Not to imply the job of a beat reporter is easy. Players interviewed before or after games mostly speak in well practiced clichés. Managers and front office personnel do everything they can to not create news. Beat reporters are compelled by modern norms to have Twitter accounts where they are confronted by every cranky, misinformed fan and countless crackpot ideas.
The Cincinnati Reds just participated in baseball’s winter meetings in Orlando. The Reds’ beat writers were there. I’m sure they had to be. But as best as I can tell, they sit around all day waiting for their (maybe) thirty minutes with the general manager where he, of course, tells them only what he wants them to report.
Then the beats each dutifully report the same story. They tweet it. They blog it. They write a newspaper column on it. The same, exact information. Nothing less. And unfortunately, nothing more. In the case of the Reds reporters, the beat writers didn’t break a single story or report a solitary rumor all week. I couldn’t find one example of “a source tells me … ” or “hearing rumors that … ”
That’s not their fault, is it?
Are beat reporters allowed to contact players or their agents? For instance, could Mark Sheldon hit up Brandon Phillips and ask him about being traded to New York or Los Angeles? Haven’t they cultivated “well placed sources” or “front office personnel in a position” to know?
Occasionally, the beats offer opinions on the teams they devote their professional lives to covering, as one did this afternoon (Is it Time to Consider Trading Aroldis Chapman?). I’m eager to read them. I hold out hope their access and focus conveys unique insight.
But immersion doesn’t always produce meaningful expertise. Maybe the beat reporters get too close to the situation, or eventually become too susceptible to or numbed by the party line.
For example, John Fay wrote Why I Think Dusty Baker’s Job is Safe three days before Dusty Baker was fired. In today’s column, Fay misreported or misunderstood Chapman’s free agency date — off by two years. He also described the contract option in 2015 as a team option when it’s a player option. Fay himself reported it correctly when Chapman was signed.
A friend of mine pointedly asked, “Isn’t John Fay’s entire job to inform people about the Reds and a big part of that this time of year is understanding the trade situation for their players? How could he be so wrong about Aroldis Chapman’s contract?”
See, I’m pretty sure I’d hate being a beat reporter.