The secret to saving journalist-athlete relationships
There's one word that fixes everything.
The press conference has gotten a bad rap lately.
I discussed this in the most recent article I wrote for Global Sport Matters magazine. Journalists don’t particularly like the press conference, because it’s impersonal and doesn’t lead to great quotes or answers. It turns out, athletes don’t particularly like them either. In fact, the disconnect between parties that’s inherent in the press conference is one of the reasons that can lead to stressful interactions between media members and athletes.
In reporting the piece, I asked several former athletes and experts how the relationship between athletes and journalists could be improved.
“I think empathy is huge when it comes to just normal interaction between humans, right?” said Donte Whitner, a former NFL player. “So I think that when it comes to a reporter and a player’s relationship, I think it has to be empathetic, and it goes for both sides”
“The key word there is relationship, right?” said Dr. Andrew Wolanin, a sports psychologist. “ So in an ideal world, having the ability to form relationships with the athletes, it is incredibly effective for journalists and for the athletes to trust somebody, know how they're going to use what is being said and where the person is coming from. And that takes some time to do that. But I think that that's really important.”
What’s fascinating about that is that this is the exact same answer most journalists would give to the same big question. Journalists want to build relationships with the players they cover. They want that empathetic relationship. That’s why locker room access is so valuable to journalists, because it allows them to slowly build relationships players, to put the notebook away and have even a quick conversation just as people.
So if the players want this, and the journalists want this, why don’t we have it?
Do we blame the teams and the leagues?
Well on one level, yeah.
“A lot of the teams, I'm sure have tried to ... I don't want to use the word brainwash or but try to persuade players that, you know, the less they say that's controversial, the better,” said longtime Los Angeles sports writer Helene Elliott.” You know, one on one, you're probably more apt to get a more instinctive and honest response than in a group setting, certainly much more than in a press conference setting.”
The reasons aren’t solely nefarious. There is the idea of scale. I write this in the piece, but imagine Tom Brady having to do a one-on-one interview with every reporter who wants to at the Super Bowl? It’s just not efficient.
And that gets at the heart of the matter. My pal Michael Mirer likes to say that the press conference is for the benefit of the team, not the journalists. It allows a single access point. It efficiently gets all the interviews done at one time. It allows them to have some control over the narrative (which is in their best interest, of course).
But it is interesting that the reporters and the athletes, who on the surface have competing interests
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Truth be told, this is one of the interesting and potentially dangerous side effects of the subscription model. Think of it in terms of incentives. If people are paying for your product, and you are either making a majority of your revenue through those subscriptions, the incentive is going to be to provide the type of coverage that people want to pay for. And that means not providing the type of coverage that people DON’T want.
The Other 51
Two recent episodes to check out
What’s it like to be at the Tony Awards?
How do you juggle being both a fan and a reporter?
How do you go from being a TV reporter in West Texas to creating your own site to cover Broadway?
What’s it like to spend an entire day wearing a fushsia ballgown around New York City?
Shoshana from BWaySho joins Brian to answer those questions and more. Shoshana and Brian talk about how TV taglines never leave you, why she doesn’t see herself as a critic, and the importance of just showing up.
This episode also features our first CONTEST. Check @TheOther51Pod for details.
Grace Aki, a playwright and performer, joins Brian to talk about her one-woman show, To Free A Mockingbird.
Here’s the secret. Grace didn’t actually “write” her one-woman show. Well she did. She talks about how she incrementally developed her show over a number of years, and how she used voice memos as her main tool to get material down.
Grace and Brian talk about the lessons she learned from Rick Crom and Seth Barrish, how important the ending and the climax of a show (or a story, or a beat) is, the through line in all of Grace’s work, and what the word storyteller means to her. Grace also gives fantastic advice on how to motivate yourself to do your own creative work.
They also talk ice cream. Let’s normalize meeting up for dessert the way people meet up for drinks!