Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Friday, January 20, 2006

They're so vain

Wasn't yesterday's press conference at Allen Park supposed to be about the Lions, and their new head coach, Rod Marinelli? Yet as I watched the tape of the presser again last night, and listened to some audio of the interviews conducted afterwards, it seemed like there were people in attendance more interested in being the story than writing one.

(Photo by Bill Emkow/ MLive.com)

It reminded me of a comment the Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice made on his blog a couple of months ago. To me, Justice is one of the best sportswriters/ columnists in the country (and not just because of his superhero name). Not only is he a good writer with great instincts and insights, but he has a strong sense of what makes a good story. He knows how to do his job, and doesn't get swayed by what the fans think he should be doing.

Here's what he had to say about grandstanding journalists:

First rule of journalism is this: if you've got a good question, if you're really looking for information, you don't ask it in a news conference.

Whenever you hear a reporter asking a tough question in a news conference, that reporter isn't interested in the answer. He's only interested in letting everyone know how tough he is.

Hmm, does that apply to anyone you saw or heard at the Marinelli press conference?

Later in the post, he demonstrates how reporters really get information, and what sorts of questions they ask. They don't fling unanswerable questions at someone in some fraudulent display of bravado and phony machismo.

¿Quien es mas macho, Rob Parker? Wow, what a tough guy. No wonder he calls himself "America's angry black sports columnist." Did he have his shirt unbuttoned with full chest hair showing when he told Marinelli that "fans were tired of the talk," and asked if the Lions were going to make the playoffs next year. Greg Eno used the word "asinine" to describe Parker's question, which seems entirely appropriate. Journalism professors should use it as an example of what kinds of questions not to ask.

For one thing, it's essentially asking for a "yes" or "no" answer, which doesn't make for a good quote. And, as Evan said in response to yesterday's post, what the hell was Marinelli supposed to say? In his column for today's Detroit News, Parker envisions the answer he (and, ostensibly, we) wanted:

"Of course, we are going to make the playoffs next season. There's enough talent here to get that done. We just have to get some things straightened out. And if we don't make the playoffs in the next season or two, I won't be here. You guys will be right back here with a new coach."

Isn't making the playoffs an obvious expectation for the Detroit Lions? If it wasn't, Marinelli wouldn't have been introduced as the Lions' new coach yesterday. Back here in reality, Parker knew Marinelli wasn't going to answer that question (or his ridiculous query about Marinelli's age). And it was silly to expect that the coach would. But Parker was going to ask it anyway. Why? Because he wants to show how big his huevos rancheros are, with everyone watching. He wanted to ask the "tough questions" that no one else in the press corps was asking. And by doing so, he was making himself the story.

And hey, maybe it worked. I'm not writing about Mitch Albom's questions on quarterbacks, am I?

But Parker wasn't the only cowboy in the press corps yesterday. After the press conference, the Detroit Free Press' Drew Sharp asked Matt Millen why Detroit fans should believe his third coaching hire will be right this time. And the Oakland Press' Pat Caputo asked Millen about his accountability, pointing a finger for emphasis. More bold questions - the kinds that fans and readers supposedly want their sportswriters to ask. The kinds of questions that need to be asked!

But no, they don't need to be asked. Not when they won't generate a good answer. Not when their only intent is to make the subject squirm and/ or frown. Maybe that makes for a great sound bite (and Caputo's buddies at WXYT were patting him all over the back yesterday for taking on Millen) or a funny clip on TV when Millen testily answers, "How do you want me to answer that question?"

But is it really good journalism? Did you learn anything more about Matt Millen or the Lions' plans after those questions? (I suppose some might say yes.) Did you think Millen was going to reconsider his plans right there on the spot and resign? So what was really accomplished, other than looking tough in the eyes of fans and colleagues? Did those writers get any good copy for their articles today? Parker had to make up Marinelli's answers to fill out his column.

I'm really not trying to tell these guys how to do their jobs. Okay, maybe I am. But I like journalists. I admire sportswriters. I'd love to be one, in case this blog didn't tell you otherwise. But just as the Parkers, Sharps, and Caputos of the world were presumably demanding more from Marinelli and Millen yesterday, I'm asking for more from the reporters and columnists who cover the teams I follow.

You probably thought yesterday's press conference was about you. Didn't you? But guess what - I didn't pick up today's newspapers to read about you. I wanted to read about the Lions' new head coach. Write the story, don't be the story.

▪▪ Check out Tom Kowalski's thoughts on his colleagues' behavior, courtesy of MLive's Highlight Reel.

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  • At January 20, 2006 3:25 PM, Blogger Todd said…

    Rob Parker has been the most blusterous blowhard of Detroit's sports columnists since he rode into town a few years ago on a cloud of self-generated hot air. The man actually gave me new appreciation for Drew Sharp in a, "Well, at least Drew Sharp's not as bad as Rob Parker," kind of way.

    Actually, I think Sharp has improved as a columnist considerably through the years. It's just that whenever Sharp covers the Lions he seems to instinctively dive back into hacky, agenda-pushing mode.

    Between the Free Press and Detroit News the guy I've really grown to like is Michael Rosenberg. I never paid much attention to him, but I thought his Pistons playoff columns last year was quite solid, as was much of his Michigan Football coverage from the past season.

  • At January 20, 2006 6:31 PM, Blogger Greg Eno said…

    Hear, hear, Ian!

    Good points.

    I have been to many press conferences -- I even did a column about them recently on the blog -- and I am continuously amazed at the lack of creativity and substance of the questions asked.

    Parker is one who practices "attack journalism" with his offensive questions that only make the rest of the room feel embarrassed for the subject.

    Example: "You're 56 years old and just now getting your first head coaching job. The league is constantly hiring 35 and 40 year-olds. What's up with that?"

    My goodness.

  • At January 20, 2006 8:57 PM, Blogger Ian C. said…

    In the interest of fairness, Pat Caputo answered criticisms of his tactics on the Sports Inferno message boards today. I thought his candor and insight were refreshing.

    "I understand where you are coming from. I don't like that type of thing, either. I strongly believe we in the media should not be part of the story and I rarely have been that aggressive with my questioning in a public forum. But i felt it was necessary because millen has rarely spoken publicly and it was the first time I've had a chance to ask him about these issues. I've been very critical of him, as you know. What type of columnist would I be if did that and never asked his side of the story? And when I did, I got curt answers like 'what do what me to say?' and didn't follow up. also, those exchanges were not heated. I didn't yell at him. he didn't yell at me. And it's not like i ambushed some stranger. we know each other pretty well and get along on a personal level. Yeah. i actually like the guy, but not his performance. my column was about him and those issues. I was just doing my job. There are three things you can't do as a columnist. One is trying to win a popularity contest with those you are covering. Second, you can't be afraid to take a stance you believe in. third is being fearful you might ruffle some feathers. I never, ever do it for just affect or to make myself bigger than the subject. And it's important to be to be fair. but how i feel is how i feel. In my opinion, Millen has not held himself culpable for what the lions have done under his watch. He has blamed others with his actions and gone from very outspoken to strangely silent in the process. So i asked him about it."

  • At January 20, 2006 9:22 PM, Blogger Big Al said…

    Too bad you have to dig around in a message board to get the reasoning behind Caputo's actions. You'll never see something like that in his paper. At least he tells us what he was thinking, and I give him credit for that.

    I know that the beat writers aren't going to be in attack mode as they need access. I also agree there is a need for agressive questioning. But the feature coulumnists can be over the top with their grandstanding. Sometimes it works, such as Joe Falls grilling Mike Illich at the Phil Garner presser. Putting Illich under the gun was overdue at that point. Unfortunately, more often than not you get the Rob Parkers of the world asking questions that they know can't be answered.

  • At January 20, 2006 10:31 PM, Anonymous Evan said…

    Two comments:

    (1)Derrick Brooks, along with Brad Johnson and Tony Dungy, three guys who could win more games by themselves than the Lions have done as a team, are speaking highly of him. And unlike Parker, who gets paid to take cheap shots, they get paid to know a lot about football. So his jabs at the Lions and at the new coach don't mean a thing to me. I'm cautiously optimistic.

    (2) Michael Rosenberg is easily the best sports columnist (not a beat writer, obviously) in Detroit right now. Occasionally, his humor gets the best of him, but he's usually spot on -- as he was, yet again, today.

  • At January 27, 2006 12:31 PM, Blogger Jack Fu said…

    I worked in the media tent at the Buick Open at Warwick Hills in 2000, and I was astounded at how young Rosenberg looked. I was 19 at the time, and he looked only slightly older than me. And he was courteous and nice, if a bit quiet. Definitely one of the nicer Detroit-area media types I encountered, along with Mickey York, who brought me Timbits one day. Rock the eff on, York. (Sidenote: most assholish media type I encountered? Vartan Kupelian. But then, you can probably tell that from reading his crap. He blew up at me just because I had to ask who he was when he checked in, because I didn't recognize him from that idiotic picture of him and Mike O'Hara pointing at each other. Asshole.) But the coolest people there were the ESPN production crew, up in Grand Blanc to do a story about The Effect of Tiger or something. They were all very respectful and talkative, yet professional. I could see how they were at the top of their field.

    I luckily didn't have the misfortune of running into a Sharp or a Parker, because, I mean, I probably would have been glowing with clear dislike...


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