When coaches don’t understand reporting vs. PR

I wrote this column the night of Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price’s tirade regarding the Enquirer accurately reporting All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco not being available to pinch hit and we ran it in the Coloradoan the following day. Since it’s more about the media rather than a direct take on the sports world, I thought I’d share it here, too.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Coach tirades are media gold. Web traffic and TV ratings skyrocket when they happen because every fan wants to listen to it on repeat then spout off their take in the comments section.

Tirades come in varying shades. There’s the premeditated rant like Jim McElwain gave after the Boise State game in 2013, storming out of the media room following an innocent question. Dan Hawkins cried “it’s Division I football!” because his players were driving him nuts. Some are easier to justify, such as Mike Gundy sticking up for his quarterback in 2007 while others are just ignorant.

Take Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price. Before his team’s 6-1 victory in Milwaukee on Monday – snapping a four-game losing streak – Price took the opportunity to vent about an accurate report the Coloradoan’s sister publication, the Cincinnati Enquirer, ran regarding All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco not being available to play.

In his 5 minute, 34 second tirade, which you can read at Cincinnati.com, three lines stands out among his 77 F-bombs.

“I don’t need you guys to be fans of the Reds, I just need to know if there’s something we want to keep here, it stays here.”

“How the f*** do we benefit from them knowing we don’t have Devin Mesoraco? How do we benefit from that? They benefit from it. I just want to know how we benefit from these f****** people know we don’t have a player here. Can you answer that? How is that good for the Reds?”

“Your job is not to sniff out every f****** thing is about the Reds and f****** put it out there for every other f****** guy to hear. It’s not your job.”

Yes it is, coach.

C. Trent Rosecrans is a fine MLB beat reporter who’s respected by Reds fans (the Enquirer has started marketing his iconic beard). His job is to literally know everything there is to know about the Reds and tell his readers, who stretch far beyond the Ohio River Valley and inevitably include front office employees of teams around the league, what’s happening in Cincinnati.

He’s not a fan. His job isn’t to cover up stories to give the Reds a competitive advantage, nor is it go out of the way to expose minor details to damage the franchise. Rosecrans, like any reporter, works for his readers, not his sources, and they crave news.

An All-Star catcher who hit .273 last year with 25 home runs not being available to pinch hit in a 2-1 loss at St. Louis is newsworthy.

Price’s tirade came while Coloradoan sports staffers were at the Kansas City Star for the Associated Press Sports Editors Great Plains regional meeting. Among the work sessions was a best practices for beat reporters chat with the Star’s Andy McCullough(Royals) and Terez Paylor (Chiefs) and the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Jesse Newell(University of Kansas football and basketball), where a lot of great discussion happened, including how to deal with upset sources and push back from public relations personnel.

Mesoraco not being available, as minor as that may sound to the casual baseball fan, is important and Rosecrans did his job better than his competition by letting readers know; despite the team not wanting that information known.

We now operate in a digital media space where PR staffs of professional teams and sports information departments at universities often masquerade as objective news organizations and, through Twitter, passive aggressively attack the legitimate outlets attempting to give fans the fair coverage they yearn for. Digital makes this an exciting era for journalism, but it’s also dangerous with a blurred line between news and PR.

Media relations staffs play an important role in sports journalism and, more often than not, those who work in PR are great assets to the reporters. And a lot of the digital work they do is great, too, giving fans a unique behind-the-scenes look (granted, we’d love the access to do it ourselves) or videos with high production value to unveil a slick new uniform.

If a PR crew is able to keep a story hidden long enough to break it, then shame on us for not working harder to get the story first.

The problem arises when the fans see that cool PR stuff, then from the same source read cheerleading and !!! when that source “breaks news.” Suddenly, many of those fans realize the objective media isn’t favoring the local team, which creates a divide, so when a reporter accurately reports a story that could make the team look poorly, there’s a perception of an agenda—anti-team, vendetta, clicks, whatever (media relations staffs get just as excited about heavy web traffic). Forgotten is the reporter’s job as a community watchdog, like it has been since the profession’s genesis.

Journalists report to keep their community informed – about the good and bad – and most readers still understand that. But a growing vocal minority, including Cincinnati’s Price, has lost sight of the fundamental reason any of us in the media have jobs.

We see readers as friends and hope you view us the same way.

And like any good friend, we’re going to tell you the truth, even if it hurts.