WHAT’S THE REAL STORY?

By:  Holly Horning

While we take this day to honor those who gave their lives for this country,  please enjoy a previously-published blog from last month. These guidelines for how to evaluate a story are always relevant.


I always find it interesting to see how readers of the local newspapers react to the latest media stories. They are all over the board concerning how the writer handled his subject. Ironically, many of these threads end up focused, not on the stories, but debating the merits of the journalist instead.

But how does this impact, you, the reader? Well, it’s not just about the information you are offered, it’s about how much detail and quality you are given. Equally important is how much info was omitted or not explored. And all of this is added to the information you use in forming your own opinions and beliefs about what this team can do, should do and cannot do.

One of my jobs as a media coach is to help clients navigate the purpose and goals of the media. Believe it or not, all media is not created equal and each organization and individual have different purposes and objectives. Gone are the days when it was only about being objective.

Today, it’s about creating buzz, generating “clicks”, attracting viewers, gaining access to information and building a resume. Sure, there are those who are solely committed to reporting the hard facts but just as many, if not more, who have a different primary plan in mind. It’s a much more competitive world out there where news organizations will quickly replace established writers because they aren’t generating enough readership – or advertising dollars. And much of this new way of doing business is a result of the internet and explosion of televised programs.

So when we, the fans, read articles on the Tigers, how should we digest the information we read or see? Here are some of the factors you should consider:

LOCAL MEDIA VS. NATIONAL

The local media is especially dependent upon access to the management and players of a team. Therefore, they often have to temper their analysis and criticism of the team in order to keep the channels of information open. It is also not unusual for a team to ask a reporter to sit on some info while promising them a “scoop” down the road.

And because they are local, it is very hard for them to put the team into perspective within the sport overall. It is rare to read comparisons that differentiate the strengths and weaknesses of the Tigers compared with their opponents, leaving many fans to think that their team is the only one stuck with a weak-hitting catcher or a manager who leaves his starter in too long.

National media, on the other hand, doesn’t have the time or the resources to analyze any team to the degree of the local media. But they don’t have to depend upon strong relationships with the sports organization and are often the ones who beat local writers to the punch on a big story.

Case in point is the Justin Verlander story. The Detroit media has been strangely silent, with the reasons listed above, on the implications of JV’s injury. However, this is one of the top stories covered daily on national radio and tv with speculation and concern only growing.

But as a counterpoint, who isn’t already tired of the national media regularly referring to James McCann as “Brian”?

The best example between the two groups is the contract extension to Cabrera. It garnered widespread criticism from the national media who focused completely on the financial details, not the psychological, marketing or local implications. In contrast, local media was much more understanding of the emotional and historical relevance of keeping Miggy a Tiger for life with less emphasis on the financial and potential ageing concerns.

DIFFERENT ANALYTICAL SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT

Currently, there are three different schools of thought about evaluating player talent – old school traditional stats, sabermetrics and one that combines a little bit of both. It’s important to understand where each baseball analyst – whether in print or on tv – sits on the analytical spectrum. As a result, it is no surprise that a tv show discussing the merits of a particular player with a panel of “experts” often results in few unanimous answers with rationales that differ greatly.

Look no further than the topic that drives all Tiger fans mad – let’s call it the Three M’s. Miggy, Mike (Trout) and MVP. Where each analyst stands in statistical school is predictable in this case, but consider how fans’ views may be influenced when the discussion is about players who are not well-known.

LOYALTY AND EXPERIENCE

Simply put, what is the background of the media personality? Is he a “homer”, raised or working locally, or a foe of the team in question? How often does he or she sing the praises of their favorite team? It’s no coincidence that a national broadcaster who is always stating his love for his NY team, is also denigrating Boston’s players on a regular basis.

Also consider the person’s background. Is he a journalist by trade? A former ballplayer? A former GM? Or even a frustrated former team executive feeling scorned? Is he offering first-hand experience or speculation? Is he using information gained from an interview or from a long-time friend who played with him? Is he too close to the topic in question or is he an outsider who is able to offer an unbiased opinion?

We all know of several tv personalities who rarely have a good thing to say about the Tigers. In fact, the other day, one of the afore-mentioned’s tv counterpart told him on-air to stop dissing Miggy and Detroit. While his hidden agenda is quite obvious, there are others who are harder to fathom for their bias.

THE PAYCHECK

This a huge factor to consider and an issue that has become much more complicated in recent years. To quote Deep Throat from the Watergate scandal, “follow the money.” That will tell you a lot about why certain media types cover the topics they do in the way they do.

Sports reporting has gone beyond the primary salary source. Many journalists now have multiple streams of revenue coming in from satellite partners, social media companies, secondary employment and other business partnerships.

Mainstay newspapers are now hiring supposedly independent bloggers from outside their company to write or comment weekly. Bloggers are now being bought out by major sports media but you have to look hard on the blog site to find reference to them. Even MLB has hired “independent” writers to cover each team with the caption about the article not being subject to MLB review. But, bottom line, MLB signs their paychecks.

And many writers use the reporting platform to quietly plug their own radio and tv shows, Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as their own creations. Beware the journalist who writes an inflammatory or out-of-the-mainstream piece as he’s usually looking to create interest or buzz around himself and his publications.

So how can you ensure you are exposed to the best information and perspectives out there? Do your homework for the information that matters to you. Look for repeat patterns in reporting and suspect the ones that fall outside the mainstream. Google reporters you find interesting – or crazy.

But most of all, balance your reading with a variety of media. Watch and read local, but also national. Change the stations – there are a myriad of baseball-based shows and channels on tv now. The clearest of all possible pictures is to understand the media’s true objectives, which will help you understand their message.