Back many years ago in what amounts to a different lifetime, I would write the occasional piece for an internet site Hoopville.com. One day I wrote an article about Billy Packer, calling him the famous Spiro Agnew quote about Washington DC reporters, “a nattering nabob of negativism.” My point of course was that Billy Packer seemed to get no joy out of the sport that he covered and thus he made it virtually impossible for us to enjoy it as well. By always playing the role of grouch and spoiler of all excitement, Packer was a continual buzz kill, and the type of person who could make Mardi Gras with the cast of “Girls Gone Wild” not fun. IT was the only thing that I ever wrote on that site that I am convinced anyone ever read, in part because it expressed a feeling that most shared, but rarely communicated.
That same desire to promote negativism has infected some members of our local media as well. Over the last couple of years of covering the Wildcats, it has become painfully clear to me that most who do this for a living are not really sports fans at all….but rather are journalists who believe their role is to “break” news stories and uncover what lies beneath the surface of UK sports. This attitude plays out in many ways, but today’s latest example is the column by Jerry Tipton in which he takes Billy Clyde to task for comments allegedly made to Patrick Patterson during a recruiting visit. For those of you who havent heard the comments, Billy Clyde allegedly told PAtterson that he would get 16-20 shots a game with the UK offense and that if he came, he would be the centerpiece of the UK attack. Tipton breaks down the numbers and shows that only once in the last 25 years has a player taken that number of shots and thus calls into question Billy Clyde’s claim.
When I read this column today, it hit me just what a disconnect exists between members of the UK sports media and the fans. Tipton’s “story” (which included a second-guessing by a random emailer of the decision not to offer Pettigrew, two stories on coaches who would turn down UK and a praise of the rise of Tennessee) is exactly what many members of the sports media see their job to be. Take a story about UK, investigate it to see its flaws and then bring down the party line in print. This view causes Tipton to write stories about Kelenna Azubuike’s dad, Rajon Rondo’s car and other allegedly important affairs. In so doing, Tipton and others see themselves as the sports world version of an investigative reporter checking in on the Iraq war, Attorney General firings or 2008 Campaign news. But folks this is sports….not war. People want to enjoy it….that is why they watch it. But to reporters, that is often forgotten and the mentality is “if there is a story to be uncovered at UK, we will do it.”
However in my view, this is not what the fans want. In sports ultimately, people want to root FOR THEIR TEAMS, not find holes to punch in them. Bill Simmons of ESPN.com (the most read sports columnist in America) talks about the fact that reporters must believe that their readers are the same miserable old men that they are, and he has a point. Rather than giving people recruiting news, reports about the backgrounds of the players or optimistic visions of the future of the program….they try to create controversy, and in so doing, alienate the fans.
This is not to say that there is not room for investigative journalism. The Herald-Leader’s coverage of the Emery scandal was tremendous and while it had a negative effect on UK’s program, it brought down illegal practices at the school. However there is a balance, and the local media, especially at the Herald, swing FAR too greatly in the other direction. There is a reason that this blog and other internet sites are successful…..they give the fans the NEWS THEY WANT….not the “news” that a reporter believes to be important. Ask most fans what they care about more……Kelenna’s dad or where Jai Lucas is going to school….and you know the answer. But newspaper reporters dont seem to.
As I have said more times than you wanted to here, the days of the monopoly of news by a few annoited reporters on high are quickly coming to an end. Newspapers have not had to “give people what they want” recently because they had the monopoly on coverage. Not any more. There is a reason that recruiting coverage has increased in the last few months at the Courier and Herald…..because the web made it happen. And there is a reason that “rumors” on message boards drive the nightly news coverage…..because these outlets need to be relevant. However stories like Tipton’s today show the old newspaper mindset that cant be overcome. Rather than calling Patrick Patterson and asking what Florida told him, what Duke told him and what Virginia told him, Tipton took what the hometown team told him and made the home town team look bad. In so doing, he made the hometown team’s fans mad….and helped continue the newspaper world’s internet-driven slow slide into irrelevancy.