Tuesday afternoon I got the rare opportunity to be in the Standard-Examiner newsroom. Having worked here for a couple of decades now, you’d think I’d visit the place more often but this sportswriter gig I’ve got requires that I be out of the office covering live sporting events.
Stay with me here, I’m going to make a point here any minute …
For some reason, journalism intrigued me, even as a kid. Perhaps it’s because some of my formative years coincided with the Watergate scandal, and the idea of reporters and editors, sources and deadlines, romanticized an entire industry for me.
Hang on, almost there …
Eventually I gravitated to the sports world and fell in love with the idea of the clickity-clack of keyboards inside the press box. Still, to me there was -- and still is -- nothing like the energy of a newsroom full of journalists doing their job.
The business has changed quite a bit, especially in recent years, but that energy is still there and, for me at least, it’s inspiring.
Today, I’m inspired. And I’m here to pull back the curtain on not just the newsroom but on how the journalism game gets played these days.
Last week, my colleague Brandon Garside, our Weber State beat writer, wrote a story about Wildcats’ lineman Tui Crichton, a recent transfer from BYU. During the course of their interview, Crichton told Garside, “Coach (Bronco) Mendenhall didn’t want me anymore, just to put it plain and simple. Luckily (another) coach and I were able to help find another college quick.”
The quote, obviously, was a good one. Eye-catching to say the least and the part about “coach Mendenhall didn’t want me anymore” made its way into the headline. Thanks in part to the eye-catching quote, the ensuing headline and the fact it involved BYU, the story blew up online. Social media took over and Brandon’s story “got legs,” as they say.
The online version of the story made its way around Twitter and Facebook and Brandon was asked to appear on a couple of local sports-talk radio stations, where he was asked about his interview with Crichton.
There Brandon received some pushback, the chief complaint being that he didn’t immediately obtain a response from BYU before taking the story public.
Perhaps in a different era that would’ve been a legitimate concern. But Brandon, me, the radio guys and everyone else in the media now work in the Internet age, where there are no deadlines and certainly no waiting for the next news cycle.
Such criticism is disingenuous, especially coming from other members of the media.
Even if we’d put the Crichton story on hold for a day or two and waited to get a response from BYU, we most certainly would have been met with a brick wall of some sort. And that’s not a knock on BYU, either. It’s an indication of how college football is a huge business and athletic departments these days are much more about $1,000 suits and shiny wingtips than turf shoes and jockstraps.
From a personal standpoint, I’ll tell you the days of Ron McBride and LaVell Edwards are long gone and they’ve been replaced by the likes of Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham, good men to be sure, but way more buttoned-up than their predecessors.
Not to go all “back-in-the-day” on you, but, uh, back in the day most coaches were easily accessible. A beat writer could often make a direct phone call to the coach to get a response for a story. And if not that, then a phone call to the sports information director would do the trick.
In a testament to the way the sports media and college athletics have changed, that doesn’t happen anymore.
There’s just too much at stake these days, on either side.
Most reporters are kept at arm’s length and there are serious protocols in place for getting in contact with coaches like Whittingham and Mendenhall outside of specifically-designed “media availabilities.”
It’s not impossible, I suppose, but it’s definitely improbable.
That’s not a complaint, just statement of fact about a new reality.
Anyway … back to the newsroom.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo