It Didn’t Start (Or Stop) With Politics

Newsroom arrogance certainly isn’t limited to the political or “news” desks. Check out these two columns, by sportswriters voting in the Associated Press college football poll. Both are well-nigh obsessed with emails received from football fans who (gasp!) dared to question the all-knowing wisdom of the writers in question.

The first, by Huntsville Times (AL) beat writer Paul Gattis, was so nasty that the Times’ editor, Melinda Gorham, was moved to run a public apology for it two days later. The second, by Ann Arbor News (MI) writer Jim Carty, hasn’t (as far as I know) generated as much controversy, but it does include gems like this one, directed at Carty’s readership:

The real e-mails were often more than 1,000 words long, each containing schedule breakdowns, game-by-game analysis of the weakside linebacker, and historical PROOF that the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences are heads and shoulders above the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences.

We’re talking geeks here.

Giant, boring, absolutely no-chance-of-getting-a-life geeks.

Dozens of them a day.

For future reference, in case you’re ever unemployed with a lot of time to kill and tempted to do this yourself, let me share what your average Top 25 voter does with these e-mails: Immediately deletes them, and then makes fun of the people who send them to anyone who will listen.

But Jim, you ask, isn’t that arrogant? Don’t you think someone out there could possibly make a good point or teach you something you don’t know about Auburn and Texas?

The answer? Absolutely. That insightful man or woman is most certainly out there.

Unfortunately, for every person with a good point there are 100 more trying to get me to change my vote by making a scientific case for Auburn’s right guard being better than Oklahoma’s or that beating Louisiana-Monroe is a much, much, MUCH more quality cupcake than Bowling Green or that everyone playing Pac-10 football is a bunch of wussy boys.

To those people, two pieces of advice: 1. Spell-check. Learn it. Love it. Live it. 2. There are outlets for your madness. There are local groups of Star Trek fans, Linux programmers and New World Order militias that will welcome you as one of their own.

Got that? Quick translation: If you didn’t waste four years of your life getting a journalism degree, and ten more covering junior-high track meets, you aren’t worthy of having any say on an issue that you follow on a day-by-day basis–and you’re certainly below the notice of any Very Important Sportswriter For A Mid-Market Newspaper.

Regardless of what you think about how the BCS and other football polls turned out (and I’m not trying to start another argument about them here, one was enough), the rant above is not terribly far removed from dismissing bloggers as “[some] guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas.”

Memo to the sportswriters, as well as everybody else they work with: Insulting your best customers–i.e., the people who read your work the most carefully–is a really dumb way to do business. It tends to get subscriptions cancelled and your stuff ignored. More importantly (especially for those of you who hide behind stock phrases like “journalistic integrity”), it devalues your work and your reputation.

It also makes you look like a bunch of jerks. Columns like Carty’s and Gattis’s are among the major reasons why most people can’t stand the press.

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35 Responses to “It Didn’t Start (Or Stop) With Politics”

  1. ScienceTeacher Says:

    Besides…Cal is the only college team that matters, anyway.

  2. Sekimori Says:

    Gattis’ column was nasty? Uh, exactly which part?

  3. Hugh Says:

    I would have guessed Carty’s column would have generated the apology…not Gattis’.

    I think the difference is
    -Gattis slammed the door on more discussion of his picks.
    -Carty just slammed his readers.

  4. Rob Says:

    Does anyone here subscribe to a daily newspaper? I didn’t think they made those any more.

  5. bolivar Says:

    I couldn’t care less about College Football but, the attitude shown by this arrogant, self-important ass really pisses me off. These jerks wonder why readership is down down down? I cancelled my subscription and don’t regret it. I am better informed now than I ever was.

    I will not buy a paper other than for some of the ads and then only at my wifes request. No more will I pay for them to run me and my country down. I am fed up with it and the libshits in Follywood better watch their collective asses too. The new Fockers movie with Babs will be one to not get my money even though I loved the original and the scene with the cat peeing in the Mothers ashes was priceless.

    I am tired of the left telling me what to think, watch, wear, eat, do and how to screw, how often, who, where and so forth… you get the idea. They are degrading the morals of this country quickly and I am ashamed of them all. I actually like Babs voice and it is a real shame that attached to that pair of tits no, pipes is a mind devoid of logic and so totally batty that she is beyond hope.

  6. Rizzo Says:

    Well said, Will! Unlike the previous commenter, I do care about college football and listen to talk radio, esp. sports talk radio every chance I get. Based on listening to numerous repeat phone callers to these shows, I can safely conclude that these two columnists were more than a little sick of being inundated by emails. HOWEVER, that stuff comes with the territory! Certainly they’re entitled to vote their conscience, and I do think they owe their readers a calm, reasoned explanation. Beyond that I’m okay with them ignoring those that disagree, but I think they take it too far when they lecture and deride the rest of their readership. Maybe next year they’ll turn down the chance to vote in the poll, but I doubt their egos will allow them to do that. These mid-market papers would do well to remember that local news and sports are the only thing keeping them in the home delivery business!

  7. Tony P. Says:

    Yes, it’s a cliche, but don’t criticize someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes…

    I was a sportswriter at a daily newspaper in a major southern city for several years, and wrote sports in some form or fashion for well over a decade. I covered an SEC beat for much of that time. Granted, this was in the time before the prolifiration of the internet made EVERYONE an instant pundit (apoligies to Glenn), but it didn’t stop a sometimes large lunatic fringe from doing whatever they had to do to make their views known. Hate mail can be interesting, whether it’s of the electronic or the snail variety.

    I never voted on the AP poll, but I was quite close to several people who did, and I can tell you that most of them hated it. If you take it seriously (and the people that I knew did), it’s a huge responsibility for which there is no compensation. It can take a long time each week to do the proper pre-game research and then you have precious little time on Saturday night/Sunday morning to make your decisions and submit your poll. The AP has for years published the individual votes for each voter, so even in the pre-email days, a voter could expect plenty of abuse. (Interestingly, the coaches don’t have the guts to do this and have fought for years having their individual votes revealed). Now, with the BCS, there is a lot more riding on it. The way that silly formula is set up, an individual vote can have a monsterous affect on the “national championship.” It almost defies explanation why anyone would want to participate in it.

    But I’ll tell you why they do it — most of voters, at least in my opinion, feel they have a responsibility to try to help the system get it right. The bowls themselves won’t put themselves on the line to try to pick the “national championship contenders.” The NCAA won’t appoint a committee to do it (although they will in basketball; go figure). It’s left to the coaches, the writers, and the cold, distant reasoning of the computer polls. And of that group, only the writers have to explain their opinions.

    Now, in the interest of fairness, I should explain that I have known Paul Gattis personally for almost 20 years. And while I do not neccessarily agree with his vote, I respect his logic. If he truly does not believe that Auburn is not one of the two best teams in the country, then he should not vote them there.

    It’s OK to disagree with him. But if my chops had been busted the way his have, I’d probably feel the same way.

  8. Russ Says:

    I must say I like your this blog post. I write for my school newspaper and recently wrote an article on Media Bias, come on over and check it out. You make a great point as do the others that have posted here about journalism and the degradation of the field as of late.

  9. Will Collier Says:

    Tony, I appreciate the comments and insight, but I don’t feel terribly sorry for Paul Gattis. He knew everything you’ve relayed here, and exactly what he was getting into, when he accepted that AP vote in the first place. Responding to critics with, essentially, “Go to hell!” doesn’t do him any credit (it also suggests that his skin is way too thin to be commenting on football in that state).

    I’ve received my share of hate mail from football fans over the last ten years, and I’m not about to complain about any of it. In point of fact, I insist on having my correct email address, and the words, “Will Collier is a third-generation Auburn graduate” attached to anything I publish about football (that information is also in the bio on my site). I think it’s more than appropriate to expect the same kind of disclosure from Gattis and other sportswriters (and political reporters, as well).

    You’re entirely correct about the NCAA presidents and coaches’ poll. It’d make a much bigger difference if more newspapers followed the Charlotte (NC) paper’s lead and stopped participating in the AP poll entirely to protest the nonsense of the current system.

  10. Suli Says:

    I don’t see a parallel between this story and RatherGate.

    Gattis was obliged to vote according to his own personal opinion, not to represent either his newpaper or its readers. If the readers didn’t like his opinion, it’s not arrogant to point out that he has no responsibility to them in this particular case.

    This, from me, who cares not one whit about football, even though I’m Alabama born/bred, and attended Auburn.

  11. Crank Says:

    I agree that Carty’s column seems the nastier of the two, since (1) Gattis made clear that he was both sick and fed up with unspecified “rumors” and (2) Carty was going out of his way to insult not the idiotic profanity-laced tirades we’ve all received but attempts at thoughtful and detailed analysis. But both are examples of media awfulness.

    Of course, I’ve been reading outside analysts, mainly in the baseball area, ripping most justifiably on the arrogance, ignorance, bias, insularity, laziness, groupthink and negativity of the sports media even longer than I’ve been following the same dynamic in political writing. And most people who spend a significant amount of time in any other area covered by the press can offer reams of examples of the same attitude – as a lawyer I’ve seen in in coverage of the law and Wall Street, and my dad saw some hilarious examples of the same thing in coverage of the police. Fixing political bias in the newsroom is just the tip of the iceberg.

  12. Will Allen Says:

    Anybody who was offended by Gattis’ piece is waaaaay too sensitive, but then again, Gattis is probably too sensitive as well. Carty’s piece was far more offensive.

    As to college football, I can’t give it any time, even though I enjoy football quite a bit. You see, I really hate cartels, which is what the NCAA relationship to the athletes is, and the BCS conferences’ relationship to the non-BCS conferences is. The reason there isn’t a playoff system is becasue the BCS schools don’t want to share any more revenue than they have to with the non-BCS schools. That’s it. Anybody who even mentions the “A” word (academics) as a reason is simply lying or misinformed, as any examination of class attendence during March by basketball players will inform you.

    The shame of it is that a playoff system could be so entertaining (sorry Will, I didn’t take part in the other thread).

    Take 16 teams, with the playoffs starting on the first weekend of December. Reserve the top eight seeds, and first round home field advantage, for conference champs, which would maintain the importance of conference races.

    What about weak conferences, you say? Well if your team’s 2nd place finish in a strong conference is so impressive, then winning on the road against a weak conference champ should not be so difficult. If one is still concerned about watering down the regular season, then limit the field to eight conference champs, and if your team is like Texas or Cal this year, well, tough; you had your chance to win on the field and you blew it, which is more opportunity than Auburn or Utah has this year.

    This set-up would give college football the chance to absolutely own December, in terms of national attention, and the ad revenues would be tremendous. It really would dwarf March Madness, and a championship game on News Year’s Day could eventually approach the status and revenues of the Super Bowl.

    Some of the other ideas bandied about, like having one extra game, are merely an attempt to maintain the BCS conferences’ cartel.

  13. Matt Says:

    When did Ann Arbor graduate to Mid-Market?

    (Yeah, I know…A2 matters in the sports world because an NCAA championship contender university is there. But in any other respect…well, it just doesn’t. I grew up there…I know.)

  14. Tony P. Says:

    Will:

    I don’t think Paul is asking anyone to feel sorry for him. I think he’s asking everyone to leave him alone, and to quit questioning his integrity, simply because he votes one way or the other. And believe me, Paul’s skin is plenty thick. You don’t cover Alabama or Auburn for a daily newspaper in that state without being able to take criticism.

    But there is a difference between taking criticism and being impuned or threatened. If someone attempted to get me fired from my job, as Paul said some disgruntled readers had attempted to do, I doubt I would have been as civil as he was.

    I should have stated this in the original post, but I don’t think that any beat writer covering any college team on a daily basis should be an AP voter. There is simply too much to do during football season for a beat writer, in my opinion, to give their ballot adequate attention. It’s a job better left to a columnist, but, sadly, most columnists are too lazy to do it. And the AP won’t allow a voter that doesn’t cover college football on a regular basis to be a voter. Also, it used to be that the AP wouldn’t allow a broadcaster to vote on the poll. I don’t know if that’s changed or not, because I haven’t looked a the list of voters in a while. So if, a paper won’t turn the vote down, and the columnist won’t do it, then it’s going to fall to a beat writer.

    I think it’s commendable that you make it clear where your allegiances lie; it’s obvious from your writing that you are passionate about Auburn. And there is nothing wrong with that. You do not cover Auburn on a daily basis, and you are not expected by your employers or your readers to be non-biased.

    Beat writers for major newspapers, however, ARE expected to be non-biased. Everyone has biases, but you do your best to lay them aside and write what you see, not what you feel. And anyone who believes that a beat writer is a fan of the team they cover has never done it. You see ALL of a team’s warts, all it’s problems, all its deficiencies. Take a step inside that locker room with a video camera, a tape recorder or a pad and pen, and your entire world changes. That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to see the team you cover win, because a team that wins is infinitely easier to cover than one that loses. But it meams that all the wonderment and excitement that you feel about a team, especially if you cover a college football team, dies a crushing death. I’ve been out of the business completely for three years, and I am just now getting to the point to where I can watch a college football game of the team that I pull for with any sense of real enjoyment.

    As I said, I have known Paul for a long time, and he and I have had more than one discussion on this issue of bias. It’s as important to him as it was to me that someone never be able to infer anything about whatever personal biases or grudges he might hold by what he has written (or in this instance, by the way he has voted). For someone (and in his case, many someones) to contend, in often snide and derrogatory ways, that the reason he voted Auburn third is because he covers Alabama is absurd and insulting. It’s especially absurd and insulting considering that he is in the majority of AP voters that feel that way. As I said before, I don’t feel the same way, but that’s irrelevent.

    Do I wish the system were different? You bet. But as long as it is the way it is, I think we as fans are being unfair for beating people like Paul up for submitting perfectly defensible votes. Put it this way, Will — let’s say the AP changes its rules and gives you one of the 64 votes. Let’s say you had voted Auburn No. 1 and USC No. 2, and your e-mail box had been flooded with virtiolic hate from Oklahoma fans. That a few of those fans had called your ISP and attempted to have your website taken down. That some had even attempted to have you fired from your job. Don’t you think you would be just a wee bit ticked about it?

  15. Will Collier Says:

    Tony, I wouldn’t accept the vote; I’ve considered the entire poll system illegitimate since I was a teenager, and I wouldn’t lift a finger to contribute to it (I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it’s my first and most important answer).

    Would I get mad at people going over the top to protest something I’d written? I most probably wouldn’t like it, but I think my final reaction would be that it comes with the territory, and unless my boss took their ‘advice’ seriously (not likely to happen), I doubt I’d take it all that seriously myself. I’m not excusing anybody who tried to get Gattis fired over his AP vote, that’s clearly out of line, but unless the Times was ever considering acting on those demands (as far as I know, they aren’t), it’s just an extreme example of stuff that comes with the territory. Heck, Paul Finebaum’s had more people trying to fire him over the years than he’s tried to have fired himself, and that’s saying something (those of you from Alabama know what I’m talking about). Hasn’t appeared to hurt his career any.

    Gattis’s Monday column is dripping with “snide and derogatory” comments about Auburn fans who’ve dared to question his vote, and he should have known better that to respond that way. He’s not a higher being; his decisions and motivations and writing are as subject to criticism as anybody else’s. I can definitely understand snarking off in a moment of anger (you should see the Monday column that I deep-sixed this week), but that doesn’t mean Gattis was in the right for submitting it, and it certainly doesn’t mean his editors were right for running with it. The Times should have looked at that column, sent it back to Gattis and said, “Try again after you’ve cooled off.”

  16. Tony P. Says:

    Well, the wisdom of Paul writing what he wrote is certainly debatable. And I can’t say that I never wrote something that, looking back, I wished had been written with a different tone. You’re right, sometimes not spiking your first effort is rushing in where angels fear to tread.

    But I think you’re missing the point of Paul’s column. Again, I’ve not talked to him about this, but the way I read it, he’s not upset with people who question his vote. He even admits more than once that there are perfectly legitimate arguements to make on both sides. But he is asking that fans don’t make insulting insinuations about his motives because they disagree with him and don’t feign righteous indignation if he less than complementary of said insinuations.

    Look, you and I are obviously having a disagreement about an issue. But I respect your opinion, and from what you have written so far, I believe that you respect mine. There has been no name calling, no insults, no cheap shots. It’s unlikely that either one of us is going to persuade the other that they are right, but that’s OK. Neither one of us will be the worse for wear at the end of the day. Unfortunately, too many college football fans don’t feel that way, and have too much of themselves invested in the fortunes of their team. They take every slight, real or perceived, personally.

    If I have a real criticism of what Paul wrote, it would lie there — that he didn’t make enough of a distinction between the fan who would simply want to plead the case of their team, and the fan who is seemingly incapable of rational thought. The latter deserves everything Paul wrote and more. The former probably deserves more sympathy than what Paul managed to convey.

  17. JSAllison Says:

    The polls mean zipola to me. Play to win your conference, and a bowl bid is an exhibition game and gravy. If the other divisions can do playoffs, so can Div I, they just haven’t had their collective booty smooched sufficiently to make them see the light (read: $$ )

  18. Tom Says:

    Good Grief, people! Football is a game! Only a game! Writing hundred plus word e-mails to sportswriters is no different than writing essays on Star Trek. If this is the best thing you have to do with your time, my condolences. As an alternative, can I suggest:

    1. A girlfriend or boyfriend.
    2. Play a sport yourself.
    3. Join a gym, church, club.
    4. Get out of the house and DO SOMETHING. Hell, ANYTHING.

    Now I feel better.

  19. Will Collier Says:

    I’ll definitely say this much: writing long emails to anybody whom you don’t know is a mistake, especially if you’re trying to convince them of something. Say what you’ve got to say as succinctly as possible, or they’re probably not going to read it at all.

  20. Steven Mitchell Says:

    As a long-time Huntsville area resident, I can tell you that what you read is merely a symptom of the way the that whole paper is run. They are quick to make snarky comments about others and quick to complain about snarky comments they receive. (They ran a particularly notorious editorial a few years back essentially telling all the folks that had just moved in from St. Louis to tell us poor, stupid Alabamians how to vote. The editorial the day after the election decried the patronizing rhetoric coming from the politicians.) I get the impression from the careful way the “apology” is worded that some of the flak came from within the paper itself. The Huntsville Times sports page has never covered itself with glory, but given whom them must work with, I don’t blame them.

    Oh, and I think Auburn should have got the chance over the Okies. And Roll Tide!

  21. Crank Says:

    Will – That’s the beauty of blogs: you can email the blog link, and if the person doesn’t read it, well, at least someone does.

    As for Tony P’s point about the coaches not revealing their votes, that’s just common sense. Were I a college football coach I would refuse to vote if there was any chance that any team that found out I ranked them lower than #1 was going to show up on my schedule any time in the next decade.

  22. Grapevine's Sports Ramblings Says:

    http://sportsblog.xtremeramblings.us//index.php?p=268

    (H/T to Will Collier blogging over at Vodka Pundit)

    This column by Paul Gattis of the Huntsville Times struck as much a nerve with me as it did Will, apparently.

    The real e-mails were often more than 1,000 words long, each containing schedule breakdo…

  23. LNS Says:

    Excellent point, Will.

    To paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the life you chose, Mr. Carty and Mr. Gattis.

    You participate in an absurd system, you deal with the absurd crap that comes your way because of it.

    Don’t like it? Give up your vote. It’s that easy.

  24. L'Ombre de l'Olivier Says:

    The Pro-Am contest

    The politically blogging world is all over CBS’s sniping at political bloggers for not being “neutral” and worse that some of them took money from people or causes they supported. My initial response to this was “Doh”, my second response is “so ___in…

  25. jmaster Says:

    I remember Howard Cosell, and I often wonder if some of the arrogance shown by many in the sports media today came about as a result of his influence. I

  26. Lance Says:

    I really enjoyed both of those.

  27. Bill Peschel Says:

    jmaster, judging from what I’ve seen in newsrooms the last decade or so, the answer to that would be “no.”

    There may be individuals who are willing to stoke controversy in order to gain attention, but you’ll find those more often on television. That format simply doesn’t work in newspapers, where you’re expected to back up your rhetoric with something approaching facts.

    No, newspaper work is a lot like being a cop or a firefighter (only much less dangerous). You’re in a different world from what the public sees, and the perspective can get a little skewed.

  28. tim Says:

    BCS? Playoffs. Simple and effective. More $$$ generated through more games, all hyped higher and higher each week. I can’t believe the BCS guys can’t see it. Plus it would be great to see one of the “elite” have to beat Boise. Any audience to see that upset?

  29. Kenny Says:

    The prevailing — but unconfirmed — thought about Gattis’ Huntsville Times column is two fold.

    First, the editor had to write because someone (big) got in her ear. Remember, they asked him to write that column. Second, it wasn’t a mean column, it was just a bad column. There’s a reason he’s a beat writer kids.

    And one also suspects that he’s got a lot of flack and that someone or 40 looked up his home phone.

    Also, if you cause a stir that creates the need for a page one apology, there’s probably some disciplinary action necessary. But I just don’t see what the man did that was that bad. And I’m an Auburn grad.

    Meanwhile this other guy … well, Will said it best. Loving the four years of college “invested” in journalism (I did) and the 10 years covering junior high track (I did not).

    Meanwhile, fans can vote starting today. http://www.fanspoll.com Vote early, vote often.

  30. Heywood Says:

    Carty has always been an asshat, anyway….he’s just singing “Hail to the Victims” since michigan again is no where near mention in the fictitious “National Championship”

  31. Rod Stanton Says:

    I agree “juornalists” tend to be very self righteous. They also tend to be very ethocentric. I have some relatives in the MSM and they are just “better” than all the rest of us. No question about it *CAL WAS JOBBED*
    Rod Stanton
    Cerritos

  32. JD Says:

    I have more sympathy for Mr. Gattis than I do for Mr. Carty with one caveat – whether or not his (inevitable) feelings toward ‘Bama in particular (or the SEC in general) affected his vote vis-a-vis the top three.

    Rod – IMHO, California did not get jobbed. They simply did not TCB. They should have destroyed USM in that last game, but did not. That result (as it was played) probably would have gotten them over the hump had the game been played when it was originally scheduled in September, but nature (and the relative schedule strengths and team rankings) conspired to create a situation where California needed to put an old-time whoopin’ on USM – and did not do so.

    As to whether California got “screwed” in the technical sense, consider: If it is the case that all writer’s votes are public, then it would be easy to see who (if anybody) changed their relative votes of Texas and California in the final vote, and then compare what (if any) team or conference they cover. If it turns out that some Big 12 columnist/writers turned their #4-#5 in favor of Texas or away from California, then that needs to be explained – and in egregious cases, investigated.

    At the end of the day, polls are subjective. And people bitched about that, and so the computer-heavy BCS was created. Then, Miami and USC proceeded to get royally screwed in a period of three years, and people bitched about THAT. So, they put some weight back on the polls, and what happens? People are bitching.

  33. The Moderate Voice Says:

    Monday Mania

    It’s time again for Monday Mania, The Moderate Voice’s collection of some of our favorite thought-provoking posts on weblogs, designed to get your work week off to a stimulating start. These selections do not necessarily reflect TMV’s own views.

  34. flaime Says:

    Dump the polls, have a 32 team playoff with the conference winners taking spots, and the rest filled out by the Sagarin ratings. Take the bowl game money out of the system.

    But that’s not going to happen because there is too much money involved (how of the major conferences are going to give up the millions of dollars having 2 or three teams in bowl games brings the conference).
    So you are stuck with the assinine BCS that puts Texas in a game that should be USC-Michigan (if they have the Rose Bowl at all, it should be Pac-10/Big 10, dammit).

    Besides, if there was a playoff, who knows? Maybe Boise State legitimately beats Oklahoma? I know that nobody legitimate wants to play them in the regular season.

  35. Matt Says:

    I’ve been covering this from Alabama for the past week or so. It’s good to know it’s making the rounds elsewhere.

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