A Q&A with the WSJ’s Jared Diamond: Covering Aroldis Chapman, listening to Springsteen, and Twitter

Every so often, I’ve decided to drop in a Q&A with a reporter of my choosing to talk about what’s right and wrong with journalism, their interests and random other stuff. Some are friends. Some are just people who’s work I really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

The first is the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond. We covered the Mets together for two years and he’s covering the Yankees now. Jared has a slightly different take on baseball coverage and the world than me, so I figure he’d be good to talk to. You can (and should) follow him on Twitter here.

The questions are in bold. The answers are not.

1. How did you get into journalism and get to the job you’re at now?

I’ve known I wanted to go into journalism since middle school, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had paid work at a newspaper since I was 16. I figured out early in life I’d never play first base for the Yankees, I always enjoyed writing, and sports journalism seemed like the next-best thing.

I landed at The Wall Street Journal largely by luck and fortuitous timing. Bill Eichenberger, a wonderful man I had met only a handful of times at Yankee Stadium while interning for MLB.com after my junior year of college, was working as the New York sports editor at the time. I contacted him hoping — but not expecting — that he’d remember me. It turns out that not only did he remember, but that the Journal had a job opening. Not long after that initial correspondence, I was hired. I was 22-years old, and I haven’t worked anyplace else.

2. I really enjoyed a story you did last October on how comedians love the Mets, and especially more so than the Yankees. How did that story come together and where did the idea come from?
I had long wanted to do a story involving Jerry Seinfeld for selfish reasons: He’s one of my favorite celebrities, and it would be a thrill to interview him. The idea for the story started to crystallize after I had watched an episode of his web show, “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee,” which featured Bill Maher as the guest. Maher was wearing a Mets cap in the episode, and it struck me how both Maher and Seinfeld rooted for the Mets.
I brought the idea up to my family in synagogue during Rosh Hashanah — sorry, God — and we started rattling off a whole bunch of other famous comics who were Mets fans. That’s when I new I had something. Fortunately, a few comedians, including Maher and Hank Azaria, were willing to speak with me for the piece, and I was pleased with how it turned out.
I never did get to talk to Jerry, though. That’s still on the bucket list.

3. How do you go about covering someone like Aroldis Chapman? There’s a newfound attention (finally) placed on athletes who are accused of domestic violence crimes. It naturally puts the athlete in a negative light. But you’re likely also going to be covering him do well on the field as well, and probably at his normal All-Star level. Fans and media castigate teams for eschewing alleged legal issues for performance, how should that be handled from the media side?
It’s a tricky situation. On the one hand, it’s my job to cover him as an athlete, and that means chronicling how he performs on the field and assessing him in that light. When he returns from suspension, he’s going to be a big part of the Yankees, and for many fans, that’s important. I’m not sure it’s fair that every time he converts a save, I reference him in the story alongside a clause reminding people that he had been suspended for violating the league’s domestic violence policy.
That said, the media does have an opportunity here to bring these important issues to light and give them the recognition they deserve. This isn’t about Aroldis Chapman or his reputation: It’s about people everywhere who have suffered from abuse. The more writers highlight the importance of this, the better, and I think it’s great that MLB has this policy. Better late than never.

4. Is it enough for journalists now to be good at their job or would careers be hampered without interesting and dynamic Twitter accounts?
The evidence suggests that truly exceptional journalists can still thrive without Twitter. Tom Verducci does it. Gary Smith, too.
But let’s face it: Very few of us are even in that stratosphere. I’m certainly not, and I probably never will be. For mere mortals, I do think it would be very difficult to forge a successful career without social media. Not only does it drive traffic to our stories, interesting social-media accounts give a writer a bigger profile and platform. That matters.
All that said, let’s make one thing clear: A great Twitter account can’t cover up shoddy reporting and writing, at least not forever. It’s a fantastic tool to complement one’s work — emphasis on complement.

5. Does the world need more oral histories?
About important things like World War II and September 11? Yes.
About random sporting events from 1996? No.

6. If you could tweak something about the way baseball (or sports) is covered, what would it be?
I’d want to see more of an emphasis on original and creative thinking and less of an emphasis on daily minutiae. That can take many forms: It can be hard-hitting news reporting that nobody else has, a creative feature idea or even just a unique slant on a well-worn topic. For every journalist, a good day should be writing something that nobody else wrote. It’s coming up with something that nobody else came up with.
Often, that means looking beyond the confines of the game on the field every day. Few fans — few, not all — genuinely care about which middling relief pitcher is getting called up to replace another middling relief pitcher. Few fans — few, not all — need daily coverage about a starter’s bullpen session. Almost all fans want something they’ve never read before, something they had never thought about or considered. I’m so lucky to work at a newspaper that values this sort of reporting, and is willing to let me ignore the small things and focus on bigger, different stories.

7. Story time: Who is the player you’ve most enjoyed covering? Why?
There are plenty of candidates for this list during my time with the Mets. Anthony Recker, the Mets’ backup catcher while I was on the beat, was a blast to cover and has become a friend. Jerry Blevins, a relief pitcher, is a smart and interesting dude, and I’m disappointed I didn’t get to spend much time around him last year because of his injury.
But I ultimately have to go with David Wright. I doubt I’ll ever cover a superstar as genuine as he is.
A quick story that showcases what David is like: When I switched from covering the Mets to the Yankees, I dropped David a quick email thanking him for all his help over the past three seasons and wished him well. Not long after, my phone rings. It’s David. He was just calling because he saw my email and wanted to wish me luck on my new beat. I really appreciated him going out of his way to do that. He really didn’t have to. But that’s David.

8. What’s the most interesting story you’ve read lately?

It’s not a story, per se, but I have to throw in a plug for Jeff Passan’s new book, “The Arm,” which is all about the pitching arm and Tommy John surgery. The reporting in it is extraordinary, and it has the potential to make real change within the baseball industry. I highly, highly recommend everybody picks it up.

9. Who is the best writer you read and who people should read who you think isn’t getting enough due? (And doesn’t work at The Wall Street Journal — because that’s not fair)

So many great writers to choose from, but I’ll stick with what I know best, which is baseball. I read just about everything Jeff Passan writes for Yahoo! For my money, he’s the best baseball writer in America. In terms of beat writers, Andy McCullough at the Los Angeles Times is a must-read.
The Internet has given rise to so many writers who are churning out consistently great work despite not working for traditional outlets. One that comes to mind is Lindsey Adler from BuzzFeed. You probably don’t think of BuzzFeed as a place for sports writing, but she does excellent work over there. I liked this piece on Ricky Williams and this one on a Navajo high school football player in New Mexico.
10. You’re a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. How many times have you seen him in concert? More importantly, why does he appeal to sportswriters (among others but we’re narrowcasting here) so much?

Thank you for asking this, because this is a pet peeve on mine.
First of all, I’ve seen Springsteen in live, I believe, eight times, which sounds like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the many people who have seen him dozens, if not hundreds of times. I’m a lightweight (though not necessarily by choice!).
Let’s start here: Springsteen appeals to way more people than just sportswriters. The man sells out arenas and stadiums all over the world in minutes. I promise you that the audience of 70,425 — yes, 70,425 — at London’s Wembley Stadium on June 15, 2013, wasn’t made up of sportswriters. It’s a stereotype.
But in a way, this does touch on an important issue in this industry: diversity.
There’s no doubt that Springsteen fans are primarily white — which sounds a lot like sportswriting. This might explain why it seems all sportswriters love Springsteen: White men tend to.
It’s encouraging to see more media outlets recognizing the importance of diversity in sports coverage, where that means hiring more women, more people from different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds or whatever else. It’s crucial to have as many different perspectives and viewpoints writing about sports as possible, as sports really is a microcosm of our culture in so many ways. We’re not there yet, but I want to believe we’re moving in the right direction.