The Story of the NBA’s Political Exile

Enes Kanter watched the Turkish coup play out from Fethullah Gülen’s house and shuttled there most weekends this past summer. While Turkey wants Gülen extradited, Kanter sees a messenger of peace. Now, he’s a political exile who’s found refuge in the NBA. Kanter may have also found something in New York he’s been without for almost a decade: a home.  “I consider myself American. I’m done with Turkey.”

Enes Kanter Wants To Be Heard

The Uncertainty of a High School Football Coach

I spent a week talking to prominent New Jersey high school football coaches and others in that community about what it’s like to hold that job in 2017. The norms for coaches have changed drastically in the last decade. Can the hard-ass football coach still roam the sideline? Or is that an easy way to get fired?

What’s Acceptable? High School Coaches Ask After New Jersey Colleague’s Ouster

Welcome to the 2017-18 NBA Season. Read up.

Excited for the new NBA season like I am? Pulled together some gems you should read to get ready or to kill time or to get you through the 4th quarters of Warriors games. Pass it along to any NBA fans you think might want to read these stories. (Listed in no particular order).

Baxter Holmes on how charcuterie helped create the Warriors’ offense.

The Free Darko NBA preview.

Jackie Mac on how Chris Paul ended up in Houston.

Kevin O’Connor on why the Rockets might give us the best offense ever.

Chris Herring on Klay Thompson’s super-flush jumper.

Howard Beck and Jonathan Abrams explore the NBA is reckoning with its era of superteams.

The Process failed Jahlil Okafor, by Jordan Brenner.

Draymond Green gets the GQ profile treatment from Clay Skipper.

Lee Jenkins dropped two new joints: On Jimmy Butler and Isaiah Thomas.

Erik Malinowski on the bigger picture and Betaball.

Scott Cacciola takes us behind the curtains with the Warriors.

The oral history of Kendrick Perkins, by Jake Fischer.

Jared Dubin identified archetypes for the 2017-18 season.

Paul George feels at home in OKC, by Chris Mannix.

Tom Ziller explains why jerseys matter as self-expression.

The Thunder’s culture saved basketball in OKC, by Tim Cato.

Think you know Lonzo? By Mirin Fader.

Yaron Weitzman on Dennis Smith Jr. and Ben Simmons.

Is Kyrie Irving a franchise player? Howard Beck checks it out.

The Zach Lowe podcast with Ian Eagle is amazing.

What it’s like to be Muslim in the NBA, by Marc J. Spears.

Ben Cohen on the Rockets’ three-happy plan to beat the Warriors.

There’s more to Dion Waiters than we know, a profile by Rohan Nadkarni.

LeBron James with a long Q&A with Mark Anthony Green.

Jack McCallum with the story behind Jerry West’s divorce from the Warriors.

Koby Altman has had a crazy summer, and Joe Vardon wrote about it.

The Celtics’ summer was a roller coaster too, and Adam Himmelsbach gives us the whole story.

A Q&A With HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall on the art of the TV review, how his job has changed, and being a Knicks fan

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 whose work I really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s with Alan Sepinwall. He’s the television critic at HitFix and the best in the business. He also has written two books (The Revolution Was Televised and TV (The Book)). We talked about the art of the TV show review, how his job has changed over the years, the value of objectivity, and his Knicks fandom.

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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 had always wanted to be a movie critic, going back to all those Sunday nights spent watching Siskel & Ebert on TV. I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and began writing for the Daily Pennsylvanian’s weekly arts magazine 34th Street. At the same time, I was part of the first Penn class of non-engineers to be given an email account and easy internet access, which I took advantage of to begin writing about my favorite show at the time, NYPD Blue, on Usenet, and then for my own (now very tacky-looking) website. The combination of my 34th Street clips and printouts of some of my online pieces (which were pretty novel for 1996) helped get me a summer internship in The Star-Ledger features department, and when the paper’s veteran TV critic couldn’t go to the Television Critics Association press tour that summer, my editor, Susan Olds, decided to take a gamble and send me. A month after graduating college, I was basically a full-time TV critic, and have been doing it ever since, first at the Ledger, now at HitFix. I’m very lucky. Right place, right time.

2. Your weekly recaps of shows are, for myself included, must-reads after watching a show like Mad Men or Silicon Valley. Slate called you the “king of the form.” What’s the art to writing something like that?

It varies depending on the show. With some shows, it’s much more of a thumbs-up/thumbs-down paradigm, where I look at whether an episode worked, or didn’t, and why. With a Mad Men or a Wire, the greatness of the series, and of most episodes, is virtually a given, so what you’re looking for there is to find deeper meaning, whether it’s the symbolism on Mad Men or the connections between all the characters on The Wire.

3. As a television critic do you see your job and your criticism as being self-contained to the shows that you watch and write about, or do you also try to look at them through a more cultural prism and as social commentary too?

Other critics like James Poniewozik and Alyssa Rosenberg do the latter, and do a great job at it. That’s not really how I’m wired, though, and while sometimes the social point of things is impossible to ignore (earlier today, I wrote about an episode of UnREAL that used a Black Lives Matter plot for cheap shock value), my main focus is on the show as a show.

4. Do you think television has kept up with the changing demographics and social beliefs of its viewers or do you think it’s moved more slowly? Why do you think that is?

That answer probably depends on one’s own political beliefs. If you just look at the wave of shows featuring trans characters, for instance, you’re going to find some people who wish TV would stop talking about the subject, and others who feel like those handful of shows (notably Transparent and Orange Is the New Black) aren’t nearly enough.

Demographically, TV is getting better, but it’s still not great. What’s been heartening to see is the success of ABC’s diverse family sitcoms, which are a reminder that if you filter the same old sitcom stories through the kinds of perspectives that have rarely been shown on sitcoms, the stories feel brand new again.

5. You wrote earlier this month very evocatively just how much TV has changed in form and in platform over the 20 years you’ve done the job. How much has your job changed in that time? Obviously you have to write more often, I assume, and the internet’s effect is well-stated, but what else has changed on the job for a TV critic?
There’s just so much more of everything: things to write, things to watch, platforms on which to discuss and promote things. If I were to go back and tell my 22-year-old self how much more work there would be to do, he’d probably be terrified. Well, no, that’s not true. He’d be 22, and thus young and cocky and stupid, and eager for the challenge.
6. Netflix seems to have the most out-sized effect on television. We can now consume TV shows like candy and just binge-watch them. I think it’s kind of turned their shows into almost movies because of how the shows are constructed and meant to be watched consecutively. Do you think that’s made TV better and is it eradicating the self-contained TV episodes and turning every show into a point on a story arc?
I think the Netflix effect on storytelling hasn’t been great, overall. There are some great Netflix (and Amazon and Hulu) series, but most of those tend to be the ones with a stronger command of how to construct individual episodes, or else are simply shorter. (“Stranger Things” was basically an eight-hour movie, and worked at that length; the 13-hour version would have been unbearable.) The episode has value as a unit of measurement, and unless you’re working at the level of a David Simon on The Wire, you probably don’t want to get too cocky about simply filling 13 hours worth of stuff and hoping the audience is thrilled with it all.
7. How much time and interaction do you get with your sources — whether it’s actors, show runners, network executives, others? If you’re covering a sport, you’re in the locker room or clubhouse almost daily for months at a time. But you don’t have that luxury/burden so how much access do you get and how does that affect your writing?
I go to LA twice a year for press tour, occasionally do other travel there, and sometimes do interviews in New York. But the Internet’s been a great equalizer in that regard. A lot of the strongest relationships I have with sources arose before we ever met in person, and just came from me emailing them (or, in some cases, them emailing me out of the blue).
Besides, my primary focus is the criticism, and that part of the job can really be done without ever meeting any of the people who make or star in the shows. I like hearing about how the sausage gets made, and feel that informs my writing, but I completely respect the approach of guys like Poniewozik or, back in the day, Tom Shales, who wanted to keep separate from the people they were covering. Bias is built into the job — artistic opinions are subjective by nature — and if nothing else, not meeting or interacting with actors and showrunners can insulate you from accusations that you’re being more positive or negative based on personal feelings. I don’t let that stuff influence my writing — I don’t get along with the creators of some of my favorite shows, and am friendly with people whose shows I don’t much care for — but it becomes an easy club for people to hit you with if they don’t agree with a review.
8. You’ve been credited with helping save the show “Chuck” – including by NBC CEO Ben Silverman – what’s the line for you between being an activist for a show, a fan and a neutral critic? Do those lines even need to exist anymore, from television criticism to political reporting and commentary, if you’re open with your biases?

Again, it’s a subjective job: I like this, I don’t like that. There’s no neutrality in criticism. On those rare occasions when I’ve agitated for a show to be renewed, it’s been out of some sense of fandom, but mainly out of my desire as a critic to be able to keep watching and writing about that show. I have found, though, that because I’m very enthusiastic about some shows, fans of other shows expect me to be just as enthusiastic about theirs, so when I’m critical of an episode of, say, Game of Thrones, they’re taken aback by it.
9. Who are the writers you read and who people should read who you don’t think are getting enough due? (And don’t work at HitFix — because that’s not fair)
A lot of it is the usual suspects: Poniewozik, Emily Nussbaum, Mo Ryan, Todd VanDerWerff, Tim Goodman, my old pal Dan Fienberg, my once and future partner Matt Zoller Seitz. I enjoy the way (a site run by the founders of Television Without Pity) finds different ways to cover TV so it’s not just the now-traditional recap or advance review.
10. You’re a Knicks fan. Would you call that a more painful or numb sensation now? How did you get to be a Knicks fan and is there a TV parallel for it?
My best friend Mike was a Knicks fan, so I became a Knicks fan. I would be mad at him, but I imagine the alternative would have involved becoming a Nets fan, and that would have brought with it its own heartbreak and agita. Being a Knicks fan involves a lot of willful denial and unfounded optimism. I wrote a column once about hope-watching, where you stick with a series that isn’t very good because you feel like it could become good at some point. That’s basically been Knicks fandom since the Ewing trade. Just recently, I despised the Derrick Rose deal (he was one of the very worst players in the NBA last season) and felt the team should be gathering young assets to build around Porzingis, and to hell with appeasing Melo’s desire to win. (He can always waive his no trade clause, after all.) But a few weeks later, I’ve talked myself into most of the team’s other moves, and am already convincing myself that Rose can be a decent placeholder for a free agent point guard to be named later next summer. Because it’s what we do.

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A Q&A with The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas on developing sources, covering the NFL, and when she thought she almost burned down Giants Stadium

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 whose work I really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB. Jenny covers the NFL for the site. We used to work together (where we resided on polar ends of the staff depth chart) for a few years at The Star-Ledger, where she was among the best beat writers in NFL media. Now, she’s one of the best and most creative writers out there, period. We talked about how she builds relationships, nearly burning down Giants Stadium, how she got into the room for a Draft Combine interview, and a gluten free diet.

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?

Well, I’m the black sheep of the family. Just kidding (kind of!). Both of my parents are chemical engineers, and my sister is a molecular biologist. I spent most of high school doing science projects and competitions; I went to Penn State to study biochemistry and molecular biology. My freshman year, I also tried out for The Daily Collegian on a whim. I thought it would be a fun sidebar to all the hours spent working in a lab. I’d inoculate a bacterial culture, and while I waited for it to incubate for a few hours, run downtown to the Collegian office to work on a story. But I found myself enjoying the storytelling more than anything else. Russ Rose, the Penn State women’s volleyball coaching legend, was the first one to predict I’d end up as a journalist. Two years later, he wrote a recommendation letter for my graduate journalism school applications.

When you’re doing something as a side thing, not your main thing, you’re kind of blissfully blind to how much you don’t know. That’s why I’m grateful my career started where it did. While I was completing the master’s program at Columbia’s School of Journalism, I applied for an internship through the Association for Women in Sports Media. A week after graduation, I was commuting to The Star-Ledger office in Newark, N.J. (somehow, I thought it was a great idea to leave my car in the Ledger’s parking garage, take the PATH train to Newark from Manhattan, and walk 1.5 miles to the office every morning). You know what it was like, Mike—you’re an intern in your young 20s, thrown into the pressure cooker of the New York media market. One of my first assignments was a sidebar at a Yankees game; the night desk had to totally rewrite it. I was mortified. But it was the best place to learn. There was a wonderful mix of young and experienced writers; there was Bridget Wentworth, the longest-tenured female sports reporter on staff, who also happened to be the biggest badass in the room.

When the Giants made it to Super Bowl XLII, I was like the 12th reporter out of the 12 they sent. I drew the distinguished assignment of being the “scene blogger.” But I was 23, headed to the Super Bowl, and sandwiching myself into the media gantlet on the Playboy party red carpet seemed like a very important task. After that week, Mike Garafolo, the newspaper’s Giants beat writer at the time, suggested me to be his No. 2 on the beat the next season. I marveled at the way he worked the locker room for the next two years; how, whenever something happened with the team, he always had someone to call in his trusty Blackberry. When the Jets beat opened up in 2010, I was nervous I couldn’t do what I’d watched Mike do. But I didn’t tell anyone that. I made a ritual of calling our editor, Drew Van Esselstyn, on my morning drives to the Jets’ Florham Park facility to brainstorm, vent, strategize. Honestly, that was the toughest beat I’ve ever been around. I was lucky that during this time, Peter King lived in Montclair, N.J., and was a Ledger subscriber. I didn’t know anything about this new website he was planning to launch, The MMQB, until he asked me to join his staff in early 2013. I met him for breakfast at 6:45 a.m. at the Combine, and he explained his vision. It was a different, exciting opportunity. By the way, my first story at The MMQB was rewritten, too. If you ever think you’ve got it figured out in this business, you’re wrong. 

2. The access you got for this story on what an interview during the scouting combine is actually like was fantastic and unprecedented, I believe. What’s the process of making that happen and how much wrangling is there before or after the fact for what can go into the story and what stays out?

That’s nice of you to say, Mike. That was a neat opportunity, and it came up sort of by happenstance. I was talking with Mike Tannenbaum, the Dolphins EVP of football operations, on another topic in late January. One of the things I really like about Mike is that he’s a knowledge-seeker, someone who will visit with the Spurs GM or the Under Armour CEO to become better in his own field, and in return he likes to do the same for other people. I’ve known him since I started on the Jets beat in 2010, and he knows I’m always trying to understand how things really work. With the Combine around the corner, he started describing the scene inside the interview room. “You should really find a team who will let you sit in,” he said casually. Pause. “Well, uh, you happen to run a team…” I said. He had to think about it for a few weeks. The Dolphins have a great PR staff, too, and I had several conversations with Jason Jenkins and Matt Taylor about how this might work. In any situation like this, there’s risk. Most likely, everything will go smoothly, but there’s that one percent chance that something will go really haywire in the interview room, and you’re going to be in there, and you’re going to write about it. I think one thing that helped was that the Dolphins had a new GM, Chris Grier, and a new head coach, Adam Gase, that Mike was really confident in, and he thought people would respond well to seeing the new staff work together. He was right; they did work really well together. Plus, the Dolphins had some measure of control in that they got to pick which of the 60 interviews I’d sit in on, so it didn’t have to be someone, say, with a lot of off-the-field questions to answer. Really, the only condition was that I wouldn’t name the player, and in keeping with that, I didn’t include any of the questions or answers that would reveal his identity. I was glad it was a quarterback, since I thought it made the film session more tangible, for readers and for me. But I couldn’t believe how fast the 15 minutes went. It was exhausting just trying to keep up with one interview, and teams can do as many as 20 in one night. No wonder they need midnight Steak ‘n’ Shake runs!

3. I think it’s clear from your writing (and knowing you a little bit) that you’re able to build strong relationships with the people you cover. I mean the Bills just put in a draconian media policy and then Rex Ryan and his brother go out and ether every ghost in their past in a Q&A with you. How do you go about building these relationships and sources and just become a people person in a league where organizations seem to want the media at a greater distance and blindness than any other pro sport?

Honestly, building relationships is something I always worry I’m not good enough at. Nowadays, it feels like many of the people we cover have less trust in the media than ever, or at least less use for the media. And there are so many of us, you might not even have the chance to prove that you are trustworthy. I still lean a lot on relationships I built slowly, over time, while covering the Jets and Giants beats. That’s part of the reason why, after I did the Q&A with the Ryan brothers, I was so frustrated to see one media outlet label it a “press record and get out of the way” interview. A lot more goes into any interview than that, particularly one with someone whom I’ve known for six years and have invested a lot of time in getting to know and understand and appreciate. Relationships in our business are no different than any other kind of relationship, in that for them to be meaningful, they have to be two-sided. You can’t just be milking the people you cover for every last drop of information they have. I want them to be getting something out of the conversation, too. I talk to coaches and players pretty often about how they can better interact with the media in a way that helps everybody. Other times, it’s just offering a willing ear to listen to them vent (trust me, that goes a lot farther than you might think). And if someone goes out of his or her way to help me with something big, I’ll often send a handwritten thank you note. But I still really miss that daily interaction you get when you’re on a beat and see the same people every day. One of my favorite things when I covered the Jets was spending time on Friday afternoons with Rex or one of his assistant coaches back in their offices, asking them to explain some football concept to me. Building relationships outside the context of a beat has been the toughest challenge for me in the three years I’ve been at The MMQB.

4. I admittedly have trouble watching football now after years of learning about the brain injury dangers running through the sport. When I see a big hit I sometimes cringe and wonder what it means for the player on the receiving end now and in 10 years. Do you take into account the very equally balanced risk/reward proposition the NFL present in terms of health and wealth — NFL players can earn lots of money and fame but their likelihood of substantial or chronic injury seems to far outpace baseball or NBA players — and does that color your coverage?

What’s so hard about covering the sport today is that it is in this perplexing purgatory: We know enough to know that head trauma in football can have long-term consequences, but we don’t know things like the dose-response relationship, why some people are more susceptible than others or what percentage of football players develop degenerative brain disorders. What’s the middle ground between total ignorance and CTE panic? Last fall, I was talking with a former player who is an assistant coach now, and after someone walked in the room and interrupted our conversation, he forgot the point he had been making. “Maybe I have CTE,” he said casually. Or, did he just lose his train of thought? To really assess the risk-reward relationship of football, we need to be better able to quantify the risk, but the speed of scientific research can’t keep pace with the public discourse. What does that mean for media who cover the sport on the daily basis? I guess I just try to see all sides of the game—the violent side, the entertaining side, the beautiful side, the big-business side—and cover them all. And you write what you know; what the facts of any particular situation tell you, nothing more and nothing less.

5. What is it like to cover the NFL right now as a woman? The NFL certainly has a perception issue right now with its many bunglings — to put it generously — of domestic violence punishments, as well as the pedestal it still presents them, and what’s seen as pandering during breast cancer awareness month in October, amongst other things. What, if any, effect does that have on you and covering the league, not only on a day-to-day basis in the locker room, but also on the macro level?  

That’s a good question, and a tough one to answer. Nearly two years after the fallout from the Ray Rice incident sent the league into crisis, I’m not sure that I would say there is any tangible effect on my day-to-day job as a female reporter covering the NFL. I’ll backtrack for a second and say that everything that happened two years ago was certainly a floodlight on the dearth of female voices in and around football, which led to an acute response. In the league office, several women were added in senior adviser or executive roles, including the very well-qualified former sex crimes prosecutor, Lisa Friel. The NFL also held a women’s summit this year at the Super Bowl in San Francisco and introduced a Rooney Rule for women to be interviewed for executive positions at NFL headquarters. (As a side note, I know there are mixed opinions on rules like this for race or gender, and while I hate we’re still in a place where we need such rules, we do need them, so I think they’re a good thing. I know, for example, when Peter King was assembling his MMQB staff, he made a point to not just have a homogenous staff. He wanted people with different perspectives and life experiences, which is something I appreciate). In the fall of 2014, it seemed like radio and TV talk shows were reaching out to any and every female reporter they could find, and there were definitely instances when I felt like I was being pitched a certain story because someone wanted a woman to do it. I’m always in favor of more importance or attention being paid to female voices, because I feel like there are too many occasions when the opposite is true, for no good reason. But I’m just not sure there was any impact on how I do my job as a reporter. It’s the same way I feel about any other topic: If there is something I can add on a subject, I will add it. If not, I won’t chime in just for the sake of chiming in.

6. NFL writers seem more aggressive in tone and personality than other sports’ reporters. NFL Twitter can be rough-edged space comparatively. The Jets beat, which you were on for many years, is known industry-wide as a rather jagged ecosystem. Do you think that’s true, and why? Is it something about football’s own ethos trickling down to the people who cover it?

Love that phrase, “jagged ecosystem.” I think that is very true of the Jets beat, for a lot of different reasons. One of them is that I think teams and markets where they have not had success in a long time lose all benefit of the doubt. In New York, the Giants have won two championships in the last nine years; the Jets haven’t won since Super Bowl III. No matter what the Jets do, they will always be criticized more harshly than the Giants, because of this long-standing skepticism. Overall, I’m not sure it’s about the nature of the sport itself as much as it is about the sheer size and popularity of the NFL in America. In the course of my reporting for an upcoming story I am working on, someone made the point to me that the opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy. That really is true when it comes to football: The criticism is just as much a reflection of passion as any celebration would be. Just look at how tough the media markets are in Cleveland and Buffalo, where the football teams have struggled this entire century. Those cities love their football teams. The criticism is a byproduct.

7. This year a video of you reacting to Jerry Jones as he defended Greg Hardy went viral. I think pretty much everyone agreed your incredulity was right. What were the next few hours, days and weeks like after that video got popular and start circulating around?

I have one of those faces that is very expressive, which can often be very problematic! At least in this case, my face accurately represented what I was thinking in that moment. It’s a cardinal rule for reporters not to be caught in the back of a shot, but in a post-game scrum where you’re trying to get in wherever you can, you often don’t have a choice. I certainly didn’t expect it would spread the way it did. In the days and weeks afterward, I probably heard from someone on one-third of the teams in the NFL—players, coaches, execs and even owners. Most said some version of, thank you for expressing what we were all thinking. Those reactions convinced me that the Cowboys would be Hardy’s last chance in the NFL. Maybe something will change in camp or during the season when a desperate team has injuries. But I’d be surprised if he plays anywhere in 2016. As an addendum, I have interacted with Jones on a couple occasions since, and he recently spent nearly an hour of his time talking to me for a story. There are plenty of people in this business who have a distaste for media and criticism, but give Jones credit in that he is not one of them.

8. You made the move a few years ago to The MMQB from the Newark Star-Ledger. Journalism isn’t the most stable business to be in right now so what it was like to be at an outlet from its inception and as it has built brand-recognition? Obviously The MMQB had an affiliation with a well-known magazine and you already were a known commodity as a writer but were there any hiccups or pressure to make sure the site succeeded?

I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten to be part of something from the ground up. Seeing a vision come to life is a pretty cool thing. When I interviewed in the spring of 2013, all they could show me was me mockups on paper of what the site might look like. I remember being in Fort Lauderdale for Dolphins camp a few months later, on the morning of July 22, so antsy for the site to go live so that everyone else could see it, too. (Of course, then I opened up my author page without my laptop on mute, and in the middle of a crowded press room, it blared: “HI I’M JENNY VRENTAS FROM THE MMQB.” Still cringing about that one.) Looking back, it was probably a risk to join a totally new venture, but it never felt like one. The fact that someone I respected in this business as much as Peter was willing to give me the kind of opportunity I didn’t even know was out there is something for which I will always be appreciative. I did feel pressure, and I still do. You want to validate their reasons for hiring you. I had the worst form of writer’s block I’ve ever had when I sat down to write my first story for The MMQB. I actually drove four hours to my parents’ home in Pennsylvania to try to shake it. In some ways, Year One was the easiest for the site. We were still working out kinks, but people would check us out because we were the new thing out there. Keeping people interested now heading into Year Four is a totally different matter. The last two years, the reporters have been involved in upfronts with the advertisers, trying to help them see why we love what we do and why they should, too. It’s a different business nowadays. But the opportunity that Peter promised when he approached me about joining his team, to cover the NFL in a different way, has always remained the same. At our first staff offsite retreat in May 2013, he just said offhand during one meeting, “Why don’t you try to find a player who will let you sit in on his ACL surgery?” A few months later, I went down to Pensacola, Fla., where then-Giants safety Stevie Brown was kind enough to let me watch James Andrews repair his knee. That’s one example of how Peter thinks differently and pushes you to do the same. He’s helped me take a huge step forward in my career, and a big part of the pressure I feel at work is wanting to do everything I can to help make his vision for The MMQB as successful as it can be. 

9. Who are writers you read and people should read who aren’t getting enough due? (And don’t work at The MMQB or SI — because that’s not fair)

This answer might not be fair either, but it’s the truth: All the reporters I worked with at The Star-Ledger. During the six years I was there, that was one of the most talented staffs I have ever seen, and I get so much out of following the careers of my fellow Ledgerites, whether they’ve stayed or gone. Steve Politi, Mike Garafolo, Conor Orr, Jorge Castillo, Marc Carig, Andy McCullough, you—I am going to stop, because now I am worried that I am going to forget someone totally unintentionally. I learned so much reading your Mets pieces after I left, and I’m not sure if I told you this, but before I went to Cleveland in April for a story on the Browns draft, I re-read at least twice your VICE Sports piece from January in which Paul DePodesta gave you his first interview explaining his decision to join the Browns. I made notes from your story to help inform my understanding of what Cleveland’s draft would be like. That’s just another reason why I am so grateful to have started my career at the Ledger, because it was such a wonderful network of journalists that I still learn from to this day.

10. You have to keep a gluten-free diet, but you also travel a lot and press boxes usually aren’t the best places for any type of special diets. How do you maintain that on the job and on the road? Any interesting stories to share?

I probably should buy stock in Larabar. I have boxes of those things at home (Lemon Bar, Choco Chip Brownie, Pumpkin Pie…) because I stuff my bag with them when I travel. I went through a phase where I packed meals everywhere I went, but now I have become lazy and will in some cases subsist for an entire day off of coffee and Larabars. I do have a story that came as an unfortunate byproduct of packing my meals: That time I almost set fire to Giants Stadium. This was the old Giants Stadium, back when the Giants didn’t have a practice facility, and the media workroom during the week was in the bowels of the stadium. In between the open period at the beginning of practice and post-practice locker room, I went to microwave a plastic mug that, unbeknownst to me, included a metal strip that was not microwavable. There was a funny smell, and then full-blown black smoke billowing out of the microwave. No, the stadium didn’t actually almost burn down, but we had to evacuate the media room. I recall telling Pat Hanlon, the Giants PR boss, that I would pay for the microwave. Of course he told me no. I guess I owe the Mara and Tisch families a microwave.

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A Q&A with the WSJ’s Chris Herring on covering the Knicks, diversity in journalism, and staying happy

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 whose work I really respect. Some cover sports. Some don’t. Hopefully all will be interesting.

This week, it’s Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal. Chris covers the Knicks and the NBA and he’s damn good at it. He separates himself by writing unique stories and finding an analytical perspective. We talk about why he stays so positive, whether journalism needs more diversity, if J-school is needed anymore, and he shares a great Jim Brown anecdote.

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 still remember getting extremely jealous hearing my best friend Marcus tell me how cool his high-school journalism class was as a sophomore. So I wanted to see what it was all about, and signed up for it the following year. I knew by that point, after a class or two, that I wanted to do it professionally, and started writing for the high-school paper shortly after.

I worked full-time (for four years, and eventually up to 60 or 70 hours a week) at The Michigan Daily during college, and was fortunate enough to apply for and land a handful of internships and freelance gigs — with the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Tribune and the Cleveland Plain Dealer — before landing one at The Wall Street Journal (I actually didn’t apply for the WSJ internship, but that’s a pretty long story) the summer after my senior year at Michigan. Was told I got the WSJ’s last internship they awarded that year, and that I’d be covering law, of all things. I didn’t know the first thing about law, but I didn’t care — you don’t turn down a paper like The Wall Street Journal.

That was summer 2009, and they liked me enough as an intern to extend my internship a handful of times until the paper lifted its hiring freeze in December of that year. I’ve been here ever since.

2. You’ve covered three different beats and ecosystems in law/crime, the NFL, and now wherever it is that the Knicks exist. What is the overlap between those three areas and how do you go about adjusting when you’re switching beats like that?

Looking back, I’m not sure I realized there was a natural overlap between the three; especially when I went from law/crime to the NFL.

My boss tasked me with writing different sorts of pieces, and not to fall into the herd mentality of following media scrums, just because they happened to be interviewing a specific person. Early on, though, when you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s the tendency because you don’t want to feel as if you’re missing an explosive quote or detail from someone.

Eventually, I found the common thread is putting considerable research and thought into each piece. I wanted all my law pieces to have a flair or twist to them. My best football stories were like that, too. And when I took the Knicks’ beat, I had the same goal: Find a way to write stories that really teach someone, or something that at least confirms or denies something a lot of people might already be wondering about. It’s time-consuming to do, but it’s generally worth it.

3. You’ve been pretty liberal about integrating advanced stats into your work and about thinking through stories that way. That’s not very common in mainstream NBA reporting. How open were your editors, players and front office, and readers to it? And does it reflect how the NBA itself has trended?

Really, I just started trying something new, and it became comfortable after awhile. My first real story on the Knicks’ beat, on the eve of their 2012-13 training camp, highlighted that they’d basically be the oldest team in NBA history. I laid out the potential benefits and pitfalls of that strategy, and how it might come back to hinder them toward the end of the season, and that eventually turned out to be the case.

That story was a microcosm of what I try to do. There are so many factors and numbers that help describe a team. So I look for the things that stand as outliers, and then study them really closely. They help me make predictions (I was off by one game this past season, predicting that the Knicks would win 31 times this last season), and help me determine what I want to ask players about once I get into the locker room. That, along with on-court observations I notice over time and conversations I have with players, generally dictates my writing process.

We know what’s normal. So when I can find a clear example of something that isn’t, I want to explain it, and find why that’s the case. That’s how I write, and I find that style to be fun — both for me, and the people I interview.

4. When you’re covering a star like Carmelo Anthony who casts a shadow over an entire organization, how do you build a relationship with him and put his words and actions into the right context?

For starters, I try really hard to be responsible and not necessarily to blow up any and everything he says in stories, in part because he wavers a lot in his thinking and his quotes at times. I’ve taken the time to approach him one-on-one occasionally to write about things (like recently learning to play chess, or his decision to participate in a peaceful protest in Baltimore) less tied to basketball to show that I genuinely care about getting to know him off the court.

We have a good relationship — not friends by any means, but friendly with one another and can have conversations about things outside of basketball. I’ve had dinner with him. We had a playful bet a couple years ago during the Final Four, since Michigan and Syracuse were playing. (He was a good sport by wearing blue the following day after Michigan beat the Orange.)

I don’t shy away from asking him uncomfortable questions at times, but if I had to guess, I’d figure he appreciates that I tend to ask him about strategy-based stuff, and that I’m less interested in the day-to-day stuff that often gets forgotten anyway. Because of that, I think he generally gives me thoughtful responses that often help shape the context of my stories. I’m appreciative of that, and I find him to be one of the more open stars in the NBA, which is great.

5. Did you read this or this when you got on the Knicks beat? Is trying to cover that team as suffocating as it’s been reported to be?

I read the Observer piece prior to joining this beat, yes. I’ve had my frustrations at times — more so in the first year or two on the beat — but I think I have fewer issues with the Knicks because my writing style is different and often less salacious.

I’ve written about things the organization is sensitive about, and heard back from folks concerning those issues within minutes sometimes. But I also know the vast majority of people there realize I’m largely focused on basketball as opposed to scandal, and that I’m trying to be not only fair, but relatively thoughtful with my stories. So I don’t get a ton of pushback.

6. What don’t you like about the way the NBA is reported on and what would you change?

It’s not realistic to expect stuff to get back to this point, but every time I read Halberstam’s “Breaks of the Game,” I immediately get jealous of the sort of relationships reporters once had with teams and players. The access was so much different back in the day. And judging by the players’ union rhetoric — Michele Roberts essentially said ‘Get the eff out of the locker room if you don’t have an immediate question, because you’re invading the players’ privacy’ —  it seems like we may at some point have less access. If not less, then probably much different access.

Someone who writes the way I do would benefit from having more than five or six minutes to talk to someone, but I can’t imagine a scenario where that happens; at least not while covering a high-profile team like the Knicks.

7. Is there enough diversity in sports journalism? And how does that effect the way that athletes — especially in the NFL and NBA — are covered when the reporter demographics skew from the athlete demographics?

No. There should be way more women and people of color covering pro sports teams. But more generally, there should be way more women and people of color in newsrooms, period. I felt that way at my college paper, The Michigan Daily (and served on a diversity committee, though it didn’t really change much), and I feel that way now at the Journal.

There aren’t nearly enough women covering the NBA; especially if you look past the ones who serve as sideline reporters. It feels like there are more people of color who write about the NBA than in other sports, and perhaps that’s because it’s overwhelmingly black compared to the other leagues.

I don’t know how much it impacts the way the league itself is covered. What I’m more curious about, sometimes, is how, if at all, it impacts the way players communicate with reporters. I’ll never forget interviewing Jim Brown and seeing him do a double-take when I told him what outlet I was representing, and that I wanted to ask him a few questions for my story. He later told me he was proud to see a young, black man in my position, because it was something he rarely, if ever, saw — especially when he actually played the sport.

It’s obviously not nearly that rare now, but I do think being in my 20s and black has helped me relate with some of the players. One time in the locker room, Iman Shumpert was looking at each of the reporters, playfully ribbing us one-by-one for the way we were dressed. He got to me, and decided to make fun of my sweater. Carmelo stepped in before Shump could really say anything, telling him, “Nah, Chris is cool — he’s with us.”

To this day, I have no clue exactly what Melo meant by that. That I write favorably about the team? (I think plenty of people would say I’m fairly cynical of the Knicks at times, but most would probably agree that I’m relatively down the middle) Maybe he was telling Shump that he sees me as giving them a fair shake, and am not out to get them? Or maybe he was saying, “Don’t go in on Chris — he’s the one black, 20-something on the beat, and because of that, he can actually relate with us in a way.” I have no idea. But that’s stuck with me, because it highlighted that there is a little bit of an “Us vs. Them” mentality at times, however small it might be.

8. Like me, you didn’t major in journalism in college. Is J-school kind of a relic for preparing journalists? I know you wrote a whole post about this but should there be a different way of identifying and preparing journalists?

Everyone is different. For people like me, who realize very early on they want to do this, it’s very possible to go to school and get involved with newspapers or blogs, and collect writing clips over time. If you have the drive and the talent, and you can accomplish that before graduation, you may not need journalism school — particularly in a grad program — to find a job in this field.

But tons of people don’t know exactly what they want to do when they finish undergrad, or don’t realize that they’d be interested in journalism until they’ve just about graduated. So journalism school might be perfect for them. (There are also those who write during college, but don’t land the sorts of internships/gigs they want over that span.) Journalism school, in my personal opinion, is great for networking, or for someone who might need a little additional help with finding a gig once they graduate.

There are a handful of ways to get into the business, though. I didn’t go to J-school, and don’t think I needed to. But it makes sense for other people who figure out what they want to do later, or who feel they’ll benefit more from the networking aspect.

9. Who are writers you read and who people should read who you think aren’t getting enough due? (And don’t work at the Wall Street Journal — because that’s not fair)

Folks who I don’t think get enough credit? There must be a handful of people on Twitter who think I’m crazy, because I Favorite every story they write so I can go back and read it later. Rob Mahoney at Sports Illustrated might quietly be my favorite. Remember what I said before about needing more than five or six minutes to ask all the questions I have for someone? Rob’s stories read as if he’s had weeks with some of these players because of how in-depth they are.

Kyle Wagner at 538 has some really fun ideas (the one he had a week or two ago about players that get passed to the least was really fun). Candace Buckner at the Indy Star and KC Johnson at the Chicago Tribune are two of the best beat writers in the league. And while I wouldn’t put him in the “aren’t getting enough due” category, I’m constantly amazed at how Zach Lowe at ESPN puts us to shame with how well, and deeply, he writes about the entire league.

That’s obviously limiting it to just the NBA, because that’s what I spend the most time reading until the season comes to a close.

10.  There’s a lot of complaining about the burdens and nuisances of the job — reporters bitch too often on Twitter about flight hiccups and other issues — but you’re one of the more positive-thinking guys out there. What do you enjoy about reporting and covering the NBA and how difficult is it to maintain that?

I say it all the time on Twitter, but covering the NBA — and writing about a marquee team, for a big paper where a lot of people can see my work — was literally a dream of mine in high school.

As a kid, my mom was puzzled by how much time I spent trying to memorize players’ baseball statistics. She encouraged me to find a way to put that sort of passion into something that paid well, and suggested more than once that I study law in hopes of becoming a sports agent.

The job is difficult in some ways, and that’s not really a complaint at all. But sometimes it is crazy to think about how many hours, weeks or months go into researching and reporting a really challenging feature or story, just to have someone spend three or four minutes on it. I imagine it’s sort of how someone feels after spending hours on a meal, then watching someone devour it in mere minutes.

Still, the feeling I get from seeing reader emails and tweets — either that they feel they’ve learned something, or had their eyes opened to something — is awesome each time. And feeling like you’ve broken down a reporting wall (I’ve mentioned on podcasts before how hard I had to work, and how far I had to travel, to have a four-minute conversation with La La Anthony to discuss Melo’s chess-playing habits) is also the best.

So for all the frustrations, and all the holidays I have to spend away from family, I’m very grateful. I somehow made it into this industry at age 22, and have what I honestly consider to be the coolest job in the world. Day-to-day issues and problems will come up in any profession, but there are so many more positives than there are negatives when it comes to this one.

A Q&A with Newsday’s Marc Carig on the anxiety of reporting, if baseball is boring and Bartolo Colon

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.

This week, it’s Marc Carig of Newsday. Marc and I used to work together at the Newark Star-Ledger once upon a time. We covered the Mets over the previous two years. And he’s a good friend who’s always full of shtick. But he’s also an exceptional reporter. He’s covering the Mets right now, in between rounds of golf with Yoenis Cespedes.

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?
That’s a good question, Vork.
It all started in eighth grade, when I skipped too many fourth period English classes so I could play basketball with my friends during their lunch period. For this, I got a D. Somehow, I kept that fact hidden from my mom, and I intended to keep it that way. Anyway, the next year, before my freshman year of high school, my family moved a few towns over. In the process, my transcripts got lost in the shuffle That’s how I wound up in the counselor’s office with my mom on the first day of high school. Without records, the counselor was left to take my word for the grades I got in every subject in eighth grade. From there, she’d slot me into the appropriate classes. So, we get to English, and because my strict Filipino mom is sitting right there, I tell the counselor I got a B. This, of course, is total bullshit. She puts me in Mr. Brown’s English class, which I later found out was pretty much for honors students. Mr. Brown also happened to advise the school newspaper. A few weeks into the year, after I submitted a couple of essays in English class, Mr. Brown pulled me aside. “I get the feeling that you’ve got something to say,” he told me. He encouraged me to give the paper a try. Honestly, nobody had ever said anything like that to me before. The only regular reading material at my house growing up was my grandma’s National Enquirer and my father’s Daily Racing Form. And if you wanted to know what was really going on with my family, that required a working knowledge of Tagalog, not English. The idea of writing something that might be read was so foreign. Still, I signed up. Pretty much every school day until I graduated, Mr. Brown left me a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sporting Green. It would be waiting on my desk when I walked in. He’d circle the best stories of the day. From there, I never looked back.
The rest was hard work, timing, and dumb ass luck.

2. You’ve told me several times how during your first year as a baseball beat reporter (covering the Orioles for the Washington Post) you would wake up with dread worrying you got scooped or beat on a story (which doesn’t make you unique). Now that you are, to me, one of the best baseball beat writers out there, do you still have that anxiety? And how does that manifest now?
That’s a good question, Vork.
The Twitter changed things a bit. You no longer have to wear your beating for a full day. But, yeah, there is still plenty of anxiety. I find that there’s actually just as much of it on the other side, when you’ve got a story that you’re sure nobody else has and you’re about to send it out. There’s a feeling of being vulnerable, of knowing you’re about to write something that may be disputed. In those instances, you can only trust your own judgment and hope that you’ve earned the benefit of the doubt by being accurate in the past. That’s easy to say, but when you think about it, it’s a scary place to be.

3. Should I as a fan or journalist or media consumer care who breaks the Antonio Bastardo signing or that Ruben Tejada is on waivers?
That’s a good question, Vork.
I won’t tell you what to do, because the answer to that revolves around what you value. Many folks highly value that kind of stuff. I don’t blame them. However, I will say it’s more important to be mindful of who gets things right while also getting things first. Reliability should matter.

4. You were one of the first reporters that I noticed that truly seemed to cater to and feed your Twitter following. What’s the next stage for reporters in trying to stay relevant and ahead of the curve on social media? Is Twitter enough anymore?
That’s a good question, Vork.
Twitter is just a tool, a delivery method. Those change. What doesn’t change is the idea of connecting with the people that you’re supposed to be serving. So, if you’re asking what the next delivery method will be, my answer is I have no idea. But whatever it is, the things you do to connect with people will likely be exactly the same. For me, that means being approachable, and making people feel like they’re part of a community. I’ve long beaten the “should of” Twitter gag into the ground. But I still do it because a.) I’m juvenile and a little healthy trolling never hurt anyone and b.) it has become an inside joke, and I love it when the folks who have followed for years can get a chuckle out of it, and remember when they were the know-it-all internet grammar policeman who was all like “YOU IDIOT YOU RIGHT FOR A NEWS PAPER AND DON’T KNOW THAT ITS SHOULD’VE?”

5. What the hell is it like to cover baseball and live out of airports and hotels and be in Florida for two months at a time for nearly a decade straight?
That’s a good question, Vork.
The schedule makes you value routine. It keeps you sane. Sometimes, it’s just little things. For instance, my wife gets so annoyed with me on vacation because I pack very quickly out of habit. So, it would be time to go off to the next stop on our rip, and I’d be waiting by the door before she’d be finished gathering all her shoes. On the road, I’d rather spend my time doing something fun, not packing. That time adds up. One thing I do every night no matter where I am is call home. It might be for only five minutes but I do it. Again, it keeps me sane. Frankly, the biggest thing is being able to sleep on airplanes. If I couldn’t do that, there’s no way this would work.

6. Is baseball boring?
That’s a good question, Vork.
It’s only boring to those who can’t savor something beautiful over a long period of time.

7. If you could tweak something about the way baseball (or sports) is covered, what would it be?
That’s a good question, Vork.
I’d ditch Pitch F/X in favor of having Wags just eyeball everything. Then, I’d automatically revoke the credential of every joker who began a question with some version of the words “talk about…” Finally, I’d make it so I didn’t have to write constantly during games, which is really just s newspaper thing I suppose. I swear I see more on a baseball field when I’m watching at home than when I’m watching at work. That’s because I’m not worried about hitting a deadline when I’m watching at home.

8. Story time: Who is the player you’ve most enjoyed covering? Why?
That’s a good question, Vork.
Long answer: I don’t have a favorite player per se, but I do have a favorite type. I enjoy coming across the guys who have bounced around a little bit because they bring perspective. They’re skilled enough to have stuck around but they’ve also been forced to put the pieces together when things aren’t going well. I find that those are the people that have the most to teach you about baseball. For example, I don’t profess to know mechanics inside and out. I’m a storyteller, not a coach. I’ll never pretend to be something I’m not. But it sure is nice to have a group of people who will answer your calls and texts when you’re doing a story and need an honest answer for a question about mechanics. If you’re doing this job correctly, you are constantly encountering gaps in your knowledge. My favorite players to cover are the ones who are willing to help you fill those gaps in your knowledge.
Short answer: Bartolo Colon. Why?  That’s hella obvious.
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 Newsday — because that’s not fair)
That’s a good question, Vork.
There’s too many to name. Sounds like a cop out, but it’s the truth. So, I’ll refrain from revealing my play list simply to avoid leaving somebody out by accident. I will say this though: there’s so much good stuff out there. Sure, there’s plenty of crap, too. But at least it’s not hard to find great writing if you’re looking for it.

10. How many ballcaps do you own right now? What’s your favorite? And how did this obsession get started?
That’s a good question, Vork.
I’m up to around 180. My favorite is the original Los Angeles Angels cap with the interlocking “LA” and the halo on top. One of the kids from “The Sandlot” wore it and I always told myself I’d have my own one day. I went on a school trip to Atlanta and bought a 70s style blue Braves cap. I guess I got carried away. This was before the idea of “throwbacks.” A lot of the fun was finding these random old mom and pop sporting goods stores and hoping they had some of these caps laying around because they couldn’t sell them. I once picked up a pair of St. Louis Browns caps and a Colt 45s cap for like 15 bucks. I miss those days.

A Q&A with the Washington Post’s James Wagner on empathy for hispanic players, PEDs, and growing up around the world

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.

This week, it’s James Wagner of the Washington Post. James covers the Washington Nationals for the Post and has one of the more interesting and non-traditional viewpoints I’ve noticed among baseball reporters. He was just honored the Associated Press Sports Editors with a top-10 finish for breaking news. We talked about how being bilingual effects his coverage, PEDs and his globetrotting as a kid.

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’ll try to give you the short version because I don’t want to bore people already. Journalism has always been a part of my life. I grew up overseas because of my father’s job in the U.S. Foreign Service. My connection to home was through the news. Living in other countries, I saw first-hand the importance of information and its place in democracy.

Another connection to the U.S. for me was sports. I listened or watched U.S. sporting events on the Armed Forces Network, the military TV and radio channel that aired select games. I followed news coverage of U.S. sports on the internet. Baseball has a special place though. It is the national sport in Nicaragua, where my mom is from, so it part of the culture, too. I lived in Venezuela as a kid and people are addicted to baseball there.

So I guess it was only natural that when I started in journalism it was in sports, and then it skewed toward baseball. (I love soccer, too, and I’m not just saying that because you asked the question, Mike.) I didn’t study journalism in school; I was a sociology major at the University of Virginia. I learned how to write a story at the school paper. (Shouts out to fellow Cavalier Daily alum Joe Lemire.)

That led to journalism programs outside of school and summer internships (the Fayetteville Observer in sports, Louisville Courier-Journal in news, and the Wall Street Journal in sports). That led to my first job (the Los Angeles Times), my second job (the San Gabriel Valley Tribune covering local news) and where I work now (the Washington Post), covering high school sports and then the Nationals. I’m indebted to everyone who helped me along the way. I told some bad jokes and they still gave me jobs.

2. What benefit do you think being bilingual affords you on a baseball beat?

It is an enormous benefit. I’m grateful that my mom not only spoke Spanish to me since birth but that she was a tough and thorough teacher. I remember asking her to check over my Spanish literature class essays in high school, watching her rip it up because it wasn’t good enough and being pushed to do better. It may have annoyed me as a teenager but it prepared for me using Spanish daily in my job like I do now.

I was lucky to grow up in a bilingual family and also have an understanding of Latin American culture. Latin American players I cover and meet see that I not only understand what they are saying but where they are coming from. It puts them at ease, and then they feel more comfortable about opening up about deeper issues, personal stories or speaking their mind without fear of being misquoted or misunderstood.

3. Are Hispanic players covered fairly and equally in baseball journalism?

No. And it bugs me. This is the cycle I’ve seen repeat itself often: a Latin American player doesn’t speak English well or feels uncomfortable in English so is reluctant to speak it. Said player doesn’t talk much to reporters then. Said player then gets labeled as quiet or, in some cases, a reclusive teammate. Said player might even be considered less perceptive as his teammates. Said player may not enjoy the attention – deserving or not — or ability to speak their mind because of less coverage. Said player has those labels stick with them until, perhaps, his English improves and he is proficient enough to talk deeply about issues.

I’ve been around two Nationals players that fell into those categories: Rafael Soriano and Yunel Escobar, guys with checkered pasts. I found that they belied their reputations in some ways: they were smart players who noticed a ton about the game and shared their observations with teammates, they were funny and quirky, and they were polite and professional with me.

An example: last spring training, I convinced Escobar to finally tell the story of his defection from Cuba in full detail. He had told some of it before, but never to a Spanish-speaking reporter, so so much was missing. After the story ran, Nationals reliever Drew Storen stopped me in the clubhouse to say that he enjoyed the story, more so because he couldn’t really communicate with his own teammate that way and it taught him a lot about Escobar’s wild path to the majors and that of other Cubans.

Our job as journalists is to communicate. And if we can’t communicate with a large portion of the people we cover, we need to do something about it. The lack of Spanish-speaking reporters in a sport with so many Spanish-speaking players – let alone history and culture — is an unfortunate reflection of our industry.

4. Journalism and reporting is covered and evaluated closer than ever, not just by the media but by fans and readers on Twitter. I noticed it on the Mets beat and I know the Nationals beat has it too, with certain followers and other sites recognizing and calling out B.S. or shoddy reporting. What do you think of this new and grass-roots check on bad journalism as a layer separate than the editors and team officials you’re already accountable to?

I welcome it. I’m not sitting in an ivory tower immune to criticism or feedback from readers. We are the Washington Post and we have to get it right but there’s always room for improvement. I’m open to ideas from others, including readers and Twitter ombudsmen. I listen with a grain of salt given their point of view, and weigh it with what I know as a reporter, what I know about the team, the player, situation, etc.

There are some very smart fans and readers out there. But Twitter seems to bring out hyper-criticism from some fans so I look at what they say, in large part, to get a sense for the public discourse. I’m at a stadium most of the time so I don’t get to interact with fans as often as I do with players and team officials, so readers and fans offer a valuable perspective.

5. Ryan Zimmerman was among the latest athletes and baseball players to be tied to performance enhancing drug use. He denied and has even sued the company that reported it. Outside of just his particular case, how do you go about reporting on something like that and covering those types of athletes. And should we even care anymore about PED use period?

During my time covering the Nationals so far, two players have been linked to PED use: Gio Gonzalez (later cleared) and Ryan Zimmerman. They are thorny issues to cover because it requires a lot of time and reporting to sort out fact from fiction, fair accusation from unfair. And until a resolution is reached in any investigation, that cloud hangs over the team and player.

When I had to write stories – on the initial accusations and subsequent follow-ups – I think both players understood I was doing my job and that I always strive for fairness. In Zimmerman’s case, my colleague Will Hobson and I reported and wrote two long follow-up stories looking at linked athletes’ relationships with one personal trainer and also two anti-aging clinics. I have a duty to still cover the team and accused player, hear both sides, check out statements and pursue questions about both. It has involved a lot of connecting the dots, phone calls and document reading.

Stepping back, I think people should care about PED use mostly because rules are rules. If the league and players union agreed that human growth hormone is banned, then it should be enforced, and I will cover that thoroughly. The deeper question of whether PEDs should be allowed overall is tricky.

There are harmful and unstudied effects to these supplements. Sacrificing your health or quality of life for the sake of winning, better performance and better pay probably shouldn’t be condoned. But that’s a slippery slope. Should a consenting adult be allowed to consume them anyway? I guess. Professional athletes have different standards given their jobs. They are performers, almost gladiators in certain sports. Baseball has a grueling schedule. These guys are human. Despite being well=compensated, it is not easy to play that much and that well for that long.

6. What is Bryce Harper like to cover on a day to day basis and how do you approach that when you’ve got one player who looms so large over an organization? The Washington Post just did a whole Bryce-centric preview section, even.

I’ve been around Harper since 2012, his rookie season. He has grown and matured during that time, much of it behind the scenes. But I have always found him to be smarter, more polite and thoughtful than the public may think. The public outside of D.C. seems to see Harper as cocky, brash, outspoken, occasional malcontent. He has some brash and outspoken qualities, but that is his personality. Superstars have edge. He does. But he is very observant, he thinks a lot about the game, has always been courteous and kind to me and other reporters, cares a lot about fans, and is more laid-back off the field. In group interviews, he is subdued and team-oriented. In one-on-one interviews, he is candid and open.

In terms of coverage, Harper has a different bar to deal with. An 0 for 10 slump or error by him is seen differently than, say, catcher Wilson Ramos. That attention cuts both ways; like when he does well on the field and receives a lot of fanfare for it. In other words: because Harper is such a big personality, the best player on the team and among the best in the sport, readers are always hungry to read about him. Our 2016 preview section was a reflection of that: because Harper does loom so large in the organization, we needed to step back to examine his place in it, with fans, owners/front office, teammates, his manager, etc. He was cooperative and thoughtful in explaining each facet.

7. What would you change about how baseball is covered?

Compared to what I’ve seen and heard about other professional sports, MLB has the most access for reporters. The league office is good to deal with and is very responsive. On that end, baseball has a leg up on other leagues. I wasn’t around much when clubhouses used to open after batting practice – which would be nice to still have – but I’ve still found that I can get plenty of reporting done before batting practice. It just may take a few days to knock out a feature story but I can plan ahead.

I’d love to see the diversity (or language proficiency) of the press corps improve. I’d love to see baseball journalism, as a whole, scale back this hyper focus on transactional reporting. Twitter seems have sparked a reporting world in which stories are moved a yard at a time, like micro-level incremental reporting. I see some young aspiring reporters focusing on that transactional reporting. I hope attention isn’t taken away from the many great and needed deeper stories about athletes, trends and issues.

8. Which athlete has been the best to cover for you? Want to share a story or two?

Too many to name. In my first few years of covering baseball, when everything was new and I wasn’t totally sure what I doing, Ian Desmond, Craig Stammen and Adam LaRoche were exceptionally kind to me. They took the time when I asked for it, and they let me bounce my goofy and harebrained story ideas off them, too. Many others have stood out since – Soriano, Ross Detwiler, Jerry Blevins, Tyler Moore, Jordan Zimmermann and several current Nationals —  but I was around those three for the longest.

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 Washington Post — because that’s not fair)

I can’t name one. Don’t do this to me. There are too many and I’m going to get grief for who I do and don’t choose.

I love reading for good and unique sports writing (my hero Dave Sheinin, Barry Svrluga, Chuck Culpepper, Andy McCullough, Mike Vorkunov, Derrick Goold, Rick Maese, Kent Babb, Andrew Baggarly, John Branch.) But I really love reading for interesting and new ideas (Travis Sawchik, Pedro Moura, Marc Carig, Jorge Arangure, Adam Kilgore, Nick Piecoro, Ben Cohen, Jared Diamond, Scott Cacciola, Kevin Clark, Bill Shaikin, Andrew Keh). But I read a lot about non-baseball, non-sports things, such as music and Chris Richards and Jeff Weiss are among my favorites.

10. You grew up on army bases around the world. Your father was a diplomat. And this is probably one of the more harrowing first-person accounts I’ve read from a reporter’s life experience. What kind of influence did your childhood have on how you view the world and the way you work?

Well, I didn’t grow up on bases. We lived in the communities. The government helped us out in each country and, for example, when we lived in Belgium we lived in a townhouse in a French-speaking neighborhood in Brussels. I went to international schools in most of the places we lived; except for in Venezuela, where I went to a good local elementary school in Spanish.

Growing up all over the world, moving every 2-3 years, being far from family, losing friends with each move and being in some dangerous places wasn’t easy. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Sounds obvious, but I gained a deeper understanding of how life works in other countries. I saw what terrorism was first-hand before 9/11 showed the tragic impact stateside. I saw what third-world poverty looked like, and saw the lingering impact of colonialism and globalization. I learned so much about the wonderful cultures, foods and traditions from the Philippines to Venezuela to Peru to Belgium. My sister was born in Madrid, Spain and my brother was born in Managua, Nicaragua. Each of is a mixture of each place we have lived and visited.

So when I meet people from all over the world and country while reporting or traveling for work, I have a greater appreciation for them. I also feel like my life experience has helped give me the ability to relate to people from all walks of life.

You can check out the first two Q&As below:


A Q&A with Buzzfeed’s Lindsey Adler on women in media, finding stories and San Fran vs. NY

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.

This week, it’s Lindsey Adler of Buzzfeed. Lindsey covers sports for the site, does really good work over there and has one of the most interesting Twitter accounts in sports media. You can follow her here. We talked about how she finds stories, her outspokenness, and San Francisco vs. New York.

You can check out the first Q&A, with the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond, 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?

A couple years ago BuzzFeed opened an internship for someone to cover women’s issues in sports. I figured that was the perfect intersection of my interests, and an entry level position in an industry that makes it tough to get them without a good bit of experience. I got that internship, went to VICE Sports for a bit after the internship ended, then our news director at BuzzFeed reached out after they’d decided to create a full-time sports position on the breaking news desk. And they’ve just let me be really flexible and grow from there!

2. When you first started working at Buzzfeed, how would people and sources respond to interview requests and your reporting? Did you experience any resistance or were people like, oh great, Buzzfeed is expanding its news-gathering now? There’s very good work being done there but there’s usually a lag in acceptance of new media organizations.

I think this is really interesting, and something I do have to think about quite a bit. I think overall, at least outside of the industry, BuzzFeed is still thought of as kind of a one-dimensional, non-news outlet. Mostly, I think people are kind of like, “Oh, I didn’t know BuzzFeed did news,” which, ok, it’s been like, four and a half years, but I understand not everyone is plugged into every shift in strategy from new media companies. A lot of people reach out to me, though, because they know we have a massive audience. But we are not a destination outlet for sports, mostly because it’s just me, and I’ve seen a few stories that should/could have been my exclusive, based on prior reporting and sourcing, go to the Times or other legacy publications. I understand that, though it sucks. If you’re an attorney and want your impending lawsuit to make a huge statement, legacy media is a pretty safe bet. But we have proven impact from reporting, too. And I think despite a skewed public perception, the reporting that comes out of our newsroom speaks for itself.
I think I experience that push-back more from other reporters than from story subjects. I am also a young person new to the industry, so it’s hard to know how much of it is an institutional perception or just that I might not have “proven” myself yet, which I think is fine. However, the worst instance of this I can remember is from the Aaron Hernandez trial, when a NY tabloid reporter asked me if I was going to, “like, write a listicle about this?” and I said, “uh, dude, this is a murder trial.”

3. You have the luxury of covering every league and every sport. And the burden of not having a beat that can produce stories for you. How do you approach getting stories?

Not having a single sport/team beat is more of a blessing than a curse, but there are some downsides I see. For instance, as you mention, I don’t have a beat that just brings a daily news cycle to me. It is also harder to get like, deeply sourced in one area when I jump around. But the freedom and flexibility I’ve been allowed in my original reporting in the two years I’ve been at BuzzFeed has been so helpful and revealing to me about my interests, strengths, and weaknesses. I’ve really been allowed to kind of try my hand at a lot of different types of reporting, which is something I think is invaluable as a young reporter and something I will credit BuzzFeed with for the rest of my career, probably. I approach getting stories often by keeping an eye on off-hand mentions of some athlete’s weird interest or a cool initiative a team or league is doing. Because a lot of my friends also know I’m inclined to chase the stories about outsiders with unique backstories (Hi, I report what I am, I guess), they sometimes give me heads-ups about cool stories to check out as well.

4. How in the world do you find a college football prospect on a native American reservation? And then report it out?

This is funny, because my story about Bona Nez is actually a story that came to me as a suggestion from a friend/BuzzFeed colleague, Joel Anderson. Nez was on the leaderboard for I think a couple different categories of defensive stats last year on MaxPreps, and Joel is a huge high school football fan. (Hello, Texas.) He wasn’t able to get to the story at the time, so he was gracious enough to allow me to pitch it to my editor, who told me to hop on a plane and go for it.

Reporting for that story was interesting and fun. That Arizona-border corner of New Mexico is unfathomably beautiful, and a part of the country I definitely wouldn’t have seen without this story. But when I spoke with my editor, I asked for permission to spend at least a week down there with his family and in the area, because it is a community and culture that is so different from what I know. I felt a real imperative to get this story right, and I was just fortunate that the Nez family was so open and accommodating to me.

5. You’ve been very vocal and informative on women’s issues and representation in sports and media. Was there ever apprehension for you to be outspoken, especially as a young journalist still trying to find your standing? I’m sometimes more conservative in putting out my opinion on things just out of caution. Maybe it’s living in the (old?) theory of just wanting to focus on reporting but that seems to be a relic now on Twitter and for good reason.

I think I need to be less vocal, honestly. It’s something I’ve really worked on scaling back over the last few months, but I am outspoken by nature, and it often feels like a difficult process to keep my thoughts to myself. But I also think of all the people with experiences different than my own whose perspective I might not understand if they were not vocal, so I hope my outspokenness can be productive in that way for people who might care deeply about gender equality, but don’t have first-hand perspective. I think my outspokenness about gender issues actually *built* some of my standing in my industry as it kind of carved out a niche role for me, but I am careful now to pigeon-hole myself in that role, and I recognize that being openly combative in this industry is a disastrous career strategy.

6. This tweet really struck me, for obvious reasons. How much shit do you and other women reporters still have to put up with that men and people who don’t deal with this are just blind or ignorant to?

Look, male reporters get shitty emails too. But from what I have seen, heard, and inferred, most of the hate-mail men receive focuses on a perceived lack of expertise, bias in their work, or other things related to their actual reporting/writing. Women are more prone to personal attacks.
I don’t receive emails like this all the time, but things like this happen intermittently. I think women are generally more inclined to share those particular experiences, but the thing that I really wanted to focus on in sharing this most recent email was the *response* I get from otherwise well-meaning people. “Brush it off,” is okay in theory, and I understand good-natured people want to remind you that you are not what one anonymous commenter says. But this shit still hurts, it sucks. It makes you weep, doubt yourself, wonder why you’re doing it. And for outsiders, people who don’t experience it, to act like you should be “strong enough” to brush it off feels like a dismissal of my right to reaction. More than a couple women reached out to me to tell me that when they receive emails like this, they feel it’s “weak” to feel upset about them, and that they were thankful to see that imbalance addressed. That meant more to me than the many very nice tweets about my character and work.

7. What do you think is over-reported and over-covered in sports and what needs more attention?

I think agent agendas and the minutia of personnel transaction is frustratingly over-reported. I mean, but how do you *not* report on the Dodgers “showing interesting” in Player To Be Named Later, or whatever? But I see so many transaction and scoops reporters who seem to have their platforms used by agents, players, teams, and leagues with agendas. I don’t have those connections, so it’s easy for me to say, though.
I think what happens after a career ends is a subject that can never be covered enough. When it comes to football, the health issue is a big part of that, of course. But in general, I see the transition out of sport as something that’s very difficult for athletes to grapple with, and it leads to a lot of cool decision-making as well as a lot of sad decision-making.

8. As a young journalist (I’m shaming myself just for using that term) and someone who also might need to spend oh god how many years until retirement, how much do you think about the unsteady nature of the field, its changing structure and what it means long-term for you?

Uh, I can’t believe journalism is the wagon to which I’ve hitched myself. I recognize that I’ve got a pretty damn good deal going at BuzzFeed News, but I look out at the sports media/media landscape at large and think, “Oh god, there are so few attractive options.” Right now, I just hope that I can continue to do work I find fulfilling.

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 Buzzfeed — because that’s not fair)

The best writer I read is Rebecca Solnit, who is probably not the best technical writer, but is the one who simultaneously makes me want to give up, try harder, be smarter, recognize my limits.
Seth Wickersham at ESPN the Magazine is someone I think doesn’t get enough attention, at least from what I see. I think he’s a very versatile reporter whose work I’d probably like to emulate.

10. So you’re from San Francisco and moved to New York. How do the two food scenes compare? Dare I ask you to pick between them?

I’m not going to make any friends with this answer, but here goes:
I’m a vegetarian who can’t eat dairy (so, functionally vegan as it seems like “slathered in cheese” is the default vegetarian option at restaurants), so this is an easy choice for me: San Francisco is superior in every way.
The produce in New York is absolute garbage and I will not stand for these bullshit avocados. Everyone in this city just wants to eat pastrami and carbs and I can’t deal with it. San Francisco restaurants accommodate a wide range of dietary structures, and a vegan meal is more than just “warm noodles with olive oil on them.” There are some vegetarian/vegan friendly places in NYC, of course, but they are establishments to be sought out; in San Francisco a vegan option on a menu is essentially a right. I know this answer will make literally everyone hate me — I SAW every NFL reporter making fun of the Vegan Dogs concession at the Super Bowl in Santa Clara — but I don’t care. I love healthy food and I don’t care who knows it!!!