08 June 2012

Humanitarian Journalism is like Sports Journalism?

Bill Simmons (fellow HC grad!) shared his most recent discussion with Malcolm Gladwell on the Grantland blog. At one point, Simmons brought up the ideas whether having a high concentration of reporters in sports stifles the ability to get honest and interesting stories.
Quick story: You mentioned that pesky Abrams kid — a few months ago, we assigned him an oral history of the Artest melee, which was an absolute bitch to report. A bunch of the principals weren't exactly eager to talk about what happened, including Reggie Miller, who would give an interview to a 15-year-old reporter from the Saskatoon Gazette if he was writing about those Knicks-Pacers wars from the 1990s, but hides under the scorer's table when he hears the words "Artest melee." Anyway, Abrams went to a Bucks game hoping to grab 10 minutes with Stephen Jackson, not knowing if Jackson would definitely speak about what happened. You know what Jackson told him? He had been waiting for someone to ask him about the melee! For years! Here's the most infamous night in recent NBA history, and here's one of the principals — one of the league's best quotes, by the way — and he's been waiting for years for someone to bring it up?????

...that Jackson story made me wonder if we (by "we," I mean the sports media) need to recalibrate everything we're doing. Do we really need 25 people crammed in baseball locker rooms fighting for the same mundane quotes? What's our game plan for the fact that — thanks to the Internet and 24-hour sports stations — a city like Boston suddenly has four times as many sports media members as it once had? Why are we covering teams the same way we covered them in 1981, just with more people and better equipment? If I could watch any Celtics game and press conference from my house (already possible), and there was a handpicked pool of reporters (maybe three per game, with the people changing every game) responsible for pooling pregame/postgame quotes and mailing them out immediately, could I write the same story (or pretty close)? If we reduced the locker room clutter, would players relax a little more? Would their quotes improve? Would they trust the media more? Why haven't we experimented at all? Any "improvements" in our access have been forgettable. Seriously, what pearls of wisdom are we expecting from NBA coaches during those ridiculous in-game interviews, or from athletes sitting on a podium with dozens of media members firing monotone questions at them? It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of forgettable quotes, like the $7.99 prime rib extravaganzas at a Vegas casino or something.There's Russell Westbrook at the podium for $7.99! Feast away! We laugh every time Gregg Popovich curmudgeonly swats Craig Sager away with four-word answers, but really, he's performing a public service. He's one of the few people in sports who has the balls to say, "This couldn't be a dumber relationship right now."
The exchange between Laura Seay and Tristan McConnell seems to tread on this territory. Seay lamented in Foreign Policy that the lack of foreign correspondents provides a challenge to getting quality reports. Furthermore, the correspondents in country flock to the same regions and cities. Because of that, they end up telling some of the same stories. McConnell shot back disagreeing with Seay that all reporting is not bad from Africa.

Rather than try to analyze and pick sides, I want to know what the current state of foreign reporting from Africa allows and prohibits. For Simmons, there are too many reporters in the locker room. Seay's concern is that there are too few in Africa.  There is no doubt that there are excellent writers in both fields, but to what extent are stories lost? McConnell has done a superb job writing about Sudan as of late, but he is hampered by being based in Nairobi.

Prue Clarke thinks that aid agencies should fund media. She argues that doing so will support their programs, "Aid agencies should support media in their jobs; include smart media strategies as part of their work; fund good journalism; not take journalists out of positions where they are making a difference; and start a national conversation that will open eyes and change destructive attitudes." 

Though to what extent does that avoid the issue of crowding? Furthermore, NGOs funding journalists may compromise the independence of the reporters. It may also lead to reports that journalists think will make the funding NGOs happy. Or it could do exactly what Clarke argues and provide better information that leads to better interventions.

The simple point of agreement is that journalism from African can and should be better. The question is how? DAWNS is one experiment to find that answer, but I do not propose to know it quite yet.