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Managing Expectations of Sports Journalism (Why Todd Rosiak Isn’t a Shill)

(Image: Totalprosports.com)

In JSOnline.com’s most recent online chat with Brewers beat writer Todd Rosiak, one participant named Craig called into question the professionalism of Mr. Rosiak and his colleague Tom Haudricourt (edited for clarity):

Is it accurate to characterize what you and Haudricourt do with the Brewers as journalism?  It seems like you guys hardly do more than serve as a mouthpiece for the organization…relaying the desired narrative. Considering Journal Communications and the Brewers are long standing business partners, is it unrealistic for fans to think the beat writers will do anything beyond soft peddle the coverage?

Rosiak speculated Craig’s question was motivated by specific anti-player/manager animus, and said “Our job is to report on what happens, not editorialize.”  That’s all well and good, and while it appears that Craig was being provocative, it’s true the Brewers and Journal Communications have overlapping business interests.  Is it reasonable to assume that we, the sports journalism consumers, are getting an inferior product because of those overlapping interests?

The Milwaukee Brewers certainly are able to choose what journalists have access to players and coaching staff, so it makes sense those with access wouldn’t want to lose it.  But imagine the Brewers decided they didn’t like Rosiak asking questions about (say) optioning John Axford to Nashville, and revoked his press credentials.  If Rosiak was behaving professionally and asking reasonable questions, the Brewers would have a scandal on their hands.  They would come under heavy fire from professional and amateur sportswriters alike.  Therefore the Brewers have nothing to gain by insisting that reporters “relay a desired narrative,” or taking punitive action against those who don’t “soft peddle the coverage.”

Likewise, Rosiak has nothing to gain by ignoring fans’ interests.  If he doesn’t produce content people want to read, he’ll find himself out of a job.  One gets the impression Craig’s complaint is a matter of semantics.  Rather than asking Ron Roenicke something like, “How long are you going to stick with Rickie Weeks?” Craig might prefer Rosiak used a wording along the lines of, “Why are you letting this sucker Weeks waste a spot in your starting lineup?”  That certainly wouldn’t be soft peddling coverage.  That also would guarantee Rosiak loses his access without anyone feeling sorry for him.

The work of Rosiak and Haudricourt speaks for itself.  Last week, Rosiak wrote a blog post reporting on Roenicke dropping Weeks in the lineup, which noted, “overall this is the second consecutive season the 2011 All-Star Game starter has gotten off to a miserable start at the plate.”  When Axford gave up a two-run lead and took a loss against the Pirates earlier this month, Haudricourt’s game recap post on the pitcher’s “melt down” led with, “Even when he is on a string of solid pitching performances, his tormenter always seems to lurk around the corner.  The home run.”

That doesn’t seem like soft peddling coverage to me, although your mileage may vary.  But even if you don’t care for Rosiak and Haudricourt’s work, it’s silly to accuse them of not being journalists.  Maybe folks like Craig need to be more realistic about what they expect from journalism.