The thing about writing on timely subjects for public consumption is that you are never working in a vacuum. Every interesting, and again, timely subject that floats to the front of your mind is also out there for others to contemplate and write about also.
I have seen that happen many times over the past five years. I have pulled something quite out of thin air and written an article (or an essay as was the last Pitt/PSU rivalry article) only to find that 1) someone had written on the same subject in recent history and I hadn’t seen it or 2) Someone wrote about the same subject immediately after I posted mine.
As a writer and part of the media covering Pitt football I can tell you that if your public wants an article a day to read and discuss you have to really work hard to try to get them unique information and viewpoints to be able to do that.
How do I do that on a regular basis? Well, to put it in bald terms sometimes I borrow subjects from other media outlets and use those as a nucleus of my articles – I expound on them as it were and take what others say or write, and then I inject my own views, opinions and some supporting or contesting facts, then bundle them up in an article and throw it out to Etherland for you all to read.
But I always take great pains to both reference the author and the media the articles are found on and then I link to the original source so that you all can read the source material as it was originally written.
I read almost everything that is published about Pitt football every day and have to say that I see instances of repetition by almost every writer covering the same subject… But I rarely if ever see any attributions to other written work that you just know had to be the genesis of the subject matter for that writer.
I have said many times on here that I am a Blogger and not a Journalist and as such don’t have to abide by constricting rules of journalism. Hell, if you every want to try to ‘get’ how reporters are handcuffed then there are hundreds of sites dedicated to telling a journalists what they can or cannot do.
Bloggers? Not so much. But that is the beauty of a Blog in that I can relay facts, stats, quotes, references, etc… to get you some ‘real’ info then mix in my opinions and impressions, viewpoints from others and also ask leading questions to start comment section discussions.
It is a completely different animal as it were and one that is as firmly ensconced in the public media world as any other sort of reporting or journalism.
But even without written rules or standards for blogs I do have my own. Those I just mentioned above and I truly try to stay within my own boundarys with every word I write. The bottom line is I try to be correct in what I say and let the reader know when I am opinion-sharing or have editorialized – which in the case of The Pitt POV is blog pretty often as you know.
Why am I telling you this?
Because less than 48 hours after I posted the article on the Pitt vs PSU rivalry the Pittsburgh City Paper, which I love and quote often on here, published an almost mirror article, albeit a lot shorter and more quick to the point of what constitutes a college football rivalry.
City Paper’s write Alex Gordon wrote this nice piece this morning on that subject. I loved reading it because it is well written in the 1st person, witty and makes a good point.
But I have to wonder about the timing of it and I sorely hope he didn’t read my piece first without attributing it. Honestly, the odds are that he didn’t read mine at all and that subject just floated into his mind just like some of mine do. As happens with me also.
It is the height of hubris to assume every writer reporting on Pitt football reads my stuff, yet I know that many do because we talk about each others’ work when I meet other Pitt beat reporters.
The reason I’m telling you this is because this type of thing – the repetition of narrow subjects – happens at this time of the ‘football year’ rather often with all the Pitt writers.
In other words there is only so many things to write about and we step on each others’ toes. Especially when….. drum roll please…. the head coach insists on closed practices.
You knew I’d get around to that, didn’t you?
But there is a compound effect when that happens and we see it in the duplication of articles like mine and Mr. Gordon’s City Paper piece.
Look at the articles put out this week between myself, The Pittsburgh Sports Now site, Cardiac Hill, Chris Peak’s articles on Rivals.com, The Tribune Review and the Post-Gazette, etc… you’ll see that we are tripping over each other to try to find something new and interesting to send out to the Pitt fans. There are only so many ways to write about how many and who from the 2016 recruiting class will get playing time this season or who will fill out the rest of the OL past Bisnowaty and Johnson.
I have read four articles in the last 10 days about the need for Pitt to play true FR defensive linemen this season!
This is why I harp on the closed practices so much. I think it does a disservice to the very people the football program is supposed to exist for – the interested and indeed vested parties such as fan, supporters, donors, alumni and students. After that comes, or should come, entities like television outlets and national magazines.
Look at it this way. Pitt squeezes every last cent it can get out of you to finance the football program by soliciting (or demanding) donations, selling apparel that fans and students buy, charging for season tickets and marked-up parking fees. All those are burdens we fans and supporters gladly shoulder as long as Pitt gives us a football program we can enjoy following.
Then there is the real killer fee – the donation cum extortion (and that is exactly what it is) for the ‘right’ to buy certain the best seats and/or have clubhouse access… then charging big money for the actual seat tickets and access tickets themselves.
What is all that? All those costs to the fans?
It is the cost of having the right to as much information as is reasonable to flow from the program to you. I say ‘reasonable’ because I do understand that some things the staff and the team work on is proprietary and needs to be held close to the vest or that there are privacy issues with the students.
In recent years Chryst , Graham and Wannstedt all had mostly open practices. They would close them only if they were installing new plays or new offensive or defensive sets, in other words to sequester things that needed to stay private for effect later. Otherwise they allowed the media to attend and report.
For instance thier camp schedule would specifically lists days when there was no media access, usually once or twice a week…. and that was fine and understood. But here is the difference between then and now in how we writers can provide content to all of you. And boy is it a big difference!
For example, here is my report from a 2014 fall camp practice I attended with Paul Chryst at the helm. Please review it and note the detail in which I recorded info and impressions I had over the course of a two-hour+ practice and then it passed along to you:
Part One: Full Pads Practice – Offense: (2,738 words)
Part Two: Full Pads Practice – Defense (1,1924 words)
From that one practice I provided you with 4,662 words of Pitt football reporting. A national sports magazine article is typically 2000-2500 words in length so that was about two full professional articles. Note that a lot of that coverage was reporting on what the kids did on individual plays during the practice – info that you guys want and gobble up when it is able to be given to you.
Now – compare that to what Pitt released to the public after a typical fall camp closed practice just the other day:
That is 1,731 words of force-fed ambiguity and direct quotes which may or may not be construed as news. It certainly isn’t satisfying to me and I’ll bet it isn’t for you either
Which would you rather read and which gives you more of a sense of being connected to the Pitt football program as a fan, alumni, supporter and donor?
It’s the two-part article of course.
Here is what happens on the Southside with the media present during an open practice…
We are allocated sideline access behind the players and coaches and have allowance to move up and down the sideline to follow the plays being run if that is what is happening… or to move around the perimeter of the field to see different units conduct drills and practices if that is what is happening.
The media knows the boundaries of what the coaching staff and the Pitt media department allow and in all my times of visiting open practices I haven’t seen one instance of the media ‘getting in the way’ or anything like that. We don’t talk to or bother either the players or the staff while the practice is on-going as that would be disruptive.
In the first full practice I attended back when Wannstedt was coaching Chris Lasala, the Director of Football operations and the Sheriff in town on the Southside, recognized my name from the Pitt Blather and came over to let me know that there was an expectation of personal privacy in regards to the players and staff when they were out there conducting their business during practice.
I get that and emotions run high – you see and hear things that should and do remain private. That would never be an issue with me and I believe all those other writers listed above feel the same way.
There are also some media guidelines – unwritten – that are in place. For example that practice I attended and wrote about above was an informal scrimmage and I took verbal notes in my voice recorder on my phone. When I got home and wrote the article I listed about 25 plays that listed the players involved, the play itself and the outcome – who did well and who made mistakes.
As soon as I published it (and yes, everyone at Pitt reads the Blogs) E. J. Borghetti called and asked me to remove those details and explained that while the staff didn’t mind us watching they didn’t want the particular details made public… which then made sense to me also and so I willingly removed them.
But that is the proper give and take that happens when you have a head coach who doesn’t give the impression that he feels the media is out to screw him and his players. My take on Pat Narduzzi is that he might think that way – or I should say that is the sense I get from him as I don’t really know what he’s actually thinking.
I read from fans who sometimes comment about how closed practices are better for the W/L column because it shields from prying eyes of future opponents. Not only is that preety dramatic I believe it is a myth perpetrated by the staff so that they can justify closing practices. The best winning seasons we have had in decades have been with open practices.
Also, stating having the media writing honestly about individual player’s skills, or lack of, and mistakes and/or good plays they make on the practice field contributes to their not doing well later on is also a load of bull. The reporters have been following Pitt football for years and I can’t remember any reasonable media outlet, news, paper, blogs, etc… overly personally criticizing a current player.
If anything you can probably point to some things I have written in the past and say they were critical and that would be true – but they were critical in the true sense of the word and not meant to be harmful. Part of maturing in a real and honest way is hearing criticism of yourself and separating what is valid and what isn’t… and taking those valid constructive criticisms to heart and improving yourself.
If these coaching staffs can’t teach their players that 1) the players themselves are actually human beings who will make mistakes sometimes and 2) those mistakes, as well as the good play they show, will be discussed in the media and to be prepared for that… then the staff isn’t doing their charges any favors.
By completely shielding your players from that is more harmful than good in the long run I firmly believe. Part of a kid’s going from high school at 18 then playing college ball and leaving that school at 22 or 23 is not only bettering his football skills and getting an academic degree. The principle leaders involved in guidance to that young man also have to shepherd his maturation process and keeping them in a tightly controlled bubble works against that.
Now to be fair, the Pitt Media Department works extremely hard to be able to provide us as much access to the practices, players and coaching staff as possible. I appreciate that and understand the rigid constraints put on them by the head coach. It makes their job almost impossible when they can’t do what they are built to do for the program and the athletic department.
And I also try my best to understand the head coach’s point of view with closing practices even if I disagree with it. Pat Narduzzi’s first year here at Pitt was filled with time-consuming road shows and many, many interviews to publicize the ‘new’ football program and draw in the attention of the program’s supporters. I went to two of them and was impressed… and wrote about them.
Looking at this issue as an outsider I also see two things that probably support Narduzzi’s decision in his mind – he had a winning season in his first year and then Pitt sold a record number of season tickets over this last offseason. So maybe people may think that if good things happen with the way Narduzzi is running practices and it ain’t broke then why fix it?
Because this is the exact time where Pitt should be looking forward and not staying stuck in the present. This is the spot where the future looks the brightest for Pitt football than it has in a very long time. We have a an administration who has a vested interest in really building the program for the future, a good HC who says he wants to be here for a long time, and a well populated team.
With all that we need to solidify the fan base and make it so season tickets are hard to come by every season- not have the fan’s interest fluctuate up and down based on if we win or lose one game more than the year before. To do that the athletic department has to create a true “Pitt Family” and not just bandy that term about as a marketing tool.
You do that by giving the members of that Pitt Family as much access and information and thus enjoyment for what they love and even more importantly maybe, what they spend their hard-earned money on to support. Be inclusive in all ways possible and the first step is to let the media provide the people who the team is supposed to be playing for as much information as possible.
I think Pitt owes them that at the very least.