You make the call, I’ll answer
September 22, 2010 - Jeff Fishbein
With apologies to humorist Dave Barry, it’s time for a visit with Ask-Mr.-Sports-Editor-Person, a chance to answer some of the questions I receive throughout the sports year — usually in my voice mail, anonymously, often followed by an abrupt hangup. All of these are based on actual calls I’ve received:
Why weren’t the Phillies in the paper today?
This question almost always comes when the team is in on the West Coast, or goes into the 17th inning around midnight. And I just shake my head.
Most of you understand this, but the newspaper is not printed just as it hits your doorstep. In fact, we in the sports department have to be done with it shortly after midnight just so you can read it with your morning coffee.
I will point out that, to my knowledge, no other morning paper that circulates in the region waits as long as we do and has as many late scores and up-to-date standings as we do, something we take pride in.
Why weren’t the results to (event) in the paper today?
This one usually applies to non-scholastic sports, but regardless of the event, I can almost always guarantee that this is the answer: Because no one told us.
During the school year, our efforts are focused on scholastic sports, and in the summer that turns to youth sports. But, we can only cover so many things in person. On average, we attend two or three games a day, with as many as 15 or 20 being played. If the coach doesn’t report a game, it doesn’t get in the paper.
Then there are non-school events, ranging from bowling leagues to road races. We may not even know these are taking place until a score sheet shows up in our office — and we certainly can’t put it in the paper if we don’t know it happened.
Why don’t you cover Pitt?
Yes, there are Pitt fans in the area. And fans of Temple, the largest school in the eastern half of the state. And if you add them together, they still are dwarfed not only by the Penn State fans, but probably by Notre Dame fans — we don’t cover the Irish, either — and probably fans of other major colleges.
Penn State is not only the most popular, but because of it’s close proximity to the Juniata Valley, has an impact on our economy and our daily lives (or at least our weekend lives) — so we cover Penn State.
Why only Penn State football and not basketball?
Penn State has a basketball team?
Why do you only show pictures of or print names of certain kids?
It’s not “certain” kids — that is to say, we don’t go into a game planning on photographing, or writing about, specific individuals.
But, the kid who runs for 120 yards and three touchdowns is more likely to be mentioned — or get his picture in the paper — than the third-string interior lineman who was on the field for three downs. That’s just the way sports is — it’s not a socialist collective.
And, a team photo is no substitute for actual journalism, the craft we practice — it doesn’t convey an image of the game that allows the readership at large to enjoy our coverage (however, we do post additional photos taken at most of our games on our CU website).
Why are you biased against my kid’s school?
We’re not. Period.
I actually had a person tell me once that they took a ruler and measured the number of lines of text and the size of the photos from their school’s games compared to another. Seriously. I gotta tell you — I can’t compete with that, and I won’t even try.
But, I do keep track through the regular season to ensure the schools we cover are receiving their fair share of press. Some sports get more than others — especially in the fall, when there are more sports, period — and some schools (with more teams) will be covered more often. But it’s pretty even until the playoffs, when only the schools that are winning will get covered, for obvious reasons.
Individually, we don’t root for anyone, either. In fact, it’s our job to not care who wins or loses (a corollary question came from the caller who asked why we only cover their school when it loses; surprisingly, the coaches don’t tell me in advance which games they will not win).
Personally, on a chilly night in October when we’re in the 87th minute of a 0-0 soccer game, the only thing I’m rooting for is the clock.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.