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So what’s it like to be a beat writer?

Jan 31, 2014, 11:09 AM EDT

press hat

A great story from Eno Sarris, writing at The Hardball Times, about the life of baseball’s beat writers. He interviewed a handful of really good ones, including Nick Piecoro, C. Trent Rosecrans and Hank Shulman about their jobs. A nice summary at the end:

Maybe Piecoro sums it up best: “I love sitting in press box in San Francisco during day games. I love walking across the Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh. I love putting on a jacket during night games in San Diego. I love looking out over the city from up high in the Wrigley Field press box.

“But, you know, there are annoying parts of the job, too. Deadlines. Transcribing interviews. Boring games, or games that last too long. Trying to create a storyline where there isn’t one.”

A lot of you will probably jump to the “how dare they complain! They have awesome jobs!” If you read this, though — and if you’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of beat writers like I have — you know that most of them aren’t complaining when they talk about the hard parts of their job. They’re just stating facts. It’s a great job sometimes, it’s a pain in the butt sometimes. It’s like most jobs that way. I’ve really only ever heard a couple really complain in a serious way and those guys are not, surprise surprise, considered among the best at their jobs. And they don’t last too long either.

But I also can’t help but think that so much of what is a pain about the beat writers’ job is a function of a media paradigm that is antiquated at this point.  The deadlines and having to come up with storylines on the quick are a function of print media and print deadlines. In an increasingly online world those, one hopes, will go away eventually. The early flights and transcribing are likewise functions of a certain mindset in media. One that may be harder to shake than the existence of actual printing presses, but one which may be worth shaking all the same.

We’ve talked about this a lot over the years, but I feel like the model of beat writers doing game stories and getting player quotes is not the best way to deploy journalistic resources. If you had one guy doing deeper dives and more interesting stories that required player-reporter interaction, and someone else doing game analysis without relying on conventional game stories with (often empty and meaningless) player quotes, reporters wouldn’t have to stay up late to watch the game and then catch that early flight. The guy doing the transcribing wouldn’t have to rush to the press box to think about that night’s game. And, in the end, we’d have two great products from two people doing distinct jobs — or one guy doing both on less-crammed schedules — instead of a product often compromised by the nature of access and reporting.

Obviously it wouldn’t be an easy transition and many who are paid to think about this stuff for media companies have spent a long time trying to figure it out. But I remain fascinated with what sports reporting can be if we think less and less of the old newspaper model and move more and more to a form which follows the function of today’s technology and fan/consumer tastes rather than last century’s.

  1. dan1111 - Jan 31, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    Don’t worry, the old paradigm won’t last forever–and you are doing your part to bring it down!

  2. zzalapski - Jan 31, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    One of the things I miss about The National Sports Daily is their long form articles. Some very good pieces in there, better than a lot of what’s in Sports Illustrated these days.

  3. anxovies - Jan 31, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    With tools like Dragon, and captioning software, you wonder why transcribing player quotes and interviews is such a big deal. There’s an app for that.

    • NatsLady - Jan 31, 2014 at 1:56 PM

      Exactly what I was thinking. You could use the app and then just listen along to see if it made mistakes–which it inevitably will, but still faster and easier than transcribing.

      As for the traveling, that does get old. I had a job that involved heavy travel when I was in my 20s and 30s and it wore me out. Still, I wouldn’t mind being a beat writer if I were young and energetic. Do it for about twenty years, then become a columnist (or blogger…).

  4. racksie - Jan 31, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    Maybe someday soon Craig will be credentialed for a press box beyond spring training and we won’t see photos of him slumming it with the paying customers, and he can show us how it should be done, and act like he belongs there. A man can dream, I guess.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 31, 2014 at 8:12 PM

      Why are you here then, if you don’t enjoy his work?

      • racksie - Feb 13, 2014 at 1:30 AM

        I never said a word about not enjoying his work. It’s the occasional bitterness and sanctimony about his credentials that annoy me sometimes. Mark my words: we will hear about him sitting in a press box in spring trading at least three times.

  5. adross47 - Jan 31, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    “how dare they complain! They have awesome jobs!”

    • skids003 - Jan 31, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      “how dare they complain! At least they have a job.”

  6. Old Gator - Jan 31, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    Hey baby, you wanna know what it’s like to be a beat writer? You gotta learn to compose on the fly, man – you know, you just sit there at your typewriter and just blow like Prez or Bird, you know? And you gotta be a viper, man – you gotta stoke yourself, and you have to write poetry in prose, man – you feed one end of a big roll of paper into your trusty Olivetti and you just whale away man, that’s what, and you don’t edit or stuff like that, and when you’re done you go down to the Village and hang your rap on some fine chick, like, hey, I banged out fifty feet of hot smoking composition today, you know? And then you grab a set of bongos from the man and start cooking and pretty soon you know The Horn will be jammin’ with ya….and then Cody Pomeray comes in and says hey man I got me a fine fine wagon to drive out to the coast, you wanna go? And of course you do, so you grab your pencils and a little notebook and your toothbush and your tambo and a bag of weed and you’re off to where the flight of the seabirds who scatter like lost words and they wheel through their stormy flights subsist at, and that’s what it’s like to be a beat writer, baby. That’s what it’s all about, man.

    • natstowngreg - Jan 31, 2014 at 1:08 PM

      Nah, not an Olivetti, an Underwood. My father’s ancient Underwood helped me get through college and grad school in the early ’70s. Back in the days of typing papers on erasable paper.

      Kids, ask your parents about it.

      • happytwinsfan - Jan 31, 2014 at 2:57 PM

        you were lucky. i had to turn my long hand drafts over to a paid typist. at least the more kindly professors didn’t require the papers to be typed.

    • happytwinsfan - Jan 31, 2014 at 1:42 PM

      fear and loathing at the ballpark?

      • natstowngreg - Jan 31, 2014 at 2:01 PM

        I’d love to see someone give baseball writers the Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo treatment. “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” was a classic of political writing.

  7. natstowngreg - Jan 31, 2014 at 1:13 PM

    As a kid, I wanted to be a baseball announcer. I could think of few better ways of making a living than getting paid to watch ballgames. Turned the sound down on TV games and pretended to be the announcer. Being a reporter would have been nice, too. My stuff could have been in The Sporting News (back when it was worth reading).

    On one level, I regret lacking the talent to do it.

    On another level, I don’t, knowing some of the crap they have to endure.

  8. happytwinsfan - Jan 31, 2014 at 1:35 PM

    these days do any of us really need a baseball “reporter”? we can all google up any statistics, player / team facts, follow any twitter account etc. every second of every major league game, and probably many of the minor league games, is available for us to view on our gigantic home tv’s or computer screens at work. sure reporters might elicit quotes from players, managers, general managers, but few of those are candidly informative.

    baseball reporting, unlike public affairs reporting (not the reality the ideal), is part of an entertainment product, baseball “reporters” should therefore be entertaining. i prefer them to be more like howard cosell or the entertaining alcoholics of the last century.

    • NatsLady - Jan 31, 2014 at 2:04 PM

      Thing is, as a part-time blogger, it’s incredibly time consuming to do that “reporting”, and sort through all that data, and write up the significant portions–the parts that might interest fans of your team.
      On average, just to write up one game took me about two hours, and that’s doing exactly what you describe: watching the game in question, getting best/worst player (by WPA, or whatever), looking up anecdotes, linking to other sites, and trying to be somewhat entertaining. I didn’t interview players or anything, and it STILL took two hours. Then if I wanted to blog on a topic, that was another 2-4 hours, or more, including (1) having the idea (2) gathering the data (3) rough and final drafts.

      So yes, I, as a person without access to the players, CAN gather a lot of stuff. But it takes time and knowledge of exactly what site has what (including at what hour they update their stats). It takes you as a reader under 5 minutes to consume what it took me two hours to assemble.

    • happytwinsfan - Jan 31, 2014 at 2:43 PM


      i apologize for not better appreciating what you do. i had no idea. i was thinking of the more traditional types like, around here, patrick reusse and sid hartman.

      • NatsLady - Jan 31, 2014 at 2:48 PM

        Not a problem. I would love to be a beat writer (if I were younger). I’m a good writer, and I do enjoy it, but it is a slice of your life–and I admit I wimped out the last two weeks of September when the Nats tragic number was, well, tragic.

    • sportsdrenched - Jan 31, 2014 at 4:14 PM

      The problem is it takes time to look all that stuff up. I’m a bigger Seamhead than the general population, but not as big as others. Somedays I just need a quick rundown of what happened and then I can feel not left out of the loop while I get on with the rest of my life.

      Yes beat writers need to tweak what they do with the proliferation of baseball infromation, but IMO they still have a valuable place in the information market.

  9. forsch31 - Jan 31, 2014 at 1:45 PM

    >>>” The deadlines and having to come up with storylines on the quick are a function of print media and print deadlines. In an increasingly online world those, one hopes, will go away eventually.”

    Not really. Not when SB Nation fires its editors for not producing an x-amount of blog posts per day.

  10. savvybynature - Jan 31, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    “having to come up with storylines on the quick are a function of print media and print deadlines. In an increasingly online world those, one hopes, will go away eventually.”

    Soooo…. Deadspin, Buzzfeed, TMZ, et al, is just a figment of my imagination?

  11. dinofrank60 - Jan 31, 2014 at 4:20 PM

    No paper, blog, or whatever is going to consistently pay at least two reporters to cover a baseball game.

    Reporters do have leave early, since they aren’t traveling with the club, but separately.

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