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What Makes A Good Sportswriter?

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With the recent heat on the site regarding different A’s writers and the integrity of AN, I thought I could open up a thread to talk about what exactly you, as the AN community, look for and expect from your A’s writers.

I don’t pretend to envy the job of our sportswriters; they have a tough line to toe. Not only must they give the public enough information to keep them coming back to the site, but they must be careful not to alienate their employers--or worse--the players themselves, who can be a valuable source of information. In fact, as we have seen many times in the A’s organization, perhaps the only source.

In a lot of ways, we are able to do the A’s more justice on a site like AN than if we were MLB beat writers for the club. The difference is simple; the official writers know more information and have legitimate sources, yet can’t share most of it; whereas we can say whatever we want, but have to figure out information for ourselves. Even with that disadvantage, quite often, the pure, unvarnished, unbiased truth will find its way onto AN, long before it’s even confirmed.

Contrary to popular AN lore, the front page writers are by no means pressured, obligated, or encouraged to keep to a party line, or tread lightly on any subject concerning the A’s. While it is in our best interest to keep the vitriol to a minimum, we are allowed to express anger, frustration, and disgust through whatever means necessary, and if you don’t believe me, search for my posts the last six months of Macha’s first reign. I thought Macha was a terrible manager long before it was the cool thing to do, and I never wavered from that position. Did I have any particular inside information? Not counting the blackmail picture someone <ahem Nico> took of me with him, and the conversation we had in a hotel lobby about Swisher’s bedtime, I had no extra insight. Like everyone else, I relied solely on information from our sports liaisons.

However, it doesn’t take someone associated with the club to have sensed the trouble in paradise with Ken Macha; we just didn’t know the details until after the fact. And all of us held our breath during Milton Bradley’s time here; as liked as he was during his stint, mere precedence suggested that something would happen under the right (or wrong) conditions. And no matter how many times I hear that Rich Harden will get healthy, or Bobby Crosby will get good, I don’t believe it. But not because I have any inside information; I just follow the team.

Things understandably get a little blurry the closer you get to the inside mechanisms of the organization. Mychael Urban and Susan Slusser have befriended players over the years, as their job allows and also demands, and suddenly they find themselves caught not only in the tension between the news-hungry fans and what management will allow them to know, but also between management and the players themselves.

I like writing because I can dig for the truth. Maybe I find it, maybe I don’t, but I can share the process and ultimate conclusions with my fellow posters here. Not so much as a sportswriter. Even if I knew the truth--and I doubt that would happen every time--I would have to write with care, maybe having to eliminate what I know, and on the rare occasions when I allow myself to tell the real story, it is told in bread crumbs that I hope fans can follow. In my current situation, I can pick up what facts I have and run with them, saying exactly what I know, how I feel about it, and guessing at the rest of the story.

But for all of us here, the line is creeping closer. Where it was once perfectly acceptable to talk about players, managers, sportswriters, broadcasters uncensored, even in the heat of the moment, the closer AN actually gets to the A’s, the more reason there is to hit the preview button before the post. Suddenly, if I complain about Duchscherer, he reads the post. If I critique an article by Ray Ratto, it’s possible that he knows. Could I hate on Ken Macha if he opened game threads? (If you are worried, the answer to that will always, always be yes.)

What Blez has done with this site is unprecedented; he literally took a group of people who followed the team together online into a site that rivals any of the big sports news sites, and is in many ways, much better. There is no filter on AN; we are allowed to write and talk about the team--the players, the management, the coaching staff, the writing staff-- twenty-four hours a day. Not only that, but Blez has coaxed the real A’s staff over the barrier that used to exist between AN and the actual Oakland Athletics baseball team, and has allowed us a glimpse into the world that many of us never thought we’d ever get this close to; me included. Whatever negatives this may bring, from my point of view, the positives of this shift simply blow them away.

So does the increasing profile of the site affect how we feel or how we write? And should it?

For those of you who criticize Blez for nothing more egregious than bringing real live A’s employees, coaches, managers and players onto AN, I challenge you to find someone--anyone--who has worked such unfettered access into the A’s organization while still allowing himself full freedom to talk about the team the way he wants to, not the way they might want him to. Blez may have had his struggles in doing so, but I, for one, am glad he is bringing both sides together. If the result is that I have to make a rational argument instead of blindly making negative comments, then so much the better. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

As for me? My true feelings about any facet of the team will always show through, even if I am paying courtesy attention to how I present information. I’m not going to like Billy Beane solely because he grants AN interviews, or comes to AN Day, and although I am deeply appreciative of both, it won’t alter my feelings on recent trades. I can express that I fear for Justin Duchscherer’s health as a starter and think the A’s are making a mistake, health-wise, all the while knowing that Duke could be reading right now. And community member or not, I can tell AN that although Crosby looks like a ballplayer, he hasn’t show me he will ever be one. I’m okay if he reads that, too.

But I recognize that I not only have the freedom to say what I know, but also have the freedom to pick and choose for myself what I want to share, should I be privy to any extra information. I don’t pretend to know what it is like to write in a structured way, and I’m not sure I can expect--given their position--Mychael or Susan to give any more information than they already do.

So, I guess the question behind all of this is: What are you looking for in your A’s news? And do you get it?