Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What rights do sportswriters deserve?

This question is fresh on my mind, given the wrestling tournament I was at this weekend.

My four-week push to the end of the winter season provides me four straight Saturdays (and three Fridays) of high school wrestling. I always dread the end of it; not because the season is over, but for the season to be over, I've got to go to the tournament I was at this past weekend.

Generally, here are my problems with it: long drive far from home (four hours) and little cooperation. Or, as a colleague once put it - describing an entirely different sport and venue - it's a pain in the ass to get to, and you're treated with disdain once you arrive.

But that got me wondering: Just what, if anything, are we owed? Do we deserve anything?

The equation, from my view, is this: In exchange for the free publicity the event gets (and, by extension, the participants get), we should at least get a reasonable working space and reasonable access. Obviously, just what that means depends largely on the event and any number of other factors; can I reasonably expect a small high school in rural Virginia to provide the same information and accommodations that a Nextel Cup event would provide? Of course not.

I'm trying to figure out just what's appropriate for this tournament, which from a media standpoint, is about as far down the ladder as one can get. Still, let's take an objective look at both sides.

Pros: Wireless internet throughout the arena; easy access to wrestlers and coaches; media pass got us into the hospitality room.

Cons: Nearly impossible to keep updated on latest results; no work area until the finals; less-than-helpful staff from the top on down; updated brackets were impossible to get a hold of; rules seem to change from year to year.

(In one example of the last criticism: Prior to the finals, I had plenty of work to do - updating brackets from the best source to do so, a local wrestling team's website - yet I was forced to stand outside and wait in line until the gates opened. I wouldn't have minded as much, but the lady at the entrance swore that 'never in [her] 20 years of working' did they let the media in before everyone else; yet I know for a fact that I've been in there before fans. I promise you, this is not a snobbery thing - I had work to do and really wanted to get a start on it. Yet there I stood, for a good 30 minutes. That also ties in to the less-than-helpful staff too, I guess.)

I go back and forth on whether that should be enough. And honestly, my opinion is clouded by the sour people working there. In addition to the lady above, some other run-ins with folks in the past: This year, I waited for 15 minutes after the end of one round to see if I could get updated results; the room where they make copies of this stuff has a perennially-locked door. The tournament director walked out and I was about to walk in. "They're not ready yet," he barked. I waited for another 15 minutes before giving up and leaving.

Up in the actual press box - which is taken over by tournament staff - I once tried to update my bracket by going through official result sheets, the ones submitted from each mat for tabulation. The guy had them in a disorganized pile, which I was happy to sort through. Yet when I asked him, you'd have thought I asked for his firstborn.

I don't think cordiality - professionalism, even - is too much to ask, is it? A simple, 'No, I'm sorry, I can't do that' would have been perfectly fine.

The only thing I can really compare it to is another wrestling tournament held a week earlier. It used to be held in the Virginia Beach area - another long drive - but at least people were helpful. (Hell, they even had a media steward - what a concept! If I remember right, that was pretty much status quo in Pennsylvania.) In the past two years, it's moved here to NoVa, and thankfully, that aspect hasn't changed.

It is my sincere belief that we should not be the first consideration at these events. We should be further down the line, after competitors, coaches, fans and workers. I have no problem with that.

But we should be considered. And at this tournament, we're not in the least. Ask any sportswriter, and they'll have a story like this.

Given the circumstances - a state tournament at a moderately-sized venue - I believe it falls well short of any measure of media expectation. And until that changes (and I have little hope it ever will), I'll continue to dread the final week of wrestling season.


ME said...

It's almost over buddy.

BTW, the videos were great! Hank is one handsome cat.

P.J. said...

I'm so thankful New York isn't like that. Not that it's the best by far (it was a bit disappointed and a little disorganized for the first day this year, but the second was easy. And all my guys were booted in the semis, so I was done early).

I feel for ya man.

As for rights? I dunno. I've always been one of those guys who doesn't flaunt it or worry about things. I hear other writers at these tournaments complaining about this and that, where are my brackets? Where is the free food. Gimme gimme gimme. (For the record, brackets at our state tournament were updated after every round on a website. It just would have been nice if they actually TOLD US before hand!)

That being said, I think there's a happy medium that we should fall into.

I'm one who doesn't care about food and a hospitality room. I just would like a bottle of water here and there.

Give me a pass that wil allow me to move around freely and I can deal. I don't want to wait in line (fortunately, there is a media entrance here) and I don't want to be hassled. In return, I don't hassle and do my job.

It works well that way up here. But man, if I had to deal with what you do, I'd probably want to choke someone.

That being said, I'm in a different boat than you. The state tournament was 1 hour from the office and I went up and back. We don't have a Sunday paper, so I wasn't worried about filing Saturday. I can afford to be a little more relaxed in that regard.

I do, however, do double-duty with writing and photos, so sometimes it's annoying when a big cheese comes around telling me I can and can't shoot here and there etc. I usually just ignore them. :)

Even when it was on the Island last year, all I did was get what I needed on the first day and went back to my hotel to write. Found it a lot easier. But if the schedules make it hard to do so, I can see the compaints for sure.

Damn. This is a long response. I guess what I'm trying to say is A) I'm glad NY is different and B) I feel for ya!