Six weeks of nothing: Time to think out of box for spring training coverage

When I covered the White Sox in the ’80s, people always were jealous that I got to escape winter and spend six weeks in Florida. Frankly, I really didn’t like it.

I’ll admit the weather was nice, but spring training felt like a slog of writing seemingly endless stories. Plus once the games began, you spent those nice spring days confined to a hot, tight press box. Not exactly paradise.

Peter May, formerly the Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Globe, wrote his views of the tedium that is spring training.

Spring training is about to begin. Or, as its known in Boston and most other MLB cities — six weeks of journalistic waterboarding.

Very little, if any, actual news is ever generated in the time that baseball teams spend getting ready for the season. But that won’t stop the newspapers in Boston and elsewhere from bombarding us with banal and sleep-inducing stories on a daily basis.

May calls for a change in approach:

This is not to suggest newspapers (and other media outlets) not have reporters at spring training. Of course they should. This is instead an appeal to sports and assignment editors across the board to think outside the box and recognize spring training for what it really is: an expensive, six-week sham of non-news stories packaged as must-read, daily journalism.

You’re unlikely to see such an approach in Boston, where we’ve been inured to reams of Red Sox coverage. I always wondered why John Henry wanted to buy the Globe when, based on how the newspaper treated his team, he was basically the de-facto owner. (I refer you to August 2007, when the Globe actually paired the Celtics’ acquisition of Kevin Garnett with the Red Sox acquisition of Eric Gagne on the front page. Talk about false equivalence.)

Part of this slavish devotion to the norm is, well, a slavish devotion to the norm. That’s how we’ve always done it! Or the feeling that the fans can’t get enough of it (which, if true, says a lot about the intelligence of the reader). Part of it is the ineluctable reaction to the talk radio culture and the expansion of web sites and cable outlets.

The Times tries to be different. (Full disclosure: I am an occasional contributor to the newspaper.) It does not box itself in by demanding stories every day on both the Mets and Yankees. It encourages its writers to think creatively and gives them the time to explore and investigate a non-mundane story. This year, when a Times’ beat writer gets a week off, a stringer will likely monitor the team he covers with no expectation of daily input.

As one Times editor told me, “if you’re committed to having something every single day, you are stuck. It’s just talk radio on the written page, a daily drip-drop of stuff that all sounds the same.”


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