Working in a Bubble

I hesitate to link to Murray Chass, especially to a story regarding yesterday’s mini-strike/delay caused by the Red Sox sticking up for their team staffers (in fact, this post is not about yesterday’s events and I’d prefer they not become the subject of this post), but buried in his column today is a nugget that reveals quite a bit about reporting, or, at least, his reporting — I hesitate to generalize. Deep in the story Chass offers this, regarding his attitude towards reporting on baseball’s previous labor strife and, perhaps, his relationship to those outside his privileged position in the world of sports:

(Note: Unlike most everyone else who was affected, I looked forward to labor negotiations, strikes and lockouts. They provided a periodic change of pace and a challenge to report them.)

While I find this unsurprising it is akin, at least to me, to weather reporters who actually seem excited at the prospect of a deadly hurricane, who seem to bounce on their way over to the map on the wall, jazzed by the maelstrom and chaos caused by angry low pressure systems. While I understand the fascination with the chaotic, with the different, there is always something unseemly about this subtextual glee: there is danger, harm in these storms. With Chass, the analog is that labor strife in baseball has real economic consequences, and I am not just speaking about players losing their salaries or owners losing their revenue. There are untold employees who rely on baseball to either make a living or supplement their wages: park workers, vendors, business owners who lease near or adjacent to stadia. Not everyone involved in baseball is a fatcat executive in a luxury box who can backslap an all-star, and not every player is pulling down millions a year. So while I understand that, for Chass, there was a challenge in the reportage and an energizing change of pace for him as a journalist, I find it quite selfish and elitist, quite callous that he would actually “look forward” to events that might inflict tremendous suffering on scores of people.

16 comments… add one
  • darn, i was starting to drool about the thought of sf invoking the wisdom of the great murray the rat, when, darn, i realized you were actually criticizing him…and rightly so…what a selfish uncaring attitude that he would ignore the negative and sometimes devastating effects of a labor strife on the lives of the everyday folks who rely on the games to make their livings and support their families…all so he can get psyched about doing his own job…

    dc March 20, 2008, 9:28 am
  • I’m not a great Chass fan, but I think this isn’t necessarily fair. Yes, there’s some sense to the weatherman analogy, but it’s also worth noting that the work stoppages offered a reporter a rare opportunity to address the inequities in the baseball system, and that these strikes were not always about “fatcats” and their squabbles over millions, but a system that was grossly unjust. So I can see why covering that would have been exciting. In any case, I prefer not to judge Chass from such a high moral pedestal.

    YF March 20, 2008, 9:30 am
  • YF:
    I acknowledge the reality that these events offer professional intrigue for Chass, three times in fact within my post. I get it. And while I definitely appreciate his honesty, I still find there to be an element of professional tunnel vision, an elitism that makes me cringe a little.

    SF March 20, 2008, 9:48 am
  • and perhaps I am over-parsing, but the thing that troubles me is the fact that he bluntly said he “looked forward” to the labor strife, for professional enrichment. Had he simply said that the reportage on the labor impasses was fascinating, complicated, challenging, riveting, new, illuminating, and that as a reporter they taught him a great deal that he couldn’t have learned while games were being played I probably wouldn’t have had a negative reaction.

    SF March 20, 2008, 9:56 am
  • Well, give him kudos for being honest — which is more than Chass usually is with his readers.
    The fact is, like it or not, Chass’ sentiments mirror those of reporters all over the country. When news breaks — a labor strike, a hurricane, a shooting, an indictment of a big-time politician — adrenaline flows as reporters kick it into another gear. Never mind the physically addictive powers of adrenaline, reporters feel important when they can report news that everyone is interested in hearing (generally, that isn’t the case).
    Reporters wind up seeing more death and despair than most other people (doctors, police, firefighters, courtroom employees are the only other professions I can think of), and as a result become pretty jaded and calloused toward it. They also tend to make light of tragedy privately as a coping mechanism, and that trivialization of others’ pain sometimes works its way into their actions during a tragic event. Divorcing the news from the people affected by it is almost a necessary device by which to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the sheer misery of the many terrible events reporters must cover.
    It’s not the right way to go about things, I don’t think. But it’s not exactly born from maliciousness either. At some point, you have to do what will help you sleep at night; unfortunately, the longer one stays in the business (and Chass has been there a long time), the more one forgets altogether the people affected by bad news.

    Paul SF March 20, 2008, 10:13 am
  • strikes never serve a good purpose…many times workers in other industries never recover from what they lost during the work stoppages…it’s sacrifices they make for principle…baseball did not need a strike to call to attention to the need for reform…pioneers like curt flood broke that ground…
    i assume every reporter hopes for a juicy ground-breaking story, even sensational, perhaps controversial, preferably a scoop…it’s not just the reporters, it’s the consumers of those stories…look at the national attention the laci peterson, oj, and monica l. stories garnered…as morbid as this sounds, the audience loves watching a train wreck as much as reporters like reporting them…having said that, murray deserves the criticism…either he’s got a dark side that enjoys the misery a baseball strike would impose on the regular folks [doubtful], or he wants baseball to have a strike so he has something sensational to report [possible], or he had a momentary lapse [more likely] in that he did not consider all of the ramifications of a strike, so he could have phrased his comment a bit differently…i would expect a polished reporter to be more in tune with his written comments…frankly, if he needs something negative like that to energize him, he’s in the wrong profession…as we discuss here frequently, there is so much good and interesting to talk about with our favorite sport, i wouldn’t think a reporter would ever run out of ideas, or long for something bad to happen…

    dc March 20, 2008, 10:20 am
  • Good point, DC. Sports reporters can (or at least should) get just as much fun and excitement out of a good game as a strike or some other “bad” news. Maybe not as much fun as, say, bashing A-Rod nonstop for three seasons, but almost.

    Paul SF March 20, 2008, 10:29 am
  • Well stated, Paul, and I think that might be what Chass was getting at, it’s unfortunate to me that he didn’t explain it as well as you have, that whole thing about “looking forward” part bugs me. Not that labor strife excited him, or made him feel challenged, or professionally enriched, that bothers me not at all. It’s that he phrases it as if he actually hopes for these things to happen in order to get that rush. That is my reading of it, and what I have an issue with. But again, I admit that I might be over-parsing a poor word choice on Chass’ part, even though, as a professional scribe, he is supposed to know how to pick the right words!

    SF March 20, 2008, 10:37 am
  • Meanwhile, more information is coming out. Olney reports that it’s the player’s association that negotiated the stipends for the players and didn’t support the coaches. It’s been this way for years. Here’s a quote whose sentiments I espoused yesterday:
    The sentiment behind what was essentially a three-hour boycott was admirable, but the players handled the situation very clumsily; it was their union that negotiated the stipends for the players and did not support the coaches, just as it has for years, and if the players weren’t aware of that, that’s their fault. But it was the fans who bought tickets to the game in Ft. Myers on Thursday who ultimately suffered, and were forced to sit around without information, while waiting to see if a resolution could be reached.
    Given that it was the responsibility of the Red Sox players to understand the situation before it became a crisis, a more magnanimous gesture would have been for some of the Boston players to offer up their stipends to the coaches, given that some of them are paid somewhere between $60,000 and $100,000 a day, rather than victimizing the fans. Or the Red Sox players could’ve quietly informed the Players Association and Major League Baseball that once in Japan, they intended to insist that the coaches’ situation be addressed. The nuclear option of sitting out games only needed to be implied, because there was zero chance that the Red Sox would’ve forfeited these games; there was zero chance that Major League Baseball would’ve let that happen.

    Really it was just a matter of confusion, no bad guys here. The strike, while admirable for its intent, was completely unnecessary.

    AndrewYF March 20, 2008, 10:45 am
  • “…and if the players weren’t aware of that, that’s their fault…”
    oops…who are the sox player reps again?

    dc March 20, 2008, 11:02 am
  • Too bad Olney failed to mention that Francona tried to get clarification from MLB for a full day and received nothing.
    He also failed to mention that the game was actually played (just an hour late, and during the delay, Red Sox players signed autographs), and that the seats were filled once it started, so any “hit” incurred was minimal. The fans took more of a hit when Reid Engel couldn’t catch a fly ball and cost the Red Sox the game. Pretty poor analysis from Olney.

    Paul SF March 20, 2008, 6:00 pm
  • i think olney’s point is that “the game” is about the fans, not the players and coaches paul…what the players did was self-serving in a way, but a bit noble too…

    dc March 20, 2008, 9:59 pm
  • > olney’s point is that “the game” is about the fans, not the players and coaches
    Hi dc,
    If that is his point, I disagree with Olney. The game, as it is on a professional level, is not about the fans. The game is about the revenue. Fans and revenue are conjoined, but there is no illusion what professional baseball as a corporate mechanism means to accomplish: maximize the take. Between what the game is about _to_ the fans and what the game is about to the owners lies a gulf that is far more vast than the chasm between owners and players (and by proxy in this case, coaches), but I agree with George Will this time in being a supply-side economist: the coaches oughta get effing paid. I am grateful that the players took the stance they did.

    attackgerbil March 20, 2008, 10:17 pm
  • hi ag…
    “…The game, as it is on a professional level, is not about the fans. The game is about the revenue…..”
    then that’s a shame, but i know i’m naive…
    sorry i don’t feel sorry for guys that need a $40G “stipend” [about $10g per game] apparently made necessary because the trip is abroad and not to oakland…and i’m insulted by the insistence on referring to it as a stipend, it’s a bonus…these guys won’t have to dip into their own pockets for expenses…most folks who make that kind of money for a year couldn’t afford to go to a ballgame, and that’s the shame…i’ll stop short of calling this junket a “vacation”…i realize the coaches will be working and are underpaid compared to the players, but they would be working and drawing a salary if they opened the season here…mlb is exacerbating the real problem: $75 tickets, $10 beers and $8 hot dogs…someone will scold me for blaming this “drop in the bucket” as the reason i pay $10 for a beer, but enough drops and you fill the bucket….they’re all overpaid, and forgetting that the sport is about the fans is dangerous…unless there’s enough rich fans around…baseball is becoming polo, the sport of royalty…

    dc March 20, 2008, 10:43 pm
  • by the way, i’m annoyed with the players too if they need a $40g bribe to make this trip…just to show i’m fair and balanced, that goes for others who made this trip in the past…shameful…

    dc March 20, 2008, 10:51 pm
  • Speaking of bribes, or maybe extortion, not too many YFs were complaining last year when Rahjah said he’d pitch for the Y’s but ONLY if he — again — became the highest paid pitcher in MLB and could show up halfway through the season.
    Every MLB team doles out the per-diem (which I’ll bet is up to about $100) to the players. That, AND offering a $40,000 carrot to play halfway across the globe, is part of the cost of doing business. I don’t begrudge the players that “bribe”, I applaud them for making sure their support staff gets it, and I’d certainly ask for it — and expect it — if I traveled for my company/employer.

    WebmistressEMC March 22, 2008, 11:36 pm

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