Glenn Greenwald has a great post up today steering his readers to an article by Dwight Jaynes in the Portland (Ore.) Tribune -- the gist is how he quit worrying (about alienating his sources) and learned to love the blog, specifically about the Portland Trail Blazers. He says a career change took him out of the Blazers' locker room, where he had lots of friendly sources, and into a situation where he blogged about the team from a distance. The conventional wisdom of journalism is that his writing would suffer from the lack of access, but instead he found it improved. Here's why:
Over time, you realize that in spite of all your attempts to know athletes and public figures, what you usually end up writing about them is the cover story -- the half-true piece of semifiction that those people want the public to see. You begin to realize you're usually getting played. And you sold your soul to get it.
Oh, when you get close to sources, you get access. You get inside information. At least you think you do. You get close enough to players and coaches that it's a fan's dream. Sources become something very close to friends, and, I confess, I've been down that road.
But I also know that when that happens, you're probably not going to do your job as well as you should. Yes, I'm old school, and I think it's the job of a columnist or a beat reporter to always tell the truth and be critical when merited, even about the revered home team.
How true. I've seen this here with my own beloved Phillies, where what you read about a struggling player like a pitcher Adam Eaton on a blog is more acerbic and often more insightful than what comes from the locker room beat writers who have to be around Adam Eaton every day. Locker room access journalism is the main reason, in my opinion, why baseball's steroids scandal wasn't exposed when it started taking place in the 1990s.
Unfortunately, it's not just an issue in sports. City Hall, the police headquarters, the White House -- many beats place a high priority on access to the powerful and the famous, and they suffer as a result. So what's the solution? Make everyone a blogger, and have them rant non-stop about Andy Reid or President Bush without ever talking to them or their underlings? Of course not.
The problem for existing news organizations is that you'd want two layers covering, say, City Hall -- the insiders with access and the outsiders who can feel comfortable taking potshots when necessary. But you know what? -- today's news org can't afford both layers. And too often, we err on the side of access, keeping the friendly beats and ditching the hard-nosed investigative reporters.
The next best thing would be news orgs with access -- and independent, non-affiliated curmudgeonly blogger types to call their bluffs. In other words, the near-perfect world may look a lot like...the world we actually have now. Funny how that works. I do think, however, that editors and publishers should read what Portland's Jaynes has to say -- and try to assign a few rugged camels outside the tent.