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This Is Why Newspapers Fail
Tuesday, 2009 September 1 - 4:03 pm
If you're a Michigan football fan at all, you're probably aware of the recent hoo-hah that some folks are calling "PracticeGate". Last Friday, The Detroit Free Press published a sensationalist article accusing Coach Rich Rodriguez of violating NCAA rules concerning limits on practice time for football players.

Here's the thing. The article makes dark implications that this will subject Michigan to NCAA sanctions of some sort, even though the only evidence they have of any violations is the anonymous testimony of some current and former team members. Those players probably don't understand the nuanced difference between "countable" hours (mandatory practice time) and "non-countable" hours (voluntary workouts and meetings) when it comes to the NCAA regulations. Apparently the authors of the article, Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder, don't understand that difference either, or at least didn't think it important enough to discuss in detail.

Also? The article provides no national context for the story: there is no discussion on whether Michigan is better or worse than any other school in the country; no discussion on any punishment that the NCAA has ever meted out on any school for similar "violations"; and no discussion on how the team fared academically last season in light of their demanding schedules. So Rosenberg, here's a clue for you, to save you the minutes of investigative time it would have taken you discover this on your own: the answers are "no worse than any other school", "one or two minor hand-slaps", and "recorded the highest team GPA in school history".

So consider the fact that Rosenberg has been a Rodriguez-hater ever since the new coach arrived. Then consider the fact that the Freep is desperate for big stories to follow up their big Kwame Kilpatrick scoop, in the face of declining subscriptions and ad revenues. It all adds up to a story that's melodramatic, one-sided, and utterly lacking in journalistic integrity, stirring up a tempest one week before the start of the season in the hopes of attracting readers. Oh, and if you're thinking that there's some high-minded noble purpose to the article, protecting the players against the evil evil Rodriguez regime... maybe you should read some of the reactions of the players and the players' families, who are hurt and insulted by the allegations, and angry at the distraction to the team. This article is of no benefit to the players.

As you can imagine, blogs, tweets, and web sites have been all over this story, most of them denouncing the Freep and their shoddy journalism. I think this article on probably sums things up well. And of course you can always rely on the inimitable Brian on mgoblog to get the root of the story. But the Freep seems to just dismiss all of this as Internet fanboy homerism; they have yet to respond substantively to any of the valid counterpoints to their article.

This, to me, is the sign of the apocalypse for the Detroit Free Press, for newspapers, and for mainstream media in general. Here we have a newspaper that's spewing out one-sided sensationalist garbage, while the blogs are doing all the reasoned fact-checking and context-setting. There's no longer any reason to read the Detroit Free Press, at least for sports journalism. I'm not calling for a boycott, as this Facebook group is. I'm just saying, if you're looking for timely and accurate information, you have dozens of options that are superior to the Freep. You might as well cancel your subscription, since with this kind of reporting, the newspaper will be out of business soon anyway.

Go blue.
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Posted by Ken in: bloggerscommentarysports


Comment #1 from Monty (Guest)
2009 Sep 1 - 5:12 pm : #
I have not been following this case specifically, but there is a reason that good journalists almost never use anonymous sources.

While I have my own beefs with The N&O, at least while I worked there I saw several potentially interesting stories go nowhere because the sources would not allow reporters to use his or her name, so when another source could not be found, the story had to die.

Plus, not being familiar with the reporter/columnists at the Freep, if what this guy says is true, I would agree with him:

"In my primary field (writing about politics) no respectable newspaper would dream of letting an opinion columnist who had crusaded against an administration write a news article claiming to uncover dirt on that very same administration. It's wildly improper."

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