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Jack McCallum freaking nails it

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by GuessWho, Nov 10, 2011.

  1. GuessWho

    GuessWho Active Member

    This has to be at or near the top of our profession's list of worst nightmares. I know I've written occasional things and thought, Oh lordy, this could come back to bite me. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/jack_mccallum/11/08/sandusky/
  2. Lugnuts

    Lugnuts Well-Known Member

    I'm so glad he wrote that because I had indeed Googled and read his story the day the news broke. I really appreciate his honesty in that post.
  3. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    Between Tiger Woods and Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno, we need to really evaluate the value of puff pieces. Admittedly, I'm a cynic who can't stand them, even about my favorite athletes and coaches. But we now have proof that we should avoid ascribing virtue to people. People suck.

    How long before Tim Tebow or Derek Jeter or Andrew Luck or Kevin Durant or [insert unblemished star's name here] is publicly soiled? Before you write a feature, ask yourself if it could lead to one day writing an article like this one from McCallum.
  4. KJIM

    KJIM Well-Known Member

    What's the over/under on Penn State threads? I'm having trouble keeping track.
  5. Tarheel316

    Tarheel316 Well-Known Member

    You're right. Great column by McCallum.
  6. BrianGriffin

    BrianGriffin Active Member

    This is a bit of a troubling post to me. Is the take-away "If we see something being done that is noteworthy in a good way, we shouldn't write about it because it's inevitable that the people involved will prove to be flawed?"

    That strikes me as beyond cynical.
  7. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I'm talking about ascribing virtue, not reporting good deeds.

    Another good example is Marvin Harrison.
  8. BrianGriffin

    BrianGriffin Active Member

    That's tricky, isn't it? It's hard to have a piece that is focused on something specific, like a remarkable charity, or remarkable work ethic, without it coming across as ascribing some virtue. I'd hate to think one must avoid reporting on something that might be deemed "good" without first also looking for some character flaw that says "but see, he's really a monster/an arrogant ass/somebody who would shoot somebody outside his bar, etc."

    You can't do the story on Mother Theresa until you confirm she slaps school kids on the hand too hard with her ruler?
  9. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I would rather see "Johnny lifts weights twice a day" than "Johnny has a good work ethic" any day. And my stance on this isn't reserved for puff pieces. I also don't think we should be tearing down someone for a character trait we perceive them to have if we can't be certain of it, either.

    I like reporting facts. I guess that's my point. When you can prove something's true, it's true. You can't prove someone's character is a certain way. You don't know how people are behind closed doors. And I think we've seen numerous instances where we as a collective media have been bit in the ass because we've ascribed a virtue, good or bad, to someone who didn't exemplify that virtue at all after all.
  10. mediaguy

    mediaguy Well-Known Member

    There are people that were around the program for years, decades even and didn't pick up on this. He had a long weekend reporting about the man, so as much as I sympathize with him, he shouldn't feel negligent in any way. There are some things we only find out about if someone has the courage to tell us.
  11. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    It's kind of ironic that Walter Isaacson has been criticized for his Steve Jobs biography for NOT passing enough judgment and just reporting the facts. Critics have contended that is the biographer's job - and I would count a feature writer as a kind of biographer - to supply insight, not just cold hard facts.
  12. BrianGriffin

    BrianGriffin Active Member

    If Johnny lifts twice a day, that might not tell people much. If Johnny lifts twice a day where most lift once a day, that tells you that he has a great work ethic. If the writer explains that -- think Jerry Rice's obsessiveness with extreme fitness during his career -- then you are doing a favor to the reader. Yes, he does have remarkable worth ethic and here's why.

    If a player or coach has a charity, that's not a big deal in and of itself because, especially in pro leagues, that kind of thing is encouraged. If it in some way stands out from the crowd of athlete/coach charities and is worthy of a story, the distinguishing features of the charity should be pointed out to the reader. It's hard to do that without ascribing virtue to some extent.

    If it turns out in later years that the obsessiveness of a player with a "great work ethic" had a dark side, as in maybe he also obsessed with an ex-wife to the point of stalking, something like that, it doesn't invalidate the context you provided on his work ethic. If the player with the remarkable charity turns out to use the charity to do something illegal or unethical, that doesn't invalidate the stated goal of the charity.
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