Bob Ryan: ‘Not Remotely Close To Newsworthy’

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(Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

(Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Bob Ryan has covered sports for more than 45 years – in fact, he was a book coming out in October called Scribe: My Life in Sports – so if we need an authoritative voice on journalism protocols and ethics, he’s our guy.

And he has no idea what ESPN and Josina Anderson were thinking with their non-report report on Michael Sam’s showing habits.

“Unless there is some really startling or meaningful incident that’s happened that speaks to homophobia – rampant homophobia – on a part of a member of the Rams community, unless something has happened, (this subject doesn’t need to be reported),” the Boston Globe columnist said on The John Feinstein Show. “What was done is beyond stupid. What were they thinking? This didn’t even remotely come close to anything newsworthy, and it was just ridiculous and needless and that’s about all I can say. This is a non-story from what I read. Maybe I missed something there.”

Then again, maybe Ryan didn’t. It would be one thing if players were going to reporters and saying they didn’t feel comfortable showering with Sam. It would be one thing if this was a team-wide issue. It would be one thing if someone went on the record.

But to report one anonymous source? And then to not ask Sam about it before issuing the report?

That’s not journalism.

“I think this fell far short (of warranting a story),” Ryan said. “There could be a story. Certainly it’s not inconceivable that there could be a story. We wouldn’t be shocked if there had been a story. But I don’t think this is the story.”

The unnamed source is particularly vexing to Ryan and John Feinstein, as both feel that method of relaying information has gotten out of control. In the old days, someone needed a very good reason to go off the record; these days, it’s the norm.

“It’s out of control because of the proliferation of agencies and outlets,” Ryan said. “It’s such a vastly different landscape than when I started or when you started. The competition – the fear of being beaten, the fear of hearing from an editor or a producer – is there in a (very real way).”

Of course, the competition isn’t new, but the way in which journalists go about it is.

“I worked in an environment in Boston in which when I started there were three competing newspapers and a very, very vibrant suburban community – including daily newspapers in a number of communities – and it was a very active environment,” Ryan said. “And yet, it never was as crazy (as it is now). It was – I don’t want to say gentlemanly – but there were boundaries. Everyone seemed to understand them. Unless there were individual cases of personal animosity between people working for various papers, which occasionally happened, it didn’t get vicious. It all worked. This is totally different. It’s 24/7.”

“I wasn’t a great reporter,” Ryan continued. “I fancied myself as a pundit and a writer and a raconteur, but I wasn’t a great reporter. But the news has to be done when you’re covering a team, and every once in a while – particularly during the Bird era – I would get a story, usually with Bird. I had a little Bird insight, (a little) Bird info. I could write that story . . . in the afternoon, go home and have a dinner and go about my business and know confidently that I would wake up in the morning and it would be my exclusive in the paper.”

Today’s media climate doesn’t allow for that.

“You got to tweet. You got (to) blog),” Ryan said. “And in the haste to do that, truth and accuracy often (become) a casualty.”

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