Inside The Sausage Factory

Submitted by Brian on July 25th, 2008 at 12:29 PM

7/25/2008 - Dienhart 1, MGoBlog 0 - Pwned

So I'm sitting in the "media workroom" here at Big Ten Media days after the two hour-period this morning when all the coaches and players sit at different tables and answer questions posted by print and radio media. Some guy in his late twenties with close-cropped hair sat at the next table, prompting the bearded old hand next to me to ask: "totally overwhelmed yet?"

"Not really," he responded.

"Just so much information" was the reply, and then the old hand lapsed into thoughtful silence.

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These are the fruits of my labors, the sum total of information I have to bring to you based on my penetrating questions that I envisioned would stun the people I questioned into mute appreciation of my knowledge before offering clear, concise descriptions of exactly what I wanted to know:

"I'm not going to tell you."

"I'm not going to answer that question."

"We strive for balance."

I suck.

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Other people did manage to get off queries that were answered interestingly, but very few. For a prolonged period, I sat at the table Rich Rodriguez was condemned to and tried to get one of the above-mentioned Penetrating Questions in but was constantly cut off by two adversaries I began referring to in my head (and notes) as Enormous Forehead Guy and Smarmy Young Journo, who would leap in at the perfect moment with a question of incredible uselessness like "who do you think has more pressure on them, the players or the coaches?" and then nod sagely as Rodriguez spun out his answer. In this case: "it's equal" was followed by few meandering sentences that served to completely rebuke the very idea of the question in the politest way possible.

This did not occur to the adversaries. I am communing with football, Enormous Forehead appeared to think. This is great stuff. SYJ looked on very seriously indeed, as if Rodriguez's answer to this purposeless question was a papal edict on an ethical matter of exceeding complexity. The force at which my eyes rolled back into my head threatened whiplash; fortunately everyone was fixated on Rodriguez and my lack of professionalism went unremarked upon. (And what better way to get away with it than post it on your blog? Mooohahaha!)

It was at this point my tolerance snapped. I'd like to say I stood and gave a thunderous edict that completely changed journalism forever. I didn't. Instead I typed this into my notes:

"who has more pressure, the players or the coaches?" I WANT TO DIE. I AM SITTING TWO FEET FROM RICH RODRIGUEZ AND CAN'T GET A QUESTION IN AND MORONS OF MORONLAND ARE MORONING MY TIME AWAY FUUUUUUCK

I was stressed! I felt much better, though.

It was at this point that Tom Dienhart, who I've considered a dolt ever since he penned a really awful column that chastized an imaginary avatar of Michigan fandom he dubbed "Boy Blue" or "Blue Boy" or something like that, [turns out it was "Big Blue Boy" -- even worse -ed] asked a simple question about how Scott Shafer came to the attention of Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez said "hey, Tom," shook Deinhart's hand, commented negatively upon his Spartan green Rivals.com polo, and spoke. Thus spake the pope (the following is a paraphrase, not a quote):

I first looked into Scott when he was at I was at West Virginia and we were playing Maryland; Shafer was at Northern Illinois when they beat Maryland and Alabama, which is a big accomplishment when you're Northern Illinois. It wasn't necessarily just the schemes but how hard and aggressive they played. Then I saw what he did at Stanford, beating USC. He's a good fit for what we want to do.

This is pretty interesting, and it led into an entertaining anecdote about Shafer talking to his wife Missy, who asked "you aren't going to be changing jobs again, are you?" (Shafer had, at this point, been at three schools in four years.) Shafer downplayed the idea, headed off to a coaching convention, and immediately got a phone call from Rich Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, I'm just sitting around fuming. My notes before the paraphrase above: "Scott Shafer. Dienhart just asks my question." I have been owned.

Why am I here? Have I gotten anything useful out of this at all, or would my time have been better spent in the Batcave (read: mother's basement) pounding out a preview of Minnesota or something? I have absolutely no better handle on how Michigan will do this year. I don't even have the barest smidge of news to bring you: the two pieces of actual news I've heard have been common knowledge on the internet for a month. I couldn't get anyone to say anything even remotely interesting. I'm pretty sure Travis Beckum thinks I have Down's Syndrome. A rousing success, this is not.

The one saving grace is going back to that Dienhart piece, though, which remains as putrescent as it was when I hammered it a couple years ago. It's really bad: shallow thinking, lame jokes, no justification for any of its premises. Theory: being a good beatwriter/interviewer-guy and being a good opinion merchant are not just unrelated skills but are somewhere near mutually exclusive. I spend my time combing the internet for any piece of novel information I can find, reviewing games and compiling stats, reasoning out things I think about football and compiling evidence to justify my beliefs.

Beatwriters try to eke out interesting responses from interview adversaries. They're believers in the holy grail of access, which necessitates thinking on an entirely different level. It's not real unless it comes from your access, so only things that people say are real. (And often they're deliberately not saying anything.) Take just about any newspaper article or radio piece or anything, really, reported in the objective style favored by the media these past 50 years:

  • THING is controversial.
  • "THING is great, I love thing" says person X.
  • But group Y says THING has PROPERTY OR EFFECT that is negative.
  • "I hate THING, think of the children" says person Z from Group Y.
  • But person X of group W disagrees.
  • "I disagree," says person X.
  • Ain't it a funny old world?

This is just about the complete opposite of critical thinking. There is a skill in it; it is not my skill, and my skill is not theirs.

I did transcribe some stuff of debatable utility; that's coming up.

Comments

Chrisgocomment

July 25th, 2008 at 12:57 PM ^

Your trip was useful, because, I gotta tell ya, this shit is hilarious! None of the bland newspaper people are going to come at this thing with your wit and viewpoint. Their story will be "Rich Rod Determined For Success" which will say blah blah blah, Rich Rod thinks UM will have a good year...blah blah...win games..football...football player...yip yip blah yip....football. Snore.

mvp

July 25th, 2008 at 12:59 PM ^

Wouldn't it have been *more* discouraging to find that you were good at what you despise? Anyway, glad you made the effort of going. Still disappointed you didn't figure out a way to get the tight ends question answered.

jamiemac

July 25th, 2008 at 1:03 PM ^

You sure have overcome that Down's Syndrome to create a damn strong blog, however. Well done Corky!! Seriously, though, it may appear to be mutually exclusive skill sets, but critical analysis/thinking does lend itself to the need for critical in depth questions. But, you also need to have a chemistry of sorts with who you're asking. Its not easy developing true sources, but the first step is meeting them face to face for the first time. The media day might be hard as the "sources" are pummeled with questions, most of which come from strangers. Hopefully you at least met some people. You were at least there in person. I feel it was better that you were there (hey, its summer in chicago fer gawds sake) than in the Batcave. At least you gained some experience and can tailor your future reporting strategies. At least you were there trying, but like I commented in your last post. Just ask you effing question already!!!

Brian

July 25th, 2008 at 2:49 PM ^

this guy, btw, is the guy with the username of three punctuation marks and either Carty or Swindle's picture. I've changed his username to be more prominent and deleted the picture so that people don't mistakenly attribute his posts to someone else. If he uploads someone else's headshot I'll ban him.

medals

July 25th, 2008 at 3:22 PM ^

sounds a lot like an attorney after taking his/her first deposition. Upon a reading the transcript, it usually doesn't come out as bad as you think.

Noahdb

July 25th, 2008 at 3:24 PM ^

Oh yeah...that's why I got out of journalism. The only thing worse than **** Conference Media Day was asking the family of someone who just died a horrible, sudden and heartbreaking death the equivalent of, "How do you feel about that?" There were many days that if the staff had been honest, we would have just posted a picture of the reporters looking bewildered under the headline, "Why am I here?"

letsgoblue04

July 25th, 2008 at 5:48 PM ^

"Tom Dienhart Dear Mike Garrett: I 'think you made a mistake hiring Pete Carroll as USC's next coach. As Trojans athletics director, you needed to hit a home run with this hire. This looks more like a scratch single. I know. Carroll might end up being grand, but the perception in the here and now is what matters for a program that's on the wane. And that perception isn't good. Some might compare Carroll to Paul Hackett, the coach he replaces. That might not be fair, but you can't blame them. Carroll is an NFL guy. He's a defensive tactician who hasn't coached in college since 1083, when he was an assistant at Pacific. Hackett was an offensive expert who hadn't coached in college since 1092 when he landed the USC job before the 1998 season. At least Hackett's most recent college stint at the time was as head coach at Pittsburgh. Unlike Hackett, Carroll proved he can be a successful head coach, leading the New England Patriots to a pair of winning seasons and playoff berths. He's also a super-enthusiastic guy. But Carroll doesn't know college football. Oh, he's saying the fight things. You know, stuff like, "If you can understand the process in the NFL ... in the draft process, it's all about watching players in college, I don't consider myself unfamiliar with the college game at all." I'm sure Carroll, like Hackett, knows his X's and O's. The problem is the college game Carroll doesn't know. It was the same one Hackett had trouble grasping. I'm talking about things like academic issues, recruiting / and dealing with alumni. Is Caroll up for whispering sweet nothings into the ears of know-it-all 18-year-olds? Is Carroll up for spending more time speaking at booster events than breaking down film? Is Carroll up for fans demanding to know why USC can't dominate the Pac-10 anymore? Carroll needs a positive start and would help himself by retaining defensive line coach Ed Orgeron and running backs coach Kennedy Pola, a pair of Hackett assistants who red-line their intensity meters. I know, Mike. You say, "Average Joe doesn't know football." Believe what you want, but Average Joe has reason to doubt your hiring skills and thinks you are part of the problem. Hackett was 19-18 at USC, and his last team finished last in the Pac-10, the first t/me that ever has happened. He was your man after you mishandled the termination of John Robinson after the 1997 season. Your job might be riding on Carroll's performance. Your non-communicative ways cause people to make conclusions that might not be tree about you and your program. And you didn't help yourself a few years ago when you gave a "pep talk" in the locker room. It was hard for you to believe people didn't fall over themselves to coach your beloved USC. But it's not that good of a job because it's not 1975 anymore. The 85-scholarship limit has made college football an equal-opportunity sport in which schools such as Oregon State and Virginia Tech have BCS dreams. Also working against USC are substandard facilities-all the way from Heritage Hall to the antiquated weight room. And the L.A. lifestyle isn't tot everyone, especially not for assistant coaches. Housing prices are out of sight, To live in a decent area, coaches must drive an hour to and from work. Their days are long enough as it is. Oregon State's Dennis Erickson and Oregon's Mike Bellotti are the biggest names who sniffed around the USC job but didn't really pursue it. San Diego Chargers coach Mike Riley would have been a good hire. He served as Oregon State's coach from 1997-98 and was USC's offensive coordinator before that, but he couldn't make up his mind. When he continued to drag his feet, you grabbed Carroll, who was out of work last season. Contrast that to the job search at Alabama. Marquee names such as Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer and Miami's Butch Davis seriously considered taking the job. In the end, the Tide got TCU coach Dermis Franchione, one of the hottest coaches in the college game. Dennis Franchione, USC Coach. Would've had a nice ring to it. Sincerely, Tom" http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1208/is_1_225/ai_69058326/print?…

Blue Balls

July 27th, 2008 at 1:41 PM ^

I expected no less than what was reported from the Big Ten Media Day. Glad it wasn't my dime and time, thanks for the report. I certainly sense your frustration. Nice report this am on "Outside the Lines" and PSU troubles with it's football players and Joe Pa. I liked how Coach Paterno sumed it up as a "witch hunt".