Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Tom Izzo, Journalism, and the Race To Be First

 A bit of free-form journalism-related rambling ahead...

I. Here's a little pet peeve of mine: I hate when people use the term "media." In this day and age, it is a nebulous vocabulary word. It has been robbed of definition. The media can refer to Hollywood. The media can refer to the Huffington Post, or to the Washington Post, or to MSNBC, or to Fox News, or to conservative talk-radio. Most of the time, when people refer to the media, they are engaging in pejoratives. Most of the time, when people refer to the media, they are using the term to dismiss what they perceived as overzealousness or negativity on the part of some segment of the American populace that broadcasts its views to other segments of the American populace. The problem is, if we go by this definition, everyone is now the media. Using this definition, The New York Times is the journalistic equivalent of this blog. Therefore, the term is meaningless.

II. I have no reason to believe that Tom Izzo is not an honorable man. Anyone who still shoots a hundred free throws a day as a means of atoning for a mistake that took place almost four decades ago must have some kind of moral compass, which is more than can be said for most successful college basketball coaches in America today. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that Izzo's extended deliberation over whether or not to accept the Cleveland Cavaliers' head coaching job was legitimate; I believe he was not grandstanding or holding out for more money or more publiciity. He was, obviously, wondering about LeBron James, as is everyone else in the Western world, but I have to believe that Izzo's conscience might have led him to stay in East Lansing regardless. Either way, I'm sure this was a difficult and emotional period in his life, as it would be in anyone's life when they are considering whether to change virtually everything about it.

III. When these moments occur--when there is nothing but silence and speculation, when the subject himself refuses to engage at all--it is up to this nebulous and undefined "media" to fill in the gaps. And this is where the conflict arises, because the "media" now often includes varied entitities that have little or nothing to do with each other. The criticism that arose at Izzo's press conference was largely of "new media," of Twitter and blogs and a number of other entities that are not held to the same standards as traditional journalists. Michigan State's athletic director, Mark Hollis, criticized the "race to be first," and he was not wrong. (At least 47 percent of all Twitter posts involve A.) Attempting to make an original joke that will be retweeted, B.) Providing a fresh link that will be retweeted, C.) Commenting on/engaging in unconfirmed rumors.) Izzo engaged in a prolonged and fascinating back-and-forth with columnist Lynn Henning (if you're interested in journalism, I highly recommend listening to it: Start at the 13:20 mark), in which Henning accuses Izzo and Hollis of painting the media with a broad brush, and he's also correct; Izzo accuses Henning of specious logic for writing this ridiculous column, and he's right, too. This is one of those increasingly frequent confluences in media criticism where everyone has a point. No one is right, and no one is wrong, because information comes at us raw and unfiltered, no one seems to know the boundaries anymore.

IV. There is always a price to pay in living life as a public figure, and this is it. The question: Is that price now overly punitive? Izzo's intentions may have been entirely honorable, but this will not stop people from believing otherwise. In an ideal world, every extension of the "media" would weigh these elements fairly and consider them equally. But this is not that world. This is a world in which the Michigan State contingent is correct, a world where being first does often matter more than being right, and it has weakened the cause of legitimate journalism. But this is a world in which everyone has voice, in which everyone is lumped in with the media, which means Lynn Henning has a point, as well. The real issue is that no one really knows how to define anything: Not media, not journalism, not information itself. The real issue is that everything is fluid, and even when dealing with honorable men, no one can agree on the truth.

(Photo: Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press)

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