Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Gladiator Games

Normally, SEE and I are pretty close on our viewpoints, which is what enables us to work together so smoothly.

This time, however, I'm going to depart from his conventional wisdom a bit. Devil's Advocate? Perhaps, but I don't think the situation is as black-and-white as he does.

Before I get started, in the interest of full disclosure, I have some connection to the Chicago Trib. Aside from it being my home-town paper and my having a subscription to it daily, my cousin (and writing mentor) not only works there but is Brian Hamilton's boss. For the record, this article is written from the random thoughts emitting from my own overworked noggin and not as a result of contact with or suggestion from him (although I'm guessing I may hear about it later).

And before you ask, yes, members of my family routinely ride him for hiring David Haugh. It's an agree-to-disagree kind of thing. Moving on.

I agree with SEE that this whole thing is not news. A college student possibly drinking a beer, possibly before reaching the age of 21? If we reserved inches in the print media every time that happened, everyone would wake in the morning with a phone book on their front porch. I drank when I was in college, and so did 99 percent of the people I knew then and know now. I don't know if Clausen, Aldridge, et al, were imbibing (although a reasonable-person test indicates they probably were), but frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn whether he was or not.

Now, if he'd gotten into a car after drinking, that would be news. If he'd gotten hurt after drinking, again, news. If he'd hurt someone else after drinking, definitely news. Any of the three would be news I want to hear, because I don't like things like that happening anywhere, let alone at my alma mater. I also realize any or all of those three things could happen when someone decides to drink alcohol. But in this case, just as my my sister's lack of testicles means she's not my brother, it ain't news because none of that happened.

I'll take it a step further and say I don't think the majority of ND fans believe it's news either, nor do they (or any other rational person) believe it would reflect poorly on either Notre Dame as a whole or Jimmy Clausen and his teammates in particular if the school were to shrug its shoulders and respond, "So?" If there is any source of angst associated with this, it's that rational reactions for things like this have been in short supply in South Bend lately, and the fear is that Notre Dame will overreact because, history being our guide, that's what they do. The coming days will tell us whether or not the worry is worthwhile.

But even though I don't believe it's news, I understand why Brian Hamilton wrote the story. Dan Wiederer covered the concept nicely, but I'll build on it: In a society as influenced by reality television and its ilk as ours is, the definition of what people consider news has shifted and some media outlets are merely trying to keep up.

Sites like Deadspin, The Big Lead, WWTDD, et al, exist because we've become a society of voyeurs. It's gladiator games in the Coliseum all over again, except now you don't have to get off your ass to watch unless your TV remote isn't working. People seek out this minutiae, so providers move to fill the niche and satiate the need.

While I don't consider the Clausen thing news, unfortunately, there's a subset of mammals out there in Billy Joel's No-Man's Land who do. And they're going to go to the place that gives it to them first. If Hamilton didn't write the article, someone else would have, and that person would have his name repeated "as reported by" a couple hundred times.

Is it right? I don't believe so. But it's what is, so either the reality or the perception must change. I'd deal with the latter while working on the former, but we're not there yet. I can't wait until we are.

Edit, since I didn't do a good job of summarizing my point: Some people are acting like this is all Brian Hamilton's fault and if he wouldn't have written the story, it'd all be fine. That's not the case. BH bears some of the blame for writing a non-story, but an equal part of the problem is the public jones for stories like this. BH could leave the Tribune tomorrow, and we'd still see these kinds of stories. The only way to truly combat them is to not read them and let people know they're not necessary.

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Blogger Craig said...

Agree for the most part, but would this have happened if Hamiliton was covering Kansas or Virginia? I would say no because neither school would care. But because ND does, it provides a better chance for Hamilton's name to be heard by the masses, as the guy who wrote an article that got Clausen suspended. He is using the University and Clausen to promote himself, something a reasonable and ethical journalist wouldn't do.

8/06/2008 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I enjoy Kabong's perspective, I have to disagree. This explanation is as legitimate as "don't hate the player, hate the game". Playing the game is supporting it. The media (and especially sports media) has gone to shit because the consumer has allowed, even encouraged it.

8/06/2008 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

This isn't journalism, it's speculation.

Let it percolate, and wait until something happens, like the university announces charges, Charlie suspends him, or etc.

8/06/2008 01:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill Hickey said...

Well, as long as someone else was going to do it I guess it is okay.

8/06/2008 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with Hamilton's article is that he’s trying to sensationalize a non-story while placing the photos in the wrong context leading to an article that reads more like blog. I thought the Tribune was a step above the blogs?...maybe I’m wrong but I expect more from a major newspaper.

Hamilton has a history of writing stories like this in regards to Notre Dame football, especially with his coverage of D. Jones and the recent on-line ads story. He loses focus of the context in which the stories should be placed.

8/06/2008 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very surprised at your acceptance of sub-par "journalism" on the premise of, in essence, everyone else is doing it. This coming from someone who relentlessly criticized Kevin White's scheduling philosophy even though "everyone else was doing it." Has familial relations clouded your judgment or do you only get on your high horse when it's convenient or, perhaps, only if you have an agenda pursue?

8/06/2008 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

I didn't say I accepted it. I said I understood why he felt he had to write it, and said we needed to fight for higher standards so he wouldn't feel he had the need to write it.

IOW, getting mad at Brian Hamilton for writing the story is misplaced. In this case, the cause of the problem is us and we need to fix ourselves before we start blaming the people who are merely supplying what we've asked for.

I certainly include myself in that -- I removed WWTDD from the bloglinks because feeding that beast only contributes to the problem.

8/06/2008 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

But by using the same logic, we shouldn't get mad at drug dealers, we should be mad at the addicts. After all, they are only pushing what is in demand.

I am not saying we are not partially responsible since many people poke fun at other colleges that have legal issues. This in return drives the demand, as you pointed out. However, there is a distinct difference between creating a story and reporting a story. Which is why there is a difference between the Trib and gossip newspapers like Star. But with each story like this, the Trib, and Hamilton, are taking steps toward gossip.

8/06/2008 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

True, but if we cure the addicts, there's no demand for the product and the problem goes away.

I thought it was a dumb story, but other than the possibility it might drive ND to make a bad decision, I really don't care that it was written.

8/06/2008 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

This is the age old chicken or the egg. If we stop reading it, it goes away. However, if there is nothing to read, the demand goes away as well.

I am just upset that someone that with a position that demands credibility stoop to a gossip magazine level. While I am fully aware that someone else would have run the story, I am upset that someone at the Tribune actually thought this was worthwhile. Like my mother always said, if everyone else jumped off of a bridge...

8/06/2008 03:40:00 PM  
Anonymous jerry said...

Perhaps next time, if Jimmy also breaks into a party, busts a bottle over someone's head, sending them to the emergency room, then.... he'll get suspended from school for the summer, while still working out with the team, and have to clean up a section of the stadium for a few weeks. The media would be ok with that scenario, right?

8/06/2008 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Say what you want, but c'mon Jimmy - you're the starting QB at ND - gotta use better judgement.

8/06/2008 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it would be helpful to distinguish between blogs and news articles.

While articles in print hold some expectation of editorial review, blogs do not.

I believe print media should hold their bloggers to standards similar to that of articles because their name (e.g., Chicago Tribune, Picayune Times, etc.) carry weight.

Had The Onion, EDSBS, The Rock Report, etc. generated the same post, I believe it would not have garnered the same reaction.

Print media can see the writing on the wall. Fewer and fewer people will be paying for printed news and no one will pay online subscription for daily news. They're dying out and I believe this brings print media to the point of desperation.

8/06/2008 04:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can say you understand why he did it all you want. Part of the issue is how he did it. His perspective and sensationalism is really what's making reasonable readers angry about this. Others have posted the story in a more balanced way. It's hard to defend what Brian chose to say about it.

It is only compounded by his other articles and perceived attitude toward ND as a school.

8/07/2008 11:52:00 AM  

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