As I sat down this morning to come back to OTP from my winter vacation, I had a plethora of topics to cover. I could focus on recruiting and yesterday’s National Signing Day activities, but Nathan did a bang up job. I thought about going over the changes upcoming in the fall for OTP as we venture into the multimedia frontier, but that needs to wait a bit longer for some details to be hammered out. I could cover a host of national stories like Manti Teo, Ole Miss’s surprising day in recruiting, the proposed depth chart for the Cards, etc. etc. etc. and have a considerably easier time drafting up something than what I’m about to write.
My internet surfing on a somewhat daily basis includes the same rotation of sites. Some news, some sports, a little work, and my day is ready to get rolling. Today, I cruised over to the Ball State Daily News where I found this piece. In short summation, it’s a guest column by none other than Jason Whitlock, he of national media notoriety. If the job of a columnist is to generate emotion (as my DN editor John King told me) then Whitlock certainly hit the mark. In fact, I’d say he did so in record time.
In a little over 1100 words, Whitlock manages to tell his readers (Ball State undergraduates) his stops along the journalistic path, make awards about race, list off his accomplishments and awards, basically tell them to disregard pre-established rules, hotlink his columns to increase their page views, then beg and plead for people to read those aforementioned columns, feel sorry for him, and tell him that he didn’t in fact sell out and that he is in fact living up to his idol’s views of the purpose of sports journalism as a framer of the national conversation.
I can’t tell him whether he sold out or not. That’s for him to know. I also refuse to stroke the ego of anyone who blatantly asks me to do so. It cheapens my other commentary and compliments to waste them on someone begging for them. The bigger issue I have with this is his taking of this message to the young and impressionable.
Perhaps Whitlock wanted someone enrolled in Sports Link or intro to journalism classes to see him as their own Mike Royko. It’s natural to want to be seen as a hero or an inspiration. Part of the reason why I work in education is for that very purpose. But again, much like the pleading for sympathy this feels shallow and far from noble. What are the students who read this trite poor me love letter to the Pulitzer board supposed to idolize? Should they think that established guidelines don’t need to apply to someone good enough? Are they supposed to conceptualize or buy in to the fact that if you take a stand on enough hot button national issues the rules don’t apply to you? Are they to believe that the people who don’t fall into the “white good-old boy network” are doomed to being shat upon by the national awards? Sigh.
Even if Whitlock’s motives were pure (though I doubt they were) and he simply wanted to challenge the next generation of sportswriters or writers in general to find their greatness, he has done them a tremendous disservice and set them up for failure. As someone who makes hiring and termination decisions on a frequent basis, the attitudes that Whitlock’s piece leaves people with is a recipe for disaster. Believing rules are merely suggestions to be followed when convenient or complimentary to your purpose is a dangerous ethos. Believing you’ve been screwed solely because you are not from the same racial makeup as someone further up the chain is a crutch. Believing you are above the rules because your work speaks for itself is a fool’s game. These beliefs lead to failure, misery, and ultimately, unhappiness. Believe me, I know. Couple that misguided tack with a dying print journalism industry and you are setting these kids up for failure, Jason. You owe them better than that.
Critics of this site will tell you that our issues with Whitlock are based in jealousy. I can assure they are not. Whitlock is at times an entertaining and thought-inducing columnist. Other times, his columns are met with an eye-roll and quick click to something else. His opinions are so lavishly contrarian I often find myself wondering where the real Jason Whitlock begins and the in-your-face street wise real talking media schtick ends.
Whitlock’s history with this site is lengthy and some of you know it. Many do not. He did an interview with us for Cardinal Corner and conversed via email several times, but when Coach Hoke left, the bottom began to fall out of our flimsy relationship. While he was never a “supporter” of OTP or used his influence to benefit us, he tolerated us. When Stan Parrish was hired that tolerance changed to intolerance quickly. We wanted to give Parrish a chance. We wanted to correct some of the things Whitlock perpetuated on a national platform that made our university look small time and childish and as a matter of fact were not true.
In the past several years, Whitlock has blocked us on Twitter, threatened to sue us over our Whitlock-themed satire, etc. We’ve never complained and in fact never made mention of it. The only reason I do so now is to show that it isn’t that we’re jealous. The exact opposite as a matter of fact. With all that from a national columnist directed at a (according to Whitlock) “little old blog”, you’d think I’d care. You’d think I’d use it to get our name out. I don’t. It’s not that I hate him. I don’t think about Whitlock at all. Though to see that sort of effort from a national media pundit at something I started does make me smile and tell me we’re doing something right. A dog doesn’t chase parked cars.
The reason why I run OTP is because it’s fun. It’s entertaining. It allows me the opportunity to express my views and opinions without an editor or owner telling me what party line to take. The site was started because the coverage of the Cards from the local media was disappointing and unworthy of the team. That has since changed. I don’t think it’s because of us, but I don’t believe that sort of mass change happens without OTP at least pushing the envelope a bit.
I don’t do this for awards. I don’t submit OTP for awards we aren’t qualified for. I don’t bitch and moan about The Star Press or the Daily News not respecting our site because we’re new media and showing them up. I don’t sit back and assume that because we’re the blog of record for BSU football, the rules about media relations, ethics, etc. don’t apply to us. Maybe if Whitlock had pirated space in the DN when I was a writer we would. Unfortunately, I had to find my own way and OTP’s own way without the misguided advice of a national columnist begging for attention and sympathy over an award he didn’t deserve in the first place.