Marquette Courtside Media Musings~Dan Pfeifer

Marquette Courtside Media Musings

A Courtside case for continued critical thinking

As we get back into the swing of our weekly pattern of Marquette Courtside coming out Thursdays, it’s time to devote some words to one of Courtside’s favorite topics: The media. Goodness knows there’s been plenty of media scrutiny lately, and while I want to discuss how my own experience as a member of the media covering Marquette is unique, I also want to consider a larger view of how media is perceived on the whole right now.

I have made reference in the past to Marquette being one of the nation’s best-covered teams in terms of online media. Whereas other teams in the BIG EAST often top out at a decent presence on SB Nation, Marquette has Anonymous Eagle, Dodds on Sports, Paint Touches, Cracked Sidewalks, MU Scoop, BrewCityBall, the Real Chilly podcast, and maybe even others that aren’t occurring to me. It’s also not uncommon to see #mubb blow up on Twitter during games. There are other teams, even within the BIG EAST, for which it’s difficult to even single out a hashtag to follow.

That said, this is now my fourth-straight year covering Marquette Basketball as credentialed media, and one thing I’ve found, in terms of mainstream media presence at Marquette games, is numbers have actually shrunk. The past couple years, it wasn’t uncommon for the only question-askers at post-game press conferences to be a Journal Sentinel reporter (formerly Matt Velasquez, now Ben Steele), someone from Marquette student media, and me. This partly comes down to convenience. When press conferences are available online or through direct channels, outlets need not necessarily send someone for purely technical reasons. But there’s still something to be said for actual, in-person coverage, and there are now fewer folks face-to-face with players and coaches, especially right after the heat of battle.

The change — more coverage, but moreso from a distance — speaks to a larger trend in media: Far more voices, but less clarity and accountability.

I am a Marquette fan and supporter. But when I attend a game under the auspices of The Big 920, I’m there as a sports journalist. “Fan Dan” is always in me, but a journalist’s eyes are very different from a fan’s. I’m not there to cheer. I’m there to call spades as spades. Good play is good play; bad play is bad play. As a columnist, it’s my job to use knowledge of the game to help decipher good from bad for those interested. Then it’s my job to communicate with key figures, find out why they chose to do what they did, decipher how that impacted the result and then evaluate whether their thinking was correct.

Being both a part of Marquette Athletics in the fall & spring (PA announcer for soccer & lacrosse) and an independent outlet covering Marquette in the winter (The Big 920), I get comments from both sides. I hear those who say I have a conflict of interest covering Marquette and reason to hold back saying anything too negative. I also have others tell me I’m too critical, especially being as close as I am to the athletic program in general.

A lot of those online “voices” can sit afar and say what they want without consequence. Because I’m actually on-site, I’m closer to the key figures. If I question an action by Steve Wojciechowski or a player in a tweet, Marquette staff can question me quickly. I put myself on the line and consciously take on a lot of accountability.

That said, I still do this, even though I sometimes wonder if I’m taking my good graces into peril. I think it’s good for any highly visible entity to have independent, critically thought-out coverage, and I feel like I’m part of perhaps the last non-beatwriting organization providing it consistently for Marquette Basketball. I would hope entities being covered in this way, and those consuming the coverage, would see it as a net good, too. 

Unfortunately, we’re also becoming a world that feels an all-consuming need to squash any bad PR. It speaks to how hypercompetitive we’ve become. We believe anything bad can and will be used against us by the “competition,” so many entities will seek to eliminate, or slap down, any mention of it.

I see it differently. Critical media coverage is the chance to hear where others think there are flaws and respond with plans for solutions. It creates accountability and encourages actual improvement rather than simply slapping on a perception of improvement through positive PR. By simply asking questions about things that go both right and wrong, the media may bring to light different ways of thinking, help those involved see different perspectives, and maybe even allow those people to consider other paths to success. In this way, quality, independent media encourages honesty, transparency and accurate self-assessment. The world could use a lot more of that right now.

Of course, that assumes those involved are willing to accept their own fallibility, and again, it’s become instinct for too many to simply refuse to accept their own flaws. In an age when we don’t ask “Are we right?” enough, and say “We ARE right!” too much, not everyone sees critical thinking as a good thing. I’m not necessarily implicating Marquette on this; Wojciechowski has often answered questions with a response indicating that yes, he and the team need to do things better. In case it isn’t obvious, this is where I’m transitioning to, um, a “more general” overview of media.

The proliferation of voices can make folks struggle to tell the difference between independent coverage and PR, much less what’s “real” and “fake,” or who’s actually asking questions or just bloviating from afar. For consumers who, consciously or unconsciously, want PR instead of hearing both the good and bad, I see how the perception of a “media agenda” can build if coverage doesn’t match the rah-rah, “We ARE right!” hype those folks are expecting. Yes, some media has an agenda, and the ability of anyone to produce and distribute media now allows hype machines to make content and disguise it as journalism. But I still believe in the power of proper journalism to help the greater good for the most people, and I think that’s the way it is for most members of the frontline press that’s asking questions in front of podiums. More and more, we need to remind people what proper journalism is, that it is supposed to be to hold people’s feet to the fire when appropriate, and how we need it worse than ever right now.

Back in the blog framework, I like Marquette, and see “calling spades as spades” helping it. And I think those being covered should feel the same way, even if fielding questions or seeing tweets about the bad stuff isn’t the most pleasant thing. That’s fundamentally different from how a large swath of the public sees the media at the moment. But I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it’s the approach both I’m going to continue to take and hope the media as a whole takes, for better or worse.


OFF THE WOODWORK: The reason I ranged into a more esoteric topic here should be obvious if you look at Marquette’s schedule: No games this past week. Marquette takes to the court again Saturday, playing an exhibition against Lindenwood at 1 p.m. I will not be there, as I have the significant honor of joining my Vietnam vet father on the Stars & Stripes Honor Flight that day, but at least we’ll have something more substantial to chew on.

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