Last week, Wharton’s Undergraduate Sports Business Club and I had the privilege of listening to Ken Rosenthal talk about his experiences as a baseball reporter as well as the path he took to get there.
When Ken was applying for college, he knew he wanted to go into journalism, and he wanted to work for Sports Illustrated. This passion for journalism certainly played a role in choosing his college, which, along with some other factors, ultimately led him to choose the University of Pennsylvania.
When he joined the Daily Pennsylvanian at Penn, he found that the sports writers on the paper were much more “his type of people” than the other writers. Knowing that he covers baseball with such passion today, it was surprising to learn that he never had a preference for baseball. Ken said he was always liked sports, but never specifically liked baseball more than the others. He was more of an overall sports fan, rather than a baseball diehard.
A few years into his professional career, Ken settled in at the Baltimore Sun where he stayed for much of his career and got to cover the Baltimore Orioles. When asked about the most memorable event he has covered in his career, he said it was when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. While it was not that surprising of an answer, the reason he gave was. It wasn’t due to the immense moment, but because for that game, he was read by many of his peers. To someone who was born in the age of the internet, this seemed like a strange answer. Yet when looking back, it really was not so odd since the main way to get your sports news back then was through print, and the print newspaper only circulated so far.
Today, no matter what game you cover, people all over the world can read what you write if they want. That’s the beauty of websites like ESPN or Bleacher Report; a reporter’s article can be read almost instantly by anyone. Not only has the business of sports changed a lot over the past few decades, but the business of sports reporting has changed as well. So much of sports reporting has gone to television and video highlights that print has been ushered out quite quickly. Ken commented that the decline in article reads is distressing to him, but was adamant that he would always write articles.
Rosenthal then went on to discuss how the relationships between reporters and players has changed so much in the past couple decades. While there is still plenty of back and forth between players and reporters, Ken said that they are overall more accustomed to dealing with media. One reason is that so many post-game interviews are now recorded and are all over the internet and television shortly after they occur. While athletes do not always like dealing with reporters, they certainly appreciate the fans of the game and they would not want to behave on a public stage in such a way that would make their fans turn on them. Obviously, there are the outliers, but as an overall trend it makes sense.
Another sports business trend that Ken discussed concerned the type of articles journalist must write today in order to stay competitive. Today it is very easy to publish a one-source article since the internet is so accessible. In the current age, journalists must push harder in order to find multiple sources that can back up the same piece of information. With Twitter and Facebook available to millions of people, it can be hard sometimes to know what to believe and what not to believe. Therefore, accuracy and credibility are more important than ever.
Additionally, as the media tries to produce as much news as possible, sometimes it is not always checked as accurately as it should be. One example of this that Ken pointed to was when he reported that Yasiel Puig stormed out of the stadium after being told he would go to the minors. Ken said that he apologized on Twitter after the incident and should have checked with more of his sources. Another mix-up was when another reporter did not include the words “pending medical” when he wrote about a trade of Wilmer Flores. The trade did not go through, but fans were chanting that he got traded mid-game and Flores was on the field in tears.
In the past, journalists did not necessarily have to worry about getting stories out immediately as the newspaper would be printed once a day at varying times depending on which company you worked for. However, social media is constantly on with live updates pouring in every second, so even small errors like these can have big impacts very quickly. Fortunately, these incidents were corrected fairly quickly since the internet is always abuzz.
In short, Rosenthal’s message was that so many aspects of baseball and all sports have changed so much that it is sometimes forgotten how much has also changed behind the scenes. It is easy to forget that players were not always so accommodating with the media or that in the past you could not get boxscores from every game. According to Rosenthal, with the new age of sports reporting, it is becoming ever more crucial that journalists are able to get multiple sources to back their articles and get their stories right before publishing them since rumors spread much faster now. Sports coverage continues to get more competitive as reporters are always looking for that edge.