Hal McCoy, Jonny Gomes, Reporters' etiquette

Make Sure You Hear What You Think You Hear Before You Go Ahead and Report It

Although many media outlets reporting on the Jonny GomesAdam Wainwright affair are spinning it as a matter of player disrespect, there’s more to it than that.

At the surface, it seems clear: Gomes is reported to have walked into the Cincinnati clubhouse moments after hearing that Cardinals ace Wainwright would likely be shelved for the season with a blown-out elbow, singing something along the lines of  “Wainwright’s gone.”

The firestorm was immediate. People suggested that Gomes stay loose the first time he steps in the box against the Cardinals, because Tony La Russa is a man of applied vengeance and because none of Wainwright’s fellow St. Louis pitchers are likely to cotton well to the sentiment.

Well, okay. If it happens that Gomes wears a fastball for his actions, so be it.
Except that according to him, those were neither his actions, nor his intent. And there’s plenty of evidence in his corner to believe him.

The true breach of etiquette came from writer Hal McCoy, the guy who initially reported Gomes’ would-be song in his blog for the Dayton Daily News.

McCoy explained in a follow-up post that as he was getting ready to depart the Reds clubhouse, he “thought” he heard the words Gomes was singing. Then he reported them. (McCoy has since removed the offending paragraph from his blog.)

Etiquette is required of reporters as much as it is of players inside big league clubhouses. As most reporters will attest, running overheard items—especially inflammatory ones—is inherently dangerous because there’s frequently more to the story.

At the very least, a thorough reporter will take the item directly to the player in question for further comment, to ensure what’s being reported is what was intended. (It’s also standard practice for reporters to bring inflammatory on-the-record statements back to the offending party to confirm intent. And regardless of what Gomes did or did not sing, he was clearly not on the record.)

McCoy is a Hall of Famer, a sportswriting legend. Perhaps he’s still trying to figure out the immediacy of the Internet and the place of blogging in the reporting universe. The rise of new media has engendered a rule that he and every other sportswriter is well-served to observe: the traditional “scoop”—in which a reporter breaks a news story and gets to watch with glee as his competition scrambles to catch up before the next day’s paper goes to press—is ancient history.

These days, breaking a story gives a reporter only a momentary advantage, as every competing outlet can pump out their own reports just moments later. (This, in fact, is the primary job description of most bloggers. Craig Calcaterra offered up a prescient and insightful post on this very topic earlier this month.)

Much more important is accuracy. Had McCoy taken the time to corroborate what he heard with the player in question, he wouldn’t have the mess on his hands that he does. Nor would Jonny Gomes.

Gomes is widely seen as one of baseball’s good guys—McCoy himself said so even as he apologized for his quick draw—and has been scrambling to repair his image.

To McCoy’s credit, he’s owned responsibility for his actions, which is something Hall of Famers do.

Of course, that might not help the impending bruise about which Gomes is worried should McCoy have indelibly painted a target on his back when it comes to the Cardinals.

— Jason

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