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Fleischman: Silence Is Golden Rule In The Box

Bill Fleischman | Contributing Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 5 2011

Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers were a great story after winning the Daytona 500 last month. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Editor’s Note: In addition to being the auto racing beat writer at the Philadelphia Daily News and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com, Bill Fleischman is a retired adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.)

By Bill Fleischman | Senior Correspondent
RacinToday.com

Three basic rules of journalism I learned many years ago are: accuracy, fairness and don’t cheer for the athletes you cover.

These do not mean you cannot like athletes and coaches you cover. You also can root for good stories.

Trevor Bayne’s upset victory in the Daytona 500 is not only a good story, it’s a great story. Bayne jump started the NASCAR Sprint Cup season in a positive way, attracting attention for racing from people who normally wouldn’t know a restrictor plate from a dinner plate.

I didn’t cover the Daytona 500 this year, but I heard about media members cheering for Bayne. That’s distressing enough. Then I heard some media people clapped for Bayne following his post-race press conference.

A few days later, I read that Tom Bowles was fired by si.com for cheering and clapping for Bayne. My first reaction was, si.com must have more issues with Bowles than just this one. I thought firing was an overreaction: a suspension would’ve been more appropriate.

Then I read that Bowles has been defiant about his behavior and has received considerable support from bloggers and tweeters.

I read Bowles’s explanation on www.frontstretch.com. He writes that he took journalism ethics courses in college, so he is not clueless about why journalists shouldn’t cheer or applaud.

Bowles says he was instructed not to cheer in the press box because revealing emotion shows bias. There’s nothing wrong with having some emotion, as long as it is under control.

Passion for your work is admirable. I’ve always had passion for sports journalism, but I still think it is unprofessional to cheer or applaud for the people we cover. We can be happy for the people we cover, but we don’t cheer or applaud.

I covered the Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt won the race for the first time in his 20th attempt. One of the classiest things I’ve ever seen in sports was the rival crew members lining pit road and high-fiving Earnhardt as he rolled toward victory lane.

Many motorsports writers were happy for Earnhardt. I’m sure I smiled at the pit-road scene. But I don’t remember hearing any cheering in the press box that day. I would not have thought of cheering or applauding.

I suspect many of those cheering and clapping for Bayne are dot.com reporters and bloggers who’ve had none or little training in journalism. They are fans at heart and, as fans, feel they can cheer and clap,

In addition to my duties as a Philadelphia Daily News sports writer, I taught for 28 years in the University of Delaware journalism program. Each semester we spent time talking about journalism ethics. Over the years several former students who are in journalism have thanked me for those discussions.

I’m all for younger generations introducing new ideas. But journalists cheering for the people they cover isn’t one of them. Neither is Twitter, in my view, but I know I’m losing that battle.

Bowles and his supporters refer to my position on professional behavior as “old school.” They are right, and I am proud of it. Guess what? Sometimes old school is good school.

Years ago, in the 1980s if I recall correctly, Chicago sports writer Jerome Holtzman wrote a book titled “No Cheering in the Press Box.” He was right then, and he’s still right.

– Bill Fleischman was one of the founding staff members of RacinToday.com

Bill Fleischman | Contributing Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 5 2011
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Randy says:

    I have read much in the past couple of weeks about the Tom Bowles situation. I have yet to see anything written about how strongly Bowles reacted to what I would be willing to bet was the Wood Brothers return to victory lane as much as anything else. With that said, if Bowles was jumping up and down and raising cain in general, then I can see some sort of sanction by SI. However, if it was simply a clap or two and a hurrah, then someone certainly has a bad case of stuffed shirt.

  • Pat388 says:

    Your comment: ” suspect many of those cheering and clapping for Bayne are dot.com reporters and bloggers who’ve had none or little training in journalism. They are fans at heart and, as fans, feel they can cheer and clap,”

    Perhaps this is why we “fans” enjoy reading their articles more than those of the “stuffed shirts” hand picked by Nascar. Get over yourself and enjoy these rare moments. When I read articles written by the so called educated journalists I am not even sure they were watching the same race that I was. You say they are not supposed to be biased but the boring lap by lap account they give is biased as they report how they see things unfold. Often I see the same incident differently so in the end the “journlist” is really reporting his opinion or Nascar’s anyway.

  • Terry says:

    Thank you for some outside insight to a question that is OBVIOUSLY in flux. I asked a wise old sports journalist ” would Grantland Rice have clapped”?…..he replied it was a different time in the RUTHIAN ERA and the writers were tight with the players back them. But, he was in agreement that it had transitioned to a strick
    NO CHEERING norm since then and now.
    I have read all kinds of angles on this from established payrolled writers to some I think maybe working out of their car.
    I believe …for BETTER or WORSE…..
    we maybe in another ” RUTHIAN ” transition. We’ll just have to see where it goes.