New York Daily News baseball writer Andy Martino published a unique notes column earlier this week. It's an introspective look at a question reporters probably don't ask themselves enough: Do they spin their reporting to favor athletes they like?
The Cliff's Notes version: For years, the choice for the Mets' first baseman of the future was between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. The Mets made their selection when they traded Davis in April, and it appeared to be the right one: Duda is having his best season while Davis continues to struggle.
Martino admits that he favored Davis over Duda, both privately and publicly, and other Mets players did too. But it was't because of baseball prowess, but rather because Davis was outgoing and likable, while Duda was shy and difficult to interview. His conclusion now, after he admits that he appears to have backed the wrong horse:
We arrive now at the sticky area of reporting. I'll turn it inward, without presuming to speak for colleagues and competitors. On a subconscious level, did I convince myself that Davis was a better choice because he was a better quote, a friendlier guy, one for whom I came to feel genuine affection as a person?
There are many levels of ethics, in this sensitive business of writing about real people. On an obvious level, we should not produce agenda-driven work, where we write positively or negatively about people based on what they can do for us, quid-pro-quo. Duh.
But there is a more subtle crime that can be difficult to avoid: Accidentally interpreting the information we gather through the lens of what we want to happen. Davis was interesting to talk to, sympathetic and likeable; did that up-close knowledge render me incapable of drawing an objective conclusion, and presenting it to readers? And to overstate Duda's problems, which he seems to have since overcome?
Well, yeah. Reporting is still the best way do the job, but it must include an additional step: Pause, step back, be aware of what you are feeling. And question it, more than I did while working this particular story.
This is a bludgeoningly obvious point being made here, that it's bad and unprofessional—and totally natural!—to show favoritism to guys your like. But it's not obvious enough, because some people don't notice it even when they're guilty of it.
I'm glad that Martino wrote this, because the more it's acknowledged as a thing, maybe the less it'll occur.
(It's also a pretty perfect example of why you should run everything you read through a mental filter. Reporters are humans too, and even the most professional have unwitting biases.)