Michael Wilbon Closes His Mind

Michael Wilbon went full get-off-my-lawn during a panel discussion last week about all that is wrong with journalism these days:

“What bugs me now is that people is that people sit in their mother’s basements and write this crap and they don’t have any knowledge of what is going on in that place, and it’s too easy to get it,” Wilbon said. “You can go to a game, you can go to a locker room. The only reason to read this stuff is to tell people why something happened, and if you’re not there, and you can’t tell me why it happened, I don’t care about all your advanced analytics and all the other things you concoct.”

 

So, to recap: One must be in the ballpark and then go to a locker room with naked men (or women) to fully understand why something happened.

This, of course, makes no sense.

For example, I – more than perhaps anyone in the world – can tell you that certain baseball players are more apt to make an out on the base paths in certain situations in certain ways. I must admit, I can’t tell you why they do it (other than being nincompoops), but I can tell you that they did it, how often they do it, and what it means for their teams when they do it.

All of that said, I have never covered a Major League game. I have no interest in covering a Major League game. But I love baseball. I love writing about baseball. And I love calling out logical fallacies of journalists and fans who take themselves too seriously when covering and watching games.

It isn’t a noble undertaking, but it is mine.

(Note: I covered Big Ten football and basketball games, NBA games, NCAA swimming championships and countless other events for the Associated Press – but I don’t believe I have any special insight in the game of basketball because I was in a room with Reggie Miller while he was getting dressed.)

Wilbon had more to say:

“Learn how to talk to people face to face,” Wilbon said. “Stop texting for a minute, stop emailing. Learn how to have a conversation with people. Learn how to pick up a phone and do it if you can’t do it in person…let them see you. You see them. Personal interaction. This is a people business.

“And learn how to tell a narrative. And you don’t need advanced analytics to do it. Learn how to tell a story … if you can’t tell a story without relying wholly on statistical information, then that means you can’t tell a damn story. The best storytellers in my life were people who weren’t journalists. They were people, old folks, who could sit by the fireplace and just keep you riveted. They didn’t have any stats.”

Three points:

One: I do media relations, messaging and, well, storytelling for a living. One of the things we try to get people to think about when telling a story is to build your narrative. What are the three main points do you want to get across? How best to say them? And about those three points – it’s always best to have some data, some statistics, some analytics to back them up.

Otherwise, you’re just talking out of your ass.

Two: Literally nobody in the world believes statistical information should take the place of good storytelling; it should complement and support it. Just as nobody in the world believes analytics should replace scouting.

Three: Did these elderly storytellers go to the locker room before telling their stories? And were there fireplaces in their basements?

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