All judgment calls, and no instant replay

So the caller last week was polite, but frustrated. And he had a point, to a point.
Do high school sports rank as high as the major pro sports? No, except when a local or regional media outlet considers which stories get prominence in coverage.
Do high school sports rank as high as the major pro sports? No, except when a local or regional media outlet considers which stories get prominence in coverage.

So the caller last week was polite, but frustrated. And he had a point, to a point.

“Why so much high schools?” he said of the coverage in our sports section. “What about [Major League] Baseball?”

I told him sympathetically that if he was upset with us now, wait until the coming days . . .

Certain days of the week and times on the calendar are taken over by select sports, at least in these pages.

March is college basketball.

August is Saratoga.

Fall is football on all levels.

And now we are in the crest of sectionals, when Section II crowns champions for the spring sports seasons. Lots of sports. Lots of classes. Lots of champions. It takes up lots of space.

Baseball and softball. Boys’ and girls’ lacrosse. Track and field. Jarts.

Well, not Jarts. But we would so cover that.

Back to the caller: He had a point, wanting more Major League Baseball coverage. You can’t really argue that a high school lacrosse game has more widespread interest to readers than, say, the Yankees or Mets — except to a select group. And that is where the balancing act comes in.

As a regional newspaper we must provide information you aren’t going to get from ESPN or the New York tabloids. That means providing high school and local college coverage and insights of columnists such at Mike MacAdam — while also providing the broader regional/national stuff you also want to read.

What is the right formula?

No, really, I’m asking.

Because there isn’t one. It varies from day-to-day, season-to-season, depending on the schedule and the importance of the story and who’s winning and what time the teams are playing and which stories are available and . . . you get the idea.

Complicating matters more is where we are located geographically: There are fans of five distinct regional markets here —the Capital Region, New York, Boston, Buffalo and Syracuse — and that doesn’t even count fans of “out-of-town” teams. An example: Notice how many Pittsburgh Steelers fans there are in the area. Then again, you can say that of a lot of teams.

Who should get top billing on a given day: Syracuse basketball or the Buffalo Bills? The Boston Red Sox or New York Mets? The argument over ranking fandom in this market has been ongoing since before I arrived in the Capital Region more than 25 years ago.

And, please, do not say that personal bias of the editors goes into the decision-making process. Simply, it doesn’t. If partisan considerations played a role, then my kid and Skidmore field hockey would be on the cover three times a week. (They’re not — and I hear about it.)

So when it comes down to daily judgment calls, we are going to lean toward stories that are unique, that you can’t get elsewhere — balancing in the other stories people also want or need to know. Most times, we think, we get it right. Some times, we know, we get it wrong.

Of course, the danger with writing about local sports is that people who want their school, team or sport covered. The same could be said for the NFL or major leagues, for that matter.

Put the Giants out front? Why not the Jets? Feature the Jets? Why not the Bills or Patriots? Why Siena/UAlbany over the other?

I got labeled a New York Yankee homer last month for not running the Mets on page B1 enough — which, after you read my Friday column, you will find quite funny.

All this leaves us justifiably open to second-guessing from readers. There is no science here, only reason and art. So when complaints come in, I often find myself agreeing with the arguments in principle. Baseball does deserve more coverage for its fans. So does scholastic sports. So do specifically the Red Sox and Mets and Albany Devils and down the line.

Then again, the section is not 40 pages deep. So at what cost do we provide more on a given team/sport? That depends on who you ask.

That caller wanted more baseball and less high school coverage. Fair enough. But over the winter, I had a caller asking for more high school coverage . . . and less college hockey coverage.

In Utica during the playoffs, a Devils fan crushed me for not covering the team more during the regular season. But at the same time there are other readers who would rather see a lot more in the winter about college basketball than anything else.

And don’t mess with the NFL.

A final note about that caller: He called on a day I was truly stumped between which of two stories to put on the front of the sports section: The post draw for the Preakness Stakes or Game 2 of the New York Mets-Washington Nationals series at Citi Field. (The Yank­ees were on the West Coast and not an option.)

We went back and forth on it, until the baseball guy convinced me which way to go.

He said run the Preakness. It was the better story that day.

I told him to call back again. We could always use the help.

Categories: Sports

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