Media Watch

Tough week on the prep sports comedy circuit for Arizona Daily Star reporter

There's a prevailing concern among the more traditional sports journalism guard about how our athletic pastimes are covered within the scope of the modern media landscape. It's sort of a two-prong issue largely based on timeliness and how to provide additional content.

The game story—where a reporter explains what happened in the event—in many contexts has been whittled down to bullet point highlights, largely because other electronically driven outlets can provide visual highlights in a much more timely fashion.

So what to do? Because as a journalism outlet, you still need content, and even if you view sports as little more than entertainment, it's popular entertainment. Folks like their sports teams, and like to follow their sports teams, and if they're reading your content about their sports teams that's good for you.

In the world of more content, commentary isn't enough. This is where the sports reporting purist often struggles with the modern approach. Because among the available options, said modern approach tends to look like a bunch of 20-somethings applying to be the next Bob Sagat in America's Funniest Home Videos.

Sports reporting has largely become a big blooper reel. Write a paragraph, imbed a video of some wacky occurrence or botch, provide some punchline. And voila. Content. This is not just an Internet phenomena reserved for the likes of Bleacher Report and the new, embarrassing incarnation of the The Sporting News. Every outlet does it, from Fox Sports to ESPN to even highly accredited papers. Like the Arizona Daily Star.

Unfortunately, Star high school sports reporter Chuck Constantino did not have his best week on the sports comedy circuit.

Apparently, bloopers are one thing, but highlighting bloopers of a well-respected softball coach in his 70s, who at the spur of the moment forgot the names of two of his recruits, might seem like a funny, ha-ha video to a 20-something videographer cultivating material on the Star's Vine account, but not so much to representatives of the school.

So when Constantino prominently featured Ironwood Ridge softball coach Rich Alday's vocal faux pas, in a video that he hyped on the Star's HSTucson twitter account as, "When it's Signing Day and Coach forgets two of his players names. #azhs," who knew there would be an outpouring of public backlash in support of a coach many consider a local legend?

Um, just about anyone with a modicum of common sense, that's who.

Star sports editor Ryan Finley did not comment on the situation, but the newspaper ultimately pulled the Vine video and tweet from its HSTucson timeline, without explanation as to its disappearance.

Covering high school sports can be touchy. There are some who feel criticism should be limited. The thought process is that kids are playing something they enjoy, and aren't getting paid to do it, so highlighting the mistakes of a specific individual is generally out of bounds. With whatever coverage the Star provides, much of which has moved to visual podcasting style reporting platforms, it more or less seems to follow that line of thinking.

Coaches aren't necessarily afforded the same luxury. And in this day and age, any time anyone says anything, there's technology available to broadcast it, so others in attendance could have just as easily made light of Alday's misstep for their version of the world to see.

But the Star didn't have to do it, and a reporter appears to have made the decision to upload the video because it fell within the parameters of the new sports blooper-reporting model. It also isn't outside the purview of the Star sports staff's often smarmy, self-important, smartass demeanor, where everything in athletics is its own internal competition to try to showcase who can deliver the best zinger. Using the Alday incident to get hits while satisfying the need to illustrate one's comic sports chops proved to be part of a standup routine they might want to scrap for future performances.

Unfortunately for the Star, the video incident wasn't the end of a trying week. As fate would have it, Constantino and prep editor Daniel Gaona were on hand for a Friday night high school football playoff game. At Ironwood Ridge.

It's here where two reporters in the same place, covering the same incident and dealing with the same situation, went to social media and handled their encounters with very different levels of maturity.

According to reports on scene, and largely verified by the reporters' twitter feeds, Gaona and Constantino were on the sidelines covering the action, and providing streaming video of the playoff game featuring Ironwood Ridge. The Star contingent was approached on three occasions, once by the Ironwood Ridge Athletic Director, once by a rep from the AIA, and a final time by police on scene.

Online video and content is something the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the governing body for in-state high school sports, protects with vitriol. And if a rep for the organization sees someone from an accredited journalistic outlet taking video, comprehending the differences between streaming and live video broadcasting can be a muddy technical distinction.

The AIA, itself an oft-criticized entity that has been the source of years of frustration in the prep community, apparently didn't take kindly to what they saw. Ultimately, even if the Star was technically correct about the definition of the video it provided, the AIA nixed that part of the coverage.

So here’s how the two Star reporters handled the exchange. Gaona went on twitter and took a professional approach.

“The AIA has told us to stop posting videos on @HSTucson because it's classified as "streaming." Silly but we'll still get you updates. #azhs

He obviously didn’t like the situation, but took the high road in explaining the circumstances to his audience. Perfectly legit, and well handled.

Constantino, meanwhile, took to twitter with a decidedly different tact.

Among the highlights, he created an online twitter poll with two voting options:

“Which would you say best describes the @ArizonaAIA?

 straight garbage; dumpster fire.”

The diatribe continued with direct criticism of the AIA’s policy: “If @ArizonaAIA watched its own product, Friday night football games, they'd see how journalists in AZ cover the sport. No one streams.”

And a screen shot of a Google definition of live streaming, before taking his place among the great journalists who stood up and fought against the oppression of an authoritarian regime when he proclaimed triumphantly to his 668 followers:

“Last clip of the night I was able to get before I was told the cops were going to escort me out of #IronwoodRidge.”

That’s showing the man. Constantino can be proud of his stance. He almost certainly single-handedly showed the AIA the error of its ways. The following night he and Gaona were in attendance at the Pusch Ridge playoff game, where they were streaming video.

It probably had everything to do with Constantino’s online outburst, and nothing to do with the Star contacting the AIA in an effort to reach an accord through other means.

Perhaps Constantino is onto something. Mock a coach, berate the AIA, in the end get your way.

A mantra of modern sports journalism

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