Here's a very special treat.
Former Rutgers beatwriter Jim Carty recently left the Ann Arbor News, making waves with his announcement that he was headed to law school. He's originally a New Jersey native, and attended Syracuse University. If you remember his columns (which, unfortunately, were a little before my time), or listened to his episode of On the DL last year (with Rutgers guy Dan Levy), you know that in addition to being a thoughtful, engaging writer; Jim pulls no punches. He currently blogs at Paper Tiger No More. I have keeping up with it for the past several months, and wanted to get his thoughts on Rutgers (and I tried to stay away from the fawning, self-congratulatory stuff there), Michigan, just what the hell is going on today in journalism, and so much more.
For any readers that might not be familiar with you, can you give a brief overview of your background and career?
Well, from a Rutgers perspective, I covered the program from around 1993 to late 2001, first for the Bridgewater Courier-News, and then for the Asbury Park Press (although my coverage ran in all the Gannett papers, including the Home News). I was primarily the Rutgers and Big East men's basketball writer, but was fortunate enough to write a lot of columns about football during the last few years of that tenure.
I was also the first person to write Greg Schiano should be the next Rutgers football coach, so I've got that in my pocket to balance out a lot of other horrible predictions, like the fact that Tommy Amaker would give Tom Izzo a run for his money.
I left to cover Michigan in late 2001 and did so until last fall, when I quit to enroll in the University of Toledo College of Law as a full-time law student.
Over six months ago, you announced that you were leaving journalism for law school, and started up your own personal blog. Of course, you've written quite a bit about the current state of the business at Paper Tiger No More. Does anyone have any idea at all what's going on, or what the future holds for the field?
Prior to this week, I've consistently answered that question by saying that most of today's newspapers will always be around, it's just a question of what format they'll be producing information in. On Monday, however, my old paper, the Ann Arbor News, was essentially folded by its owner, Newhouse (which also owns the Star-Ledger), which has certainly caused me to question my long-held assumptions about the future of the news business.
That said, after announcing the paper would close, Newhouse officials are saying, well, wait a minute, we're going to still use the name on the web and publish two days a week, so maybe my prediction isn't that far off.
Overall, no, I don't think anyone knows what's going to happen next in the news business.
OTOH, there are new web-based publications starting up every day, and some of them make money and produce a lot of jobs. On the big side, there are sites like Politico, which didn't exist a few years ago. On the small end, there's a site like MGoBlog, which is one individual Michigan fan making his living off a blog.
People want information about the subjects they're passionate about, whether it's sports, politics or timeshares. If you provide that information in an informative, entertaining way, you've got a chance to make some money, I think. Newspapers are hurt in that battle, though, by very high fixed costs. I imagine more will die, and many will eventually figure out a way to make it work.
What are your biggest lasting impressions of your time covering Rutgers athletics?
The biggest takeaway from my years covering Rutgers was that no matter how bad it got, there was still a much larger, and much more passionate, fanbase than most people realized. I think you really saw this when football started to roll. The night game against Louisville, for example, and I remember watching on television and thinking, "Yeah, I always knew that was there, they just had to win to see it."
I think you'll eventually see the same thing with basketball. Someday it'll happen. It always does eventually.
You've written about objectivity as a sports journalist. I can see how say, Michigan football's recent instability makes for a good story. However, after a certain point, isn't there something kind of soul crushing about covering a program (i.e., Rutgers football a decade ago) without any semblance of hope?
Are you suggesting Tom Luicci has a tiny little crushed soul? That would, of course, he had a soul to begin with ... I'll have to ponder that ... (if anyone can take that, it's Tom, in fact, I think he might take pride in having his soul questioned ...)
The perspective of a professional sportswriter is one that's entirely different from a fan, and one that's often difficult for fans to understand. Whether a team wins or loses is usually very, very secondary to a sportswriter's job. Sportswriters exist to tell stories, and there are always good stories associated with a Division I athletics program, win or lose.
Now, do you eventually want to cover an NCAA Tournament team just for a change of pace? Sure. Anything - whether it's winning or losing - can get a bit boring. I know people who cover Michigan who were relieved to not have to cover a bowl game this year - they wanted to spend the holidays with their families for a change.
Fans of Rutgers athletics seem to look at the University of Michigan as a model of stability and competence in most areas, at least in contrast to RU. Well, at least that was the case until the world learned about Bill Martin's fondness for sailing. What do you think are the major differences, and similarities, between the two institutions?
Well, the two biggest differences are that Michigan is the winningest college football program in America and probably has the second-most valuable brand in college sports, and that Michigan is fortunate enough to play in the Big Ten.
Michigan's name allows it to have instant credibility with any parent in America. It's a tremendous educational institution and a tremendous athletic program. Rutgers is in a completely different place, but then so are most schools when compared to Michigan.
The Big Ten is also a huge advantage, one that most Big East fans don't even fully appreciate. The Big Ten prints money, it's that simple. Being in the Big Ten gives a school - not just Michigan - a tremendous revenue boost and allows it to make incredible investments in facilities and staff that dwarf the investments made by most Big East schools. It also makes those programs much more recession-resistant.
Michigan is in a different world of college sports than Rutgers. That's not a shot - Michigan is in a different world of college sports from the vast majority of Div. I schools.
But Rutgers also has a few advantages - it's in a much more economically and culturally diverse and vibrant area. It's much closer to rich recruiting grounds, the whole Washington to Boston corridor. It doesn't have to compete with another major state university right in its own backyard. Oh, and It does not have a recent history of steering vast amounts of its athletes on a questionable academic path (that shot is only half-serious, but it drives a certain segment of Michigan Kool Aid drinkers so crazy that it's too much fun not to include it).
The similarities are limited IMO. They are both public universities with a lot of history and Div. I athletics. That's about it.
A year ago, the Ann Arbor News published a four-part series looking into academics with regard to the University of Michigan athletic program. Understandably, any article that puts teams in a negative light is going to receive a certain angry, knee-jerk response from the more hardcore elements of any fanbase, questioning the writer's motives and integrity. However, the reaction to that series was relatively muted in comparison to the absolute furor from Rutgers fans in response to several investigative articles published in the Star-Ledger last year (which came from their political reporters, not the sports desk).
I don't think your perception is accurate there, but it's probably hard to fully appreciate the impact of either series without being on the ground in Michigan or NJ.
The academics and athletics series was picked up by the NY Times, USA Today, Yahoo! and other national outlets, as well as local television and every sports blog that covers Michigan. It resulted in incredible criticism of the paper on Michigan sites and talk radio, some of which is still going on today, more than a year later. It's resulted in a major changes in how Michigan handles academics and athletics, and has resulted in a change of leadership for their academic support division, and a complete revamping of how athletic eligibility is appealed.
On the flip side, the Star-Ledger series resulted in Bob Mulcahy losing his job, which is bigger impact.
I'd say both stories were important and very discussed within their respective communities.
(note: I apologize for being presumptive there.)
Putting the matters of fact aside in both cases - inherently, it seems like there's a difficult balancing act whenever sportswriters take a critical look at a local team. What's your mindset when considering whether to write that kind of piece?
There is no balancing act in my experience.
If it's true, and it's an important story, you write it.
You might comment along the way that it's going to hurt you with subscribers or advertisers, but that's not something that reporters or editors discuss. The only discussions that take place in my opinion are the same that take place with controversial stories outside of sports - are we being fair? Are we giving people a chance to present their side of the story?
In the course of covering a team, how much 'privileged' information is the typical beatwriter privy to that cannot be disseminated to the general public?
A fair amount. I've been aware of potential substance abuse issues regarding both players and coaches, coaches having affairs, coaches chasing jobs, financial struggles, family problems, etc. That stuff doesn't get in the paper, though, unless A) you can prove it to a journalistic standard; and B) It's directly relevant to how the person involved either does their job or impacts whether or not they're failing out of school or being thrown off a team.
And beatwriters are often aware of the true reasons for things happening - like a kid saying he quit a team when he was really thrown out of school - and sometimes can't print them because there's no official way of confirming it. If the school won't comment and the kid won't talk, it's often more responsible not to write the story.
(At least as a fan, this is what I wonder about the most, although you can read in between the lines at times. I've talked about this with other journalists; my curiosity is less about the lurid details, which inevitably will get out, and more about the specific dynamics of what we're allowed to learn.)
Whew, ok, last one. I apologize if this is a bit of a downer. I have friends currently in law school, and they paint a very scary picture; a glut of overqualified graduates, while firms across the country are slashing hiring. Any apprehension or regrets now that you have a semester as a 1L under your belt?
My old paper just folded, dude, how much worse off could I be in law school, lol?
No apprehension at all. I love law school. I'm fairly good at it so far. I've always been an optimist, and I've always been someone who believes work ethic and a positive outlook go a long way. The American economy is historically cyclical - if we hang in there and bust our asses, we'll all be OK in the long run, whatever path we choose.
All the well wishes in the world to Jim Carty, show torts who's boss. Once again, be sure to visit Paper Tiger No More if you have any interest in knowing whether we'll have any stories to read tomorrow. And if any Michigan fans happen to stumble across this, be sure to target your ire at me, because I'm the one who wanted to talk about the Maize and Blue.