For the second-straight week, the MTTS welcomes a multi-time Pulitzer Prize winner. This time, we have ESPN.com’s Don Van Natta, who’s won three (!) of those awards. In our chat, we talk about how Van Natta could take notes in the midst of a 165-mph hurricane and then churn out a 1,400-word story that helped his newspaper win the Pulitzer, why he turned to sports writing after so many years as an investigative newshound at the NY Times, how over-reporting can help and hurt his stories, and how an investigative reporter spends his days.
Plus, we recount our experiences trying to report and write separate biographies of Sid Gillman at about the same time, and we talk about how tough the book-writing world can be.
My favorite quote from the podcast on how Van Natta operates: “You have to report with insecurity, and you have to write with overconfidence.”
This week marks the second of two episodes in which five writers and I discuss the art of asking questions. Today, we’ll entertain NY Times best-selling author Jeff Pearlman, Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer Bill Koch and Columbus Dispatch beat writer Bill Rabinowitz (last week, in case you missed it, we spoke with Tampa Bay Times enterprise writer Ben Montgomery and CBSSports.com national columnist Gregg Doyel).
With Pearlman, we talk about the John Rocker story, whether Pearlman thinks now he should have given Rocker the chance to take back his controversial comments before he published them in Sports Illustrated, and about his approach to asking the tough questions. Koch, meanwhile, talks about how a daily beat writer approaches the question-asking when he sees the same coach a few times per week and why humor is one way to build a rapport with those he covers (he also tells some fantastic stories about Tennessee coach Butch Jones). Finally, Rabinowitz talks about why sometimes the best question to ask is, well, silence.
I read this story today, and immediately, I had two different reactions: “Yay!” and “Well, I guess I won’t be visiting NYTimes.com much anymore.”
First reaction: I think it’s great the NY Times is thinking of ways it can make money on the Web. I always feel optimistic when somebody in this not-dying-but-totally-changing business is thinking of trying something a little bit different. If the NY Times wants to charge a bit so you can read the best newspaper in the world, I say “god bless.” If ESPN.com wants to employ a blogger for each NFL division and each BCS conference to get fans a micro-view of the news, I say “that’s awesome.” If CBSSports.com wants to pay me for … well, I’ll get into that part later. It’s all about adapting and finding a formula that works. The NY Times (and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as well, in a similar capacity) tried something a few years back called TimesSelect where, basically, you had to subscribe to read certain columnists. It eventually went away (the linked article explains why). Now, the NY Times is going to try something different. I think it can work. If people perceive the content as being too good or too important to pass up, they’ll pay for it. Ask the Financial Times’ web site about that. The NY Times can accomplish the same as well,* because, in reality, you could spend all day on the site reading fascinating and well-written stories.
*Whether a paper like the Cincinnati Enquirer or AJC could make that formula work, I don’t know. But I kind of have my doubts.
Second reaction: If I, a journalist and a student of this business, question whether it’s worth it to shell out, say, $60 a year to read the Times online, you wonder how well this idea will really work. I love the Times (I love reading the newspaper, anyway. I don’t read the web site nearly as much I should), but I don’t know if I want to pay to read it on my computer. I’d almost rather spend the $200 (or whatever it is) to subscribe and get the paper thrown at my front door every day than to have to read it online (maybe, that’s what the Times would want anyway). I just don’t know if I want to spend my money on that.
On one hand, I’m optimistic. On the other, I’m a little bit sad.