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The Stolen Word: Controlling The Transcripts

May 25, 2011

Roland Garros has caused a stir for all the wrong reasons. It is the first to implement the wishes of the International Tennis Writers Association and cease putting interview transcripts up for public viewing. The ITWA has about 105 members and apparently all but a few were for the ban. Amongst the few who have opposed the move is Peter Bodo, who found himself in an argument with Matt Cronin in 2006. Clearly, he doesn’t feel the need to keep pressers to himself. However, most of the ITWA do. They believe that fans will be satisfied with ‘relevant quotes’ hand selected by them.

What this is, in its most base form, is censorship. The media are controlling the flow of information to fans and selecting what they think fans want to read. Last time I checked, Paris isn’t Nazi Germany and this isn’t war-time. What journalists think are ‘relevant quotes’ (could that be more patronising?) aren’t necessarily what fans want to read. When Matt Cronin (pro-censorship) mocked blogs that involve fashion and gossip, he mocked the very essence of fandom. What he forgot is that there is a very strong demand for humourous, gossipy blog websites. There’s also a lot of demand for bloggers’ serious opinions, photos, and match reviews. Tennis is a richer sport for this. But Cronin fails to see this,  once even arrogantly suggesting it would be even better for fans without bloggers and other sources,” Imagine just how exiting it will be as a fan to read and hear about the sport only from the tournaments and tours.” I’m not really sure what he’s imagining here, because it sounds very bland to me.

Fans also like to make their own judgements when it comes to controversial quotes. I, for one, have gone to a presser many times when a favourite has been slaughtered by the media. I’ve often found that journalists have sensationalized the comment to get more views. By reading the transcript myself, I can make my own judgement. I know other fans feel the same way.

Despite what many journalists like to think, fans also appreciate and enjoy blogs. There are many decent bloggers and fans of tennis who benefit from transcripts. Courtney Nguyen, for example, has found fame by writing with humour and going for news outside the box, not necessarily for her writing, (although she’s as good as any professional journo). Hannah Wilks is another fantastic writer who got her start through blogging. The thing is, fans actually want to read about what Federer ate for dinner that night, or what Wozniacki looks for in a man. These may not be deemed relevant quotes by those high and mighty journalists, but they ARE relevant to fans. That’s why interview transcripts and blogs are popular.

This new rule is affecting fans, bloggers, freelance writers, and magazine editors alike. I intern and unfortunately they don’t fly me across the world for my articles and research. My pitches are often inspired by interviews and my research stems from them. If transcripts are taken away from all tournaments, it will become near impossible for writers and bloggers like myself to come up with little-heard quotes to back up our original ideas. I don’t want to regurgitate what Matt Cronin has already written. This, in turn, will only make it harder for writers and bloggers to break in to the world of journalism like Nguyen and Wilks have done. The ITWA might want to keep their numbers down to the paltry 105 mark, but the rest of the world doesn’t. I dream of a career working alongside the likes of Cronin. At the moment, it seems I’m just working against him.

Apart from 100-odd people, nobody seems happy about this unexpected change. My Twitter feed has been rife with complaints from bloggers and fans alike. The thing is though, their censoring and limiting of media won’t go far. It won’t help bring new fans into tennis; it won’t benefit the ATP or WTA. It won’t stop bloggers because they write for fun and passion, not money, and it won’t stop me. The only people it might benefit are 100 selfish journalists in an elitist group called the ITWA. Of course, we can do something.

Send this blog or your own complaints along to

ITWA OFFICERS 2010
CO-PRESIDENTS
Marco Keller : marco.keller@sportinformation.ch
Sebastian Fest : Fest.Sebastian@dpa.com

Tweet your complaints to Matt Cronin @TennisReporters

Or give your thanks to people like Peter Bodo and the tennis.com staff, who understand the needs of fans, bloggers, and writers alike at

http://www.tennis.com/info/contactus/editorial.aspx

or tweet your thanks to @peterbodo

In the meantime, I’m thinking of starting a petition. Anyone with ideas tweet me @cb_s or comment here.

EDIT: Originally posted above quotes from 2006 as present. Cronin spoke out heavily against transcript releasing in 2006. It is safe to assume he still feels the same way. Carry on as normal, all.

NOTE: Opinions are my own and not associated with any websites or magazines I write for.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Deborah permalink
    May 25, 2011 11:05 am

    I have long since been outraged by the prefab narratives and lazy storytelling of the established tennis press but I’ve been labeled a delusional over the top Federer fangirl. Now that the tennis media has decided his time is over, I thought I could depend on reading his presser transcripts since he is no longer the player they choose to write about. Instead, I will be reduced to “relevant quotes” such as how he feels about the other two top players. We will all have our own reasons for why this is bad for tennis fans. One of my delights in following tennis since 2006 has been reading questions as well as answers of players and often comparing the actual transcript with what is quoted. This is a travesty for so many reasons. I sent an email to the co-presidents of the ITWA last night. I’m on board for any protest that can be mounted.

  2. May 25, 2011 11:13 am

    I wrote to Sandra Harwitt of the ITWA. She gave me a very fulsome reply, and I thought it right that her points should be added to the debate:

    “Our organization has requested this on behalf of all journalists — not just ITWA members. The truth is that most of us are having to fight with our editors to still be covering the Grand Slams and tennis at all. Times are tough in the media and cutbacks are dramatic.

    “The truth is the first outgrowth of transcripts continuing to appear in full will be more editors pulling trips to tournaments — their writers, at least temporarily, will be made to writer the tournament off of the TV and he transcripts from home base.

    “The second outgrowth will be even more shocking to fans. The lack of journalists on-site — even more stunning this year here at the French and will be for Wimbledon as well — is that tournaments will stop hiring the costly transcription service as there’s no need to provide the service to just a handful of journalists — the price of the service has been an ongoing subject for a number of years.

    “And thirdly, if there aren’t many journalists around at tournaments there will be no one asking the questions. That will make transcripts a moot point.

    “This might seem dramatic to you, but I can assure you it is a serious situation — At least one major U.S. newspaper, located in a warm weather area with a great many tennis fans, has surprisingly followed the lead of other papers and has pulled the Wimbledon trip from their tennis writer. But even more shocking, they’ve also pulled the U.S. Open — and this writer is not the only one going through this situation. In South Florida, the Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post has stayed home for years.”

    I was very grateful to her that she made these points honestly.

    • May 25, 2011 11:23 am

      The thing is though, they’re wrecking it for fans. Also, we are talking strictly newspaper journos. I know many bloggers and fellow writers who will make the trip for a press pass.

      Thanks for the reply.

    • naughty T....urbane gentleman permalink
      May 25, 2011 11:38 am

      This is so much obfuscation. This is a grab for control and power in the face of new pressures from social media and bloggers. If journalists are not writing interestingly enough to make fans want to read their material above all else, then indeed their editors should have them stay home. If they are just going to pump out uninteresting, agenda ridden copy then perhaps it is good that they not be present. Then notion that tournaments will allow a situation to develop where no press are present is in itself absurd.

    • Deborah permalink
      May 26, 2011 11:24 am

      This is an example of killing a strength to fix another weakness. I still fail to see how denying access to full press transcripts, even delayed, will make corporate media more open to providing decent coverage of tennis.

  3. May 25, 2011 12:01 pm

    The problem is basically a side-effect of the free market: all the papers are sending journalists to the events to cover the same main stories: Fed, Nadal, and now Djokovic – plus local colour.

    Meanwhile at, say, the press conference for an early-round Youzhny match, the only interested reporters will be Russians etc: the chances of the contents of that press conference being reported in English-language press / websites is extremely low. For anyone who cares about Youzhny and isn’t Russian, this is a problem.

    So the rationale for the ITWA’s ban is essentially one of protectionism: the free market essentially wants there to be less journalists going all the way to the tournaments to report on these main stories.

    If the ITWA is successful in keeping the numbers of writers at tennis events high, then it ought simultaneously to promote a wider coverage of the sport, and oblige its members to make better use of the information they are attempting to withhold.

    Certainly, prohibiting Youzhny’s thoughts on his opening-round match from being read by the more dedicated sections of the sport’s supporters will have little bearing on whether a regional American newspaper decides whether the latest installment of the Djokovic story needs them to send a body to Wimbledon, or to take the Associated Press feed

    • naughty T....urbane gentleman permalink
      May 25, 2011 12:22 pm

      That is the huge worry isn’t it. Me as an Australian living in Portugal and a FOOP is going to actually get to read fuck all from Cronin and his cronies that I deem relevant.
      Thing is if that transcript is reported in Russian then fans will take care of the rest.. that is the power of social media and its beauty. That is what Cronin and his cronies fear. How foolish when they could be harnessing that power and information too.

  4. jbstennis permalink
    May 25, 2011 12:22 pm

    The idea that suppressing transcripts will force editors / papers to send more people to cover tournaments is simplistic and a bit naive, imo. the print papers are NOT going to wake up and suddenly say ‘hello – we can’t have access to pressors anymore from overseas, we’ll have to ship someone over there toot sweet’. they’re going to simply say – ‘oh well, we just won’t write about tennis’.

    VERY short sighted, imo.

  5. dari permalink
    May 25, 2011 12:24 pm

    RA, I joined the petition and wrote as well. I don’t know if I will get a reply, but thanks for posting yours!

  6. bwlass permalink
    May 25, 2011 12:42 pm

    If there is a presser than the fans should be able to read them in FULL. This is bull and shameful!!!

    I want to hear what the player says NOT WHAT IS REHASHED BY SOME MEDIA GRUNT!!!!!

  7. TennisFan permalink
    May 25, 2011 1:40 pm

    Seems to me a reasonable compromise was proposed years ago – by Matt Cronin:

    “There is no substantial debate within the organization in regards to the 24-hour hold of interview transcripts…”

    As a tennis fan, I can appreciate giving journalists use of the information that (at least partially) results from their work for a period of time.

    Banning eventual transcript release actually lessens my interest in the journalist’s comments as I look forward to reading “the rest of the story” to see if I share their sense of context.

    Credit to rafannie for tweeting the information at http://t.co/TrkP3yO

  8. May 25, 2011 1:58 pm

    I am a tennis fan from the Philippines, a 3rd world country (okay, fine, “developing” country). Without the Internet and new media, I wouldn’t have access to most tennis-related stuff at all — even matches. Without comprehensive and engaging access to in-depth reports and interviews (from blogs, mostly) I doubt I would even be this into tennis.

    Our dailies do report on tennis but mostly syndicated from AP, AFP, and other news agencies. And because of the time zone difference, the news articles end up being one or two days late. As a fan, this doesn’t really benefit me — except for clipping pictures for my cork board. :P

    I understand that the stance being taken is that there has to be a good reason for editors to send journos to tournaments. Well, the good reason would be if there was a great demand for the stories and to do that, consumers of these stories must be engaged. New media shouldn’t be viewed as a threat but as a tool to make tennis more accessible and thus building interest for the sport — which is hopefully what we all want. (Of course it isn’t. This is, for a great part, about money but, hey, I want to be idealistic sometimes.)

    I dunno if I made sense, I just wanted to rant. Thanks for the post and your thoughts.

  9. Laura permalink
    May 25, 2011 2:01 pm

    “Imagine just how exiting it will be as a fan to read and hear about the sport only from the tournaments and tours.”

    Did he really say this?? THAT IS CRAZY. What in the world is exciting about that? “Imagine just how exciting it will be to have your information and perspectives limited!!” How. . . how does a person even think that, much less express it to the world? You want to claim that it’ll be clearer, less biased, more informative. . . ok, MAYBE? Maybe. But exciting???

  10. flo permalink
    May 25, 2011 3:47 pm

    Thanks for shedding some light on this situation.

  11. Diamond permalink
    May 26, 2011 9:21 pm

    I wonder if Stephanie Myles is one of the comments here. She likes to do that, post anonymously on tennis bloggers comments. Anyhoo, Matt Cronin is a tennis blogger, he writes for an online only website that he co-owns. I guess he’s considered a “real journalist” because he also writes for Fox News, and used to write/edit Inside Tennis, a regional magazine published in California. I would like to encourage everyone to refer to him as such from now on. Also, create a list of tennis bloggers on your twitter profiles and make sure Matt is on that list, not a list of tennis reporters like Bodo and others. His writing is mediocre, his research is lazy, and he regularly reports on matches he did not watch. I’m really kind of tired of him, but I’m especially tired of the way he is treating people who love and care about the sport more than he does.

  12. Jack permalink
    May 27, 2011 11:04 am

    Interesting stuff. My amateur take on this is that tennis journalists are looking to take whatever steps they can to save their jobs. But I’m not sure this step will actually prove helpful long-term, and it hurts the fans short-term. (Frankly, given the economics, and the level of interest for tennis stateside, there probably are some significant changes in store – but that’s another topic.)

    The other problem here is that several journalists have recently criticized bloggers in – of all places – their twitter accounts. It’s difficult to look at the transcript issue without some suspicion of the ITWA’s motives.

  13. BTennis permalink
    May 31, 2011 3:49 am

    Great post! I actually found this site through a tennis web site’s twitter which linked to Jon Wertheim and transcriptgate mention in his mailbag. It’s not just fans and bloggers who are affected by this transcriptgate but also sportswriters at smaller media who do not qualify to become members of the ITWA.

    I can understand the reason for an embargo of some sort but to totally not publish them at all is ridiculous. By the way if your readers need to see all the transcripts then can be found on a website called thesportscampus.com – take that Cronin and Myles! (Meanwhile someone needs to report Myles to the ITWA for unethical behavior for trolling bloggers, writers and journalists!)

    This transcriptgate is just the ITWA trying to keep their jobs relevant for their respective papers and I’m guessing that the vast majority of them are newspaper people. As we know newspapers are dying.

    As far as the ITWA person mentioning that there will be no reporters there to ask questions – new media will take their place…it’s a matter of time.

    What really makes me angry about this transcriptgate is that people like Cronin want to control what the public reads and tell us what to think – this is why I like reading the transcripts and seeing the press conferences to see which reporters have taken quotes out of context or even made up quotes.

    What really saddens me is that tennis is a great sport and this transcript nonsense makes it even more elitist, which is a big knock on tennis in the first place. It’s a country club sport and the writers of the ITWA want keep the club open for a limited amount of people.

    Thank you for listening.

  14. May 31, 2011 10:07 am

    I received another email from the ITWA, saying much the same as before:

    “We have noted your disappointment at no longer being able to read the transcripts and can understand why fans would want that availability. Taking that into account, we felt we should offer you all an explanation as to why it is important to the international media that the transcripts are not posted, or at least delayed until a day later.

    “Firstly, our newspapers and media outlets are, like many other companies, feeling heavy financial burdens these days. Quite a number of organizations have already stopped sending their reporters to major sporting events around the world, a decision we are hoping others won’t follow. Nevertheless, we have great concern that the dwindling numbers of journalists sent on-site will continue.

    “Those media outlets that are still sending their journalists to events spend a great deal of money to do so. The reason they continue to send reporters is that their writers are guaranteed better access and information from reporting, interviewing, and writing on-site. In truth, the media interview room is the journalists’ workplace and, like at many organizations, no matter what the business, the workplace is not open to the general public. We are trained professionals with the responsibility of asking the important and probing questions that elicit the interesting answers that tennis fans want answered. When our exclusivity is removed by posting transcripts it makes the expense of sending journalists to cover events appear questionable to those holding the purse strings.

    “We have already watched as many of our colleagues have been taken off what at one time were assignments that would never be questioned. One example: in the United States the South Florida community is a hotbed for tennis fans and tennis players. Two of their three major market papers stopped covering the Grand Slams about five years ago. The third paper is planning on not staffing any Grand Slams this year and into the future. This is the type of unfortunate scenario we are seeing happen regularly to our colleagues around the world.

    “If fewer journalists show up at events, tournaments are likely to decide it is not worth spending money on the expensive transcription services done by court reporter companies.

    “Of even more concern, journalists could eventually stop covering tournaments if there is no filter on the release of information we as professional journalists are gathering. It would quickly become cost-ineffective to show up.

    “The bottom line: If journalists don’t go to tournaments, the issue of access to transcripts will become a non-issue. There will be no one asking the questions.

    “To those not on the inside of journalism today this might seem a far-fetched picture to present, but we can assure you that it is not. It could happen and sooner than anyone might think possible.”

  15. Infidel permalink
    May 31, 2011 12:09 pm

    I received the same email from the TWA, it makes sense from their perspective I guess. But it still sucks for us fans.

    How about we try bring to live an internet Q&A, we could prepare the questions online, vote on which would be asked and transcribe the answers ourselves. So there are people around asking good an relevant questions, and also people who will transcribe them for the community.

    Now all we have to do, is to get the players to answer those questions, not sure what would be the best starting point.

    But in general, what do you think of this idea?

  16. Stephanie Myles permalink
    June 1, 2011 9:19 pm

    No, I learned my lesson a few months ago. :=)

    I haven’t waded in on this issue because it’s a no-win situation. But although I think the arguments and theories about why people think it was instituted are generally off-base, I’d have absolutely no issue at all with merely a 24-hour delay and full transcript posting after that.

    I’m not an ITWA member; the first I heard of it was at the end of the day that Twitter started blowing up and my timeline was loaded with it. I had been outside at the courts all day.

    But it remains, despite the black-and-white nature of some of the arguments, a fairly complex issue that touches multiple parties, including the players themselves. Be happy to discuss it with anyone face to face.

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