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I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with whole thing when I got started, or maybe, I did not intend to end up where I am when this began would be a better way of saying it.

At first, I was angered by what I considered negative press, from both the Wizard of Odds and the World Wide Leader, but then I became a little more understanding after I saw the video of Nick Saban and Ian Rapoport’s exchange. I did and still believe that situation – the answer to “the question”- could have been handled with more tact. There was the belief that Ian could shed more light on it. He did that, but also during this process- I’m starting to love that word- he did much more, or rather his answers to my question and his subsequent thoughts and anecdotes, whether intended or not, made me really dig deeper into this stew – which has many flavors and cooks very slowly – and think out a lot of things. I’m going to try to organize all that in the post and place it out there for your consumption.

First things first; I have really appreciated all the comments, which have been mostly positive, for the latest posts. I also appreciate the new readers that have stopped by for this. I hope you’ll return. I also would like to think those that added this site to their links. I’ve got a much busier day checking the blogs that linked me and catching up on my blog roll. I owe thanks to Orson and Holly at EDSBS – their links always generate a lot of traffic. Also thanks to the guys at RollBamaRoll and Gerry Dorsey at Uncle Rico’s Time Machine, who has been with me for a while now. To shorten this up, basically look at my blog roll and check those folks out if you haven’t. Finally, very special thanks to Ian Rapoport, who took a chance and placed his trust in someone he knew only as Picture Me Rollin.

Here is what I learned, in no certain order:

There is no such thing as good or bad news. There is only news and all of it is worth reporting. The news itself has no character or temperament. We, the consumer, add the connotation to it. A completely hypothetical situation would be Nick Saban yelling at a recruit’s mother. This would be horrible news to Alabama fans, whether they admitted it or not. Tommy Tuberville on the other hand would probably dance a jig if that happened, especially if it was the mother of a recruit he wanted. You could also be certain Auburn fans would rejoice inwardly and outwardly – after calling Finebaum and condemning Saban. Granted, Alabama fans and Saban would not want this publicized because of the reflection on the school but rest assured that it is news and would be reported. Just because we as don’t like something does not mean it isn’t newsworthy.

Some things are not news, or at least shouldn’t be. Jeremy Elder’s mother was upset about his arrest. That is certain and quoting her saying as much did nothing for anybody. If she said she didn’t care that he had been arrested that might be news.

I once knew someone (cough-cough) who did Jager shots with a former, high-profile, student-athlete who may or may not have been of legal drinking age. There are certain people who would call this news and would give it a negative connotation, but to me, it isn’t news. It was a college kid doing the same thing I did as a college kid. Would he have been better served being at home watching a movie? Probably, but then again, I would have been better off doing that as well.

The internet age is vastly different, as far as information dispersal, than any other time before. With the free flow of information and the ease with which it can be accessed there are bound to be changes in what we, the public, find out about. This certainly has not always been the case. I have heard stories about Joe Namath’s time on our campus that would make Jenna Jameson and Hunter S. Thompson blush. Those were not put out there for mass public consumption and none of us are the any worse for it, in spite of the fact that if any one of those instances happened to a college athlete today, his dismissal would be eminent (unless he played quarterback at LSU). I believe that some things, in regards to player’s personal lives specifically, should not be reported. Most of the time they are not, and brushes with the law should be fair game, but I do worry about the future. In the absence of real news there is tendency to “create” news out of things that are not.

Reporters are not fans. They view things completely different than we do. Despite my recent flirtations with what some consider journalism and no matter how my tongue-in-cheek paragraphs about firing Saban were perceived, I am a huge Alabama fan, and in that light is the way, I hope, that I always view things. I take pride in the accomplishments of the University of Alabama and it pains me when bad things happen to it, its reputation, and the people associated with it. When I consume news that concerns the program, whether I witness it in person or read or hear a report about it, my perspective is how it affects the program and ultimately me.

I’ll give a few examples: Alabama hired Nick Saban as a coach…they got a great recruiting class… depth was developed in the defensive lines… blue chip recruits are leaning towards Alabama; all these things increase the probability that Alabama will win on the football field in the future, and that makes me happy. It also makes it less likely that the rival fans of my favorite team will have real ammunition to tease me about – Trey Blackmon’s troubles with the law are good news to me (see above) but if I’m an Auburn fan, it is much more easily dismissed as taunting because of the win streak.

Conversely when Alabama has players arrested, or a recruit chooses UT or AU over Alabama, or Saban announces a decision to leave, the probability of wins on the field is diminished and that is not good in my mind.

Alabama has a large fan base and rabid support because it has a history of winning on the field and it has the potential to do that again. Vanderbilt (sorry – no offense) has support but there is a reason that Alabama puts more fans in their stadium when they play in Nashville; Vanderbilt, while a fine institution – perhaps better than Alabama in many regards – does not win football games. Fans want to see wins. End of story.

My desire is to see Alabama victorious on Fall Saturdays. To that end, I process all information concerning Alabama with its effect on that outcome. Ian, as a beat reporter, disseminates information to the masses about Alabama football regardless of its effect on game outcomes. If it’s news he’s going to report it because that is his job. I believe that the tough part for him is putting that information out there in truthful a manner as possible. I say that because his only request before he talked to me was that I represent him truthfully and that was harder than I thought it would be – in fact, I am still a little worried that I put my on spin on some of it. See, I heard what he said and I tried to write it as verbatim as I could but in the recall it was hard to be absolutely sure I was quoting him accurately. He said this but he did he mean it like this or maybe this way… those were thoughts as I wrote out the post.

The bottom line is that it is unfair to be angry or to even judge a reporter because he or she prints a story that you don’t agree with. As long as it is accurate the desired task was accomplished. Their job is to report. My job is to follow the team and support it.

Columns are a different matter. A column is by nature a matter of opinion. The personal spin of the columnist is put on it and there is a big responsibility in that. I stand by what I said about Ray Melcik (and Finebaum); their opinion is of no more value than mine or yours, as long as it based on the same information. To his credit I do believe that Melick does try to be somewhat objective (I don’t believe that about Finebaum). The difference between Melick’s opinion and mine are this: he has a bigger platform from which to speak (for now) and is heard by more people. Opinions are neither right nor wrong but they can be ill-informed and clouded by bias. Maybe as a fan I take criticism to much to heart and ultimately that is why I choose not to read Melick or listen to Finebaum. I know that I certainly don’t mind listening when Alabama is being praised and that may be a little hypocritical but I think it is just part of the human condition; you get farther with praise than you do criticism any day. You can ask my wife if you don’t believe me.

In conclusion, I now believe that I understand the role of a reporter better. Some of us get so emotional and passionate about the football team we are following that a message we perceive as negative sets us off. That should be expected but that should not make us angry at the message bearer.

I also believe that very few of us know Nick Saban. I’ll leave it at that. The history of his time in Tuscaloosa will determine what kind of coach he really is. I’m not sure that I will ever be able to tell you what type of man he is, and so I’ll leave that to the people that know him.

Oh, the joys of the off-season. This is the time of year where there is very little news about football and what little news does come across the wire is blown completely out of proportion. Such was the case last week when a video clip of Nick Saban becoming agitated with a reporter when questioned about the math involved in athletes currently on scholarship, incoming recruits promised scholarships and the NCAA limit of 85 total scholarships. The video ran on ESPN and a flurry of talk radio and blog pundits sprang into action to cover every possible angle of the event; what it means to the Alabama Program, college football at large, the sagging national economy, and the recent rise in gas prices.

At the center of the Saban “Press Conference Rant” storm last week was Birmingham News, Alabama Beat Reporter Ian Rapoport. He was the reporter that asked the question that made the news and I could think of no one better to ask about the event (and Saban refused to take my calls). Ian was gracious enough to spend about thirty minutes on the phone with me and answer a few questions about himself, Nick Saban and the actual event. His answers, specifically about Saban, were well thought out, thought provoking, and in some instances surprising.

Ian told me that he was from Westchester County, New York, “about thirty minutes from New York City.” Ian went to Columbia and has worked as a beat reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, covering Mississippi State. He is in his second year covering Alabama and seems to have embraced the South by adopting our passion for college football as his own. He claimed to love baseball but also stated that growing up, he never really pulled for a college football team because nobody else around him did. He also indicated that he would never have realized how great our favorite sport is unless he had come to the region and assured me football was now his favorite sport to cover, “without question.” He has grown to love it so much that on Fall Saturdays when his work is completed one of his favorite things to do is sit and watch college football on television.

I wanted to know how his experience as a reporter differed from my experience as a fan. Ian told me that he attends every game, practice, and any other opportunity for any nugget of news about Alabama. Say what you want to about him, but he gets paid to do what a large portion of fans would love to do but he certainly has a different perspective on things related to Alabama than I do, but that’s for another day.

When I asked Ian about the perception of Alabama fans as conspiracy theorist he replied, “all sports fans are conspiracy theorists.”

Now that we had talked a little bit I thought that it might be time to get to some of the real meat and I wanted to grill him about the obvious media agenda and bias. I tried to stage my question, “As someone who covers Alabama exclusively, you have been called everything from “homer” to an idiot. Do you have an agenda?”

His quick reply shocked me.

“Yes”

I have him now, I thought, this is where we find out how bad he wants to paint Saban as a maniacal tyrant.

“My agenda is to supply readers, accurately and fairly – regardless of loyalty – with the facts, content, and stories about Alabama athletics. Basically let the readers know everything there is to know.”

Well, that wasn’t what I expected but if he wasn’t putting an angle on it, surely someone was.

“What about other reporters?” I asked him.

“I try to focus on what I do,” he replied.

“So there is a bias out there.” Now I’ve got him.

“I don’t think so. Let me clarify. I focus on what I do and don’t try to worry with what others do but I don’t think there is anyone who is doing this with a bias.”

When we discussed the mass media outlets, he made the, what he called “the obvious statement”, that the big outlets focused on the bigger names and more successful teams. He did say that he thought Alabama was receiving much more attention now that Saban was here.

The focus of our conversation then shifted to Nick Saban. When I asked Ian if he thought Saban was rude to reporters or him specifically, he had this to say.

“I don’t really focus on his personality. Sometimes he sounds loud because he is being loud but I’m not focusing in on that. I’m thinking about the follow up question, not the tone he is talking in. I will say this; it’s a shame that people judge him based only what they see of him on television, because there is more to him than that and no one should be judged based solely on what the say in front of the camera. That’s not really who he is.”

I told Ian that in my opinion he had become kind of a lightning rod – that a lot of Saban’s zingers seemed to be directed at him. Ian agreed with that and when I pressed him about whether or not he cultivates that image he told me that he was just trying to ask good questions, “ I’m trying to get the most information I can because that’s my job.”

In my opinion, Ian had to know that Saban did not want to answer “the question” and it had to be tough just ask it knowing what kind of response he was going to get. Ian disagreed.

“I never try to think what the answer is going to be. That’s why I ask the question. With Saban you never know how he will respond but he always does respond. He gives very intelligent answers. He is really a good interview – so was Sylvester Croom. Their answers are very intelligent.”

When I asked him, if in his opinion, Saban cared about success or the players, he told me that “everything he does is to win but he is also all about building relationships, with the players now, with future players, and with past players.” Ian said that from his experience the past players really feel more welcome now and that is a credit to Saban. He also told me that Saban spends time in the press room talking with the reporters, building relationships with them. He was very clear in his belief that Nick Saban cares a great deal about his players and as an example told of the genuine remorse he showed when talking about Tremayne Cooger’s decision to leave the program and in the manner that he did it – before the end of the school term.

Ian told me that he really believed that Saban likes Tuscaloosa and appreciates the town. As does his wife and that helps the situation. He was certain that he is content with the job because he could have gone literally anywhere – citing Nebraska if he had wanted to wait a year.

When we discussed “the question”, Ian told me that, there again, the taped segment didn’t show the whole story. Ian insists that Saban had a crack of a grin as he was going through his answer and also that he was joking after he left the podium. He also indicated that because of his belief that Saban really does care about his players that the answer to “the question” must be very complex. He said otherwise he would have just given a quick answer but out of caring about the outcome he seems to be troubled by it and that is what Ian took away from the encounter.

To end on a good note, I asked Ian a few “no brainers” and even then he surprised me.

“Who has the better looking girls, Auburn or Alabama?”

“That’s easy,” he replied. “Mississippi State” He then explained that his girlfriend attended school there.

He refused to comment on Clay Travis’ “Hope Scholarship” theory and while admitting that he was going to Athens next weekend, which would give him a great opportunity to answer with authority, stated that he would still have no comment. I’m pretty sure that goes back to the girlfriend.

Ian had been really professional all through the process – refusing to comment on the supposition that Saban asked Gentry Estes to remove a recent blog entry, only stating that he would take Genrty’s comments at face value – so I was surprised when he took my offer to confirm or deny my claim that Ray Melick is an “ill-informed, verbal-diarrhea-spewing, douche bag.”

“Deny,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for Ray’s integrity and skill as a columnist.”

I got him to answer one final question: “Does Nick Saban indeed hold the key to the Fourth Circle of Hell?”

“It’s been a long time since I read Dante’s Inferno.”

[Editor’s Note: I do not intend this blog to be a typical journalistic outlet. By that I mean, I don’t anticipate interviews being a staple of what goes on here. However, I have been amazed at the coverage and opinions this incident has generated. I tried to be as truthful as I could with Ian’s anwsers and comments. I greatly appreciate his time and trust in me, a virtually unknown blogger. I did not want to cloud his comments with my opinions, and therefor part 2 will be my appraisal on what Ian had to say. Look for it Tuesday or Wednesday. PMR]

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