Shane Ryan, Paige Mackenzie and the role of a journalist

Patrick Reed (Courtesy: Zimbio.com)

Patrick Reed (Courtesy: Zimbio.com)

(Disclaimer: Shane Ryan sent me a copy of his book, “Slaying The Tiger: A Year Inside the Ropes on the New PGA Tour”. I have not finished it yet, and while that fact does not change my view on the below article, I felt that it was worth mentioning.)

As you may have heard, there’s a new book out this week from author Shane Ryan titled “Slaying The Tiger: A Year Inside the Ropes on the New PGA Tour”, which as I’m sure you can tell by the title, is about the new wave of players on tour as golf finds itself in the post-Tiger Woods era. Just to give you a little background, Ryan is not a golf writer by the most standard of definitions. In fact, before an excerpt of his book was released about Patrick Reed, Ryan was definitely known more for his writing about other topics than anything he had ever done on golf, but for most of 2014, he followed the PGA Tour as they went around the United States and the end result was this book.

Ryan was on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive on Thursday talking about the book with Gary Williams, who offered some pretty direct and fair questions about the tone that the book takes, especially as it relates to Ryan’s criticisms of people like Reed and Bubba Watson. For the most part, I think Ryan handled himself well and probably convinced a few more people to buy his book based on his conversation with Williams, but what was more interesting to me was the discussion that Williams had with Damon Hack and Paige Mackenzie after talking with Ryan and the headline says it all: Mackenzie ‘disgusted’ by ‘Slaying the Tiger’ book.

The whole video linked above is worth your time because it’s an interesting back and forth between two people who are clearly on opposite sides of an issue, with Williams playing the man in the middle. I’m not going to attack Mackenzie’s take because she’s entitled to her opinion and as a player, she has a perspective that myself, Ryan and Hack will never have. On top of that, I completely understand why some of the players who were talked about in the book would be upset with how they were characterized. With that said, I do think there’s a larger topic to discuss here around journalism and the role played by both Ryan and Mackenzie, as well as future implications.

After saying that she was “disgusted” by a lot of what she read and that it was impossible to get to know a player while standing outside the ropes, Mackenzie told a story about how she had her view of a player change after some time elapsed:

“An example in my life of how that is true. As a little kid, I was at a golf tournament. Corey Pavin walks by and my brother and I ask for an autograph. He says, “after the round.” Well, my brother and I really disliked Corey Pavin for about 15 years and then my brother was paired with him in the U.S. Open practice round. Corey Pavin, the nicest guy to my brother. Left a note in his locker. Left tickets for his friends. Said good luck on the event. A pleasant experience changed forever the way that we viewed Corey Pavin. There is no way that you can blanket state what he said about certain players based on experiences outside the ropes without getting to know those players. I’m disgusted by a lot of what he had to say.”

The difference here of course is that Mackenzie is comparing her experience as a kid, in a one-off instance and being disappointed, to a journalist who spent an entire year covering the tour to write this book, so we’re not exactly comparing similar life experiences here. In addition to Ryan being on tour, he did an exhaustive amount of research. He talked with other writers who cover golf for a living and in the case of several players, he made sure to talk with former coaches, teammates and anyone else who could provide insight. He didn’t turn a brief encounter into a book.

Now granted, there’s definitely some truth in her words about not really getting to know the players because as we’ve seen with all public figures, the chances of them opening up and spilling their life story to a random journalist when there’s nothing for them to gain, is remote. There’s a reason why so many players refused to talk to Ryan in the first place, but that does beg the question about what we’re going to see moving forward with access, something that PGA Tour/Web.com Tour player Brad Fritsch touched on this morning:

This is something that I’ve talked about in the past, and it’s worth bringing up again. During the Morning Drive discussion, Mackenzie mentioned that she wanted to be judged on how she does her job, which is totally fair and something that we should all hope to be judged on, but the thing is, all Ryan was doing was his job. He was paid to write a book about the PGA Tour and the new players that are looking to jump into the spotlight, and as a journalist is wont to do, he dug and found out information. Some of that information wasn’t flattering to the players, but his job isn’t to be a PR man for Reed, Watson, Rory McIlroy or anyone else. His job was to write a book to the best of his ability and to tell what he believes is the truth.

In 2015, athletes have what feels like an infinite number of avenues at their disposal to get a message out. Social media is obviously a big part of this, but the Derek Jeter led Players Tribune that launched last year continues to pump out content on a regular basis, and while some interesting stories have come out of that site, you’re only going to get as much of the story as the athlete wants to share. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong because people are entitled to their privacy, but it’s also a shift in how stories are being told.

As much as it pains me to say, what benefit is there in 2015 for any player to talk to the media? If a player wants to, they can reach out to their audience in seconds by sending out a tweet, a Facebook message or an Instagram post and if they want to say something with a little more depth, they can craft an article with their team to be posted on the Players Tribune or a personal blog. By doing this, the player never loses control. The message has been crafted and the middle man has been removed from the equation, which sounds awful to me, but it has already started happening.

Reed is surely never going to talk to Ryan again, and you have to think that others are going to follow suit. Shane Ryan was just doing his job, but I wonder how much longer that job is going to be required.

Especially if no one will talk.

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2 Comments on “Shane Ryan, Paige Mackenzie and the role of a journalist

  1. Great stuff, Adam. This discussion on journalism, privacy, and fairness is one that has been around since the profession of sports writing began. There are extremists on either side of the issue while most of us fall in the gray area. Shane Ryan’s book — which I have also read and reviewed on my site — is the latest (and greatest) example of this divide.

    I loved the book as well as the GC debate on Morning Drive. The on-air discussion was a perfect example of the extremes I mention, while Hack’s argument seemed stronger than Mackenzie’s. As you point out in your post, the job of a journalist is to tell a complete story; not just the story everyone thinks they want to read. Ryan did so wonderfully.

  2. Pingback: 2015 Year in Review: Part Four | AdamSarson.com

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