Writing is a tough gig. Doing it well? Even harder. And while I’ve been doing it for a while now, I’ll be the first to admit that my ability to string together words is far from polished and still a work in progress. As a self-taught writer, I suppose that comes with the territory.
Journalism, I’ve come to find, is the toughest type of writing. Not only do you have to be a good writer, but you also need to do it quickly to stay relevant and — perhaps the more difficult task — ideally be the first to do so. The idea behind that being, once you’re able to regularly deliver breaking news first, you’re the someone who everyone will want to turn to in the future. Eyeballs equal dollars, after all. Being able to pull all of that off is unquestionably a difficult task, and that’s one of the many reasons you see so few people making a living from the job. I’m not there… yet, at least.
That said, when I see a good piece of journalism, I’m not afraid to admit it.
Take for example the latest piece from the Sporting News‘ Brian Straus, a bombshell of exclusive reporting on the fractured relationship between the US Men’s National Team and head coach Jürgen Klinsmann. It revealed insider information directly from the mouths of the players and those close to them, confirming the fears that many fans and pundits alike had about Klinsmann’s spell in charge. In short, confidence is lacking both in the German’s tactical acumen and his ability to take the team forward.
Clearly, Brian Straus put in long hours at the office to put this thing together. Getting people with exclusive information — such as those with intimate knowledge of the inner workings and thoughts of a national team — is a really tough task. Nobody wants to be made as the one who leaked information, the nark or appear as if they’re sabotaging the team. Straus, however, got twenty-two people to talk, and a monumentally larger effort was necessary to get that many people spilling their guts.
But despite all of the work that clearly went into it, what I found odd about the entire piece was its timing.
With just a few days before a pair of crucial World Cup Qualifiers, the shockwaves from Straus’ article were felt in every corner of the American soccer community. What exactly did Straus hope would come from publishing this at the time that he did?
Was he trying to pressure Klinsmann, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati or the players into some sort of responsive action? Because if you ask me, the only type of pressure this places on them is the wrong kind. It’s the kind that breeds malcontent, finger-pointing and accusations, especially since everyone is now aware of the elephant in the room. Was he hoping that it would just get the conversation started, so that they could all sit down and talk it out, and then conduct a big bro hug at the end? That seems a pretty unlikely end result.
And what of us supporters? We were already a fan base on edge thanks to a nervy semi-final round and an opening loss in the Hexagonal to Honduras. And with a number of marquee players missing through either injury, self-imposed exile, or simply being left off the roster, a vocal contingent of supporters were already electronically-screaming for Klinsmann’s head on a plate. At a time where the USMNT desperately needs our support, Straus’ article did nothing but pour gas on the fire and then fan the flames of discontent.
So given it’s timing, if nothing but negatives could really be taken away from publishing an article, why would a respected journalist like Brian Straus drop a bomb he knew would disrupt things in an already tumultuous national team environment? Couldn’t he have just dropped it a week from now when they wouldn’t have near the negative impact?
Well, it all goes back to eyeballs.
Imagine he had waited to publish it after the qualifiers: what if the national team managed two positive results? It could have rendered his arguments — and the month of work needed to produce them — completely moot. Nobody wants to read an article about dissension within the USMNT camp if everything appears to be running smoothly. You see, readers want confirmations that all their fears are true while they’re experiencing that fear. The nervousness and uncertainty ahead of the Costa Rica and Mexico matches is the perfect environment to drop a bomb of drastic consequences; delaying it’s release ran the risk of completing all of that work for nothing.
In short, Strauss exploded the National Team’s internal problems at an extremely poor time just to get more eyes on his story. And if you recall, more eyeballs means more advertising dollars in his and Sporting News‘ pockets.
Drama sells. Totally worth it, right?
Personally, I think the hypothesized argument for their timing is a poor one. He could have easily spun all of those quotes and thoughts into a positive piece had the national team gotten the results they so desperately need. Negative critiques and worries could have been used as introductions into how Klinsmann and his staff solved those problems. Sure it wouldn’t have been as influential, but it still would have made for a good article. And if the national team stunk it up, he could have left the article as is and run it after the qualifiers, and it still would have been impactful.
That said, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. After all, journalism and writing are a tough gig, and Straus’ intentions could have been entirely different.
However, if things go poorly over the next two games for the US National Team, I hope Straus is prepared to accept that his writing might have played a small part in bringing down the ship… even if that’s not what was intended.