Gregg Popovich and Lessons for the Media

Every new reporter should have to interview someone like Gregg Popovich.

The San Antonio Spurs head coach has always had a reputation for being a little salty with the media. But his issue typically isn’t with reporters themselves – it’s about the idiotic questions Pop gets asked.

Just take a look at a few exchanges from after the Spurs’ loss to the Clippers in Game 1 of their playoff series:

REPORTER: When you intentionally found DJ, Deandre [Jordan], it helps the Clippers a little bit in that it helps them set up their defense and it slows the game. Do you weigh those sort of factors in when you’re choosing to make that sort of play?

POP: I do.

REPORTER: (continuing) and tonight you didn’t seem to go to it a lot. Just wasn’t in the strategy tonight.

POP: No. (Shrugs).

That was immediately followed by this exchange:

REPORTER: Coach, there seemed to be, like, some good ball movement with your team a lot of times, there was some other times where it kinda seemed erratic, out of control. Can you talk about that, please?

POP: What you said is correct. I mean, how long do you want me to talk about it?

Fed up, Pop finally called out the reporters:

POP: Maybe I can help everybody by just making a statement. Would that help? Because these questions are unbelievable.

Let’s take a look at just those three exchanges. We had a “yes-or-no” question, a non-question, and a “talk about it” question.

That’s some weak stuff right there. You guys are professional NBA reporters; step your game up!

I love that Pop does this on a regular basis. Media, especially sports media, has become so lazy over the years. They expect their interview subjects to do their jobs for them. That’s why we get these half-assed “can you talk about this?” questions, or statements masquerading as questions “coach, it looked like Smith was rebounding well tonight.”

Pop’s only doing his job. You ask a yes-or-no question, you get a yes or a no for an answer. If you sentence doesn’t end in a question mark, you’re not getting a response at all.

Every reporter should have to go through an interview with someone like that, because it teaches you the hard way that you need to prepare good questions if you want to write a good story. There’s nothing like getting shut down by a coach in front of a room full of people to kick you into gear.

Because ultimately, it’s your job as a reporter to get the story. Coaches and players are made available by teams after games, but they are not obligated to give you the perfect quote. Their job is to play the game, not write the story. If all you are getting from them is “yes” or “no,” don’t get mad at them for not giving you a quote; maybe you should be rethinking the questions you’re asking.

But for the entrenched reporters who have been in sports media for years, that seems like too much work. Earlier this year, when Marshawn Lynch repeated the same phrase time after time in press conferences before the Super Bowl, sports reporters tore him to shreds. “How dare he not answer our questions? If it weren’t for the media attention, he’d be nothing! (shovels pile of Fettuccine Alfredo into mouth in the press room.)

Maybe you should be asking him questions worth answering.

(And in the cases where you develop good questions and people like Lynch still won’t answer, go around it. The Seattle Times wrote a great feature on Lynch without getting an interview. Hell… Woodward and Bernstein took down an administration by talking to people around the main sources. What’s your excuse?)

If this is the lazy state of sports journalism these days, then my students are going to have their pick of jobs every June.

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