Not far enough inside baseball

18 August 2007

In what I assume is an extension of his continuing campaign against people who ask Apple about its non-involvement in the Intel Inside programme - eight days and counting - John Gruber goes to the world of political punditry to pick up this piece of advice for publishers:

"A reporter should not be assigned to cover subject X unless he has as good an understanding of X as a baseball writer is expected to have of baseball."

The line, quoted by economics professor Brad DeLong, came from a comment on a piece about the state of US political reporting. The responses were predictable. To summarise: "Haven't you seen the state of baseball writing?"

I haven't asked but I assume that Gruber, Prof DeLong and Bernard Yomtov, who repeated the line for DeLong's benefit, are not diehard baseball fans. Gruber has mentioned the word 'baseball' eight times on his blog and mostly in the form of similes. I imagine that DeLong and Yomtov, being serious people, look at the baseball pages with its mysterious statistics and internal references and wonder at the ability of those reporters to capture such detailed nuances of a game when political reporters in generalist newspapers write so naïvely on a subject that they know in detail. At the same time, those baseball reporters get attacked by baseball addicts for simplistic analysis and dumbed-down coverage, who point to outlets such as Baseball Prospectus as the model they should use. You won't be surprised to find one comment refer to the Prospectus at DeLong's blog. And it's the same situation with the Mac addicts who wonder out loud at the people who report on Apple for the same newspapers.

I can see their problem and so I offer up this slightly more realistic alternative:

"A reporter should not be assigned to cover subject X unless he has as good an understanding of X as an expert on X (who knows as much as the average man in the street about baseball) thinks a baseball writer has of baseball."

There are dangers in getting too in-depth in a subject - you can forget to challenge things that you have come to accept when other people with less experience find it easier to ask "well, why is that?" And you can easily lose the audience you are trying to reach. There is little point in describing cache-coherency mechanisms to people who just want to know whether a 3GHz processor is better than two 1.5GHz processors, or in comparing value-over-replacement-player scores when all the reader wants to know is who won and by how much.