In case you haven’t noticed, we’re a celeb-reality culture. The parenting decisions of Angelina Jolie and the slow descent back into redneck obscurity for Britney Spears are national obsessions. True, not all of us are hooked on the daily goings-on of Paris and Lindsey, but enough are that it is a multi-million dollar business for the writers and photographers that cover the celebs.
Paparazzi culture has invaded all media. Lazy journalism feeds our short attention spans, and replaces true journalism with ‘gotcha’ antics that first build up, then rapidly tear down, each new icon or media darling. For the media, it certainly beats having to research and write insightful material about meaningful subjects.
But let’s not place all the blame at the feet of the media. Fact is, celebrities are selling something: themselves. They’re selling movies, TV shows and albums. They’re selling perfumes, clothing and their personal causes and charities. And without publicity, these things don’t sell. The strange relationship between the agents of publicity and their subjects was the reason this space was started in the first place.
Celebrities and the people who cover them have, therefore, developed a codependent relationship. Paris Hilton is selling an image, and needs to communicate to the buyer. The media need to gain attention, and so use Paris for ratings and hits. Journalists have rightfully come to assume all public figures need them to sell product.
Nick Saban does not need to sell a product.
Alabama football sells itself. It’s a product that has thousands of loyal fans, each of whom spend money on souvenirs, magazines, website memberships and game tickets. History shows the more successful the team, the better the sales. It’s not having fawning publicity that generates interest, it’s winning games and dominating opponents.
The journalists covering Coach Saban don’t always seem to be clear on this. They believe they are helping sell a product, and that Saban’s general lack of cooperation forces them to give his product bad reviews, and negatively influence sales. Alabama fans, however, have a circle-the-wagons mentality, and take offense to negative coverage, rightly or wrongly. Bad press about Saban has thus far only increased interest and support.
Alabama fans crave information about the team. Reporters have access to the team that casual fans do not. How can the media use that access to best effect? For starters, do your homework. Coach Saban is obviously not the most outgoing person. He seems to loathe the public relations part of the job, and prefers coaching young men to speaking to reporters. Ask relevant questions that dig beneath the surface; don’t expect Saban to have prepared press releases, with all the information you need highlighted in yellow.
Secondly, understand that access is not friendship. Reporters and their subject develop a genial relationship, but don’t mistake it for familiarity. You’re not his pal; you’re a paid professional covering the same. You’re not helping Saban sell his product, he’s helping you sell yours.
It might also be nice to refer to him as ‘Coach Saban’ instead of ‘Nick.’ I’m sure he doesn’t mind your pretense of collegiality all that much, but the typical Southern fan cares about such things as respect and honoring rank, and it’s nice to see journalists demonstrate the same. It might win you a few fans among your readers. You know; the people that buy your product.
Lastly, consider your own reputation. A credible journalist remains consistent and fair in their reportage, and doing so gains you ever more access. If Saban or the team deserve criticism, do so. But do it fairly, not simply to create controversy. Everyone knows slamming Alabama fans generates interest. But the attention you gain will fade, and as this team becomes successful, your access may fade as well..
Coach Saban seems short on patience, but long on memory. Do your job correctly; your product, not his, depends on it.