Journalism Award For Mitch Albom Ignites Media Melee
Well, there's a nice one going on now over the recent presentation of a prestigious award to one of the nation's most visible sports columnists, which triggered a flood of criticism by other columnists.
The event that triggered the row occurred when the Associated Press Sports Editors bestowed its highest honor, the Red Smith Award, on best-selling author Mitch Albom.
Albom, a longtime columnist at the Detroit Free Press, has received the APSE's annual column-writing contest 13 times, and was given the Red Smith Award by the organization for lifetime achievement.
The designation was announced in March and Albom received the award last month at the APSE convention in Salt Lake City.
At the awards ceremony, Albom dispensed advice, including this passage: "And always, always, be mindful of who you are serving -- not your ego, but your reader. I never spent much time in media hospitality suites because I saw the trap of comparing notes, trying to impress colleagues with who could write more viciously. I saw how quickly conversations degenerated into complaint sessions and where I lived, cynicism was the wrong approach. The reader of Detroit, the guys on the assembly lines, the grandfathers in Alpena, wished every day they could trade places with me. If I turned cynic, how would that serve them? So I often kept a distance. I spent more time at events than in the office, more time in my community than in press boxes or media parties, and this may have cost me over the years. People who don't know you are often the quickest to speak about you, especially if you are blessed with some success."
The tone of the speech touched off a backlash from journalists against Albom, who once sharply criticized former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair after Blair was found to have committed plagiarism and fabrication in 2003.
Two years later, Albom wrote that former Michigan State men's basketball players Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson were present at the men's Final Four, when, at the time Albom wrote the column, the game hadn't taken place.
Neither Richardson nor Cleaves made it to the game, and the Free Press conducted an exhaustive review of Albom's prior work. The columnist was forced to issue an apology.
The perceived hypocrisy of Albom lecturing journalists on their conduct touched off rather heated responses – almost all of them negative -- from high profile sports journalists.
For instance, Dave Kindred, who formerly wrote columns for the Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Louisville Courier-Journal and currently writes a weekly column for The Sporting News, called Albom "an unlikely guardian of journalistic values,'' in a piece appearing on the website of the National Sports Journalism Center.
Later, Kindred, clearly mocking Albom's tack of offering advice, told journalism students that Albom's Michigan State column was "known as fiction. It can get you expelled."
Charles Pierce, a Boston Globe Sunday magazine writer, wrote on his blog, "For the Associated Press Sports Editors to sanctify fraud with that organization's highest honor, and for the recipient then to preach sanctimoniously about a craft that he disgraced, makes me weep for this business."
By far, the most contentious blast was fired by Jason Whitlock, who writes columns for the Kansas City Star and for FOXSports.com. Whitlock, in a piece penned for TheBigLead.com, took off on Albom in a highly personal tone, calling him the "king of feel-good fairy tales about dead sources, make-believe dead people in heaven, Fab Five basketball players and any other source willing to keep quiet while Albom poured syrup and exaggeration on some cute anecdote."
Whitlock took after the APSE, calling it "stagnant," and claiming that "presenting Albom an award and giving him a platform to preach was the equivalent of the band playing while the (Titanic) took on water."