Actually, there are no ‘objectivity concerns’ with Alanna Rizzo

The last person Alanna Rizzo needs to defend her is me, but a couple curmudgeonly baseball writers took it upon themselves to raise an issue with her postgame high-five Friday night with Dave Roberts.

Anthony Jackson formerly covered the Dodgers for the LA Daily News and, briefly, on his own. Remember the “pee in the pool” incident in Arizona? Yeah, he’s that guy. But this post won’t focus much on him. Instead, it’s the other “journalist” with whom I have the biggest problem.

Tom Hoffarth — a known critic of Rizzo (more on that later) — doubled down and wrote a column about it.

Good lord. Here’s an excerpt:

“The immediate reflex here was to report it as a bad-look, mixed-message via Twitter. The response evolved into an interesting social (and sometimes anti-social) discussion on what should matter versus what doesn’t seem to be all that important any longer. Maybe this was just one of those tipping points that reinforced a theory we have suspected all along – fans want fans calling and reporting on their games. To embrace their leanings. Especially if you’re a team-owned channel and have the ultimate final call on how to control your message. A consensus from a stream of pro-Dodgers followers seemed to be that Rizzo should be allowed to react as a person who works for the team and this was all OK because she wasn’t “cheering in the press box.” To be fair, the SportsNet LA camera in the aftermath of the celebration first focused on Roberts extending his hand to someone out of view. Quickly, it was apparent Rizzo was on the receiving end.

The next graf, well … it’s incredible it made it to print.

She could have returned the gesture as a natural reflex, based on their relationship, or left him hanging, perhaps extending her hand for a more professional shake before going off to find her interview subject. Had she done the latter, the irony is that video would probably have gone viral and had fans calling her out.

Literally damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I’m not sure exactly what Hoffarth wanted from her.

Here’s the last bit of that excerpt:

Yet, mainstream media members – taught back in Journalism 101 to keep a healthy, objective distance so as not to compromise one’s fact-gathering abilities – will often call out others in their profession on public faux pas that could undermine all their credibility. It is an integral and internal check-and-balance mechanism.”

This isn’t a New York Times, Washington Post or NPR, Tommy. This is a team-employed, in-game reporter who is one of the best at her job reporting about baseball. This isn’t meant to minimize her job at all; it’s just the reality of the situation. Rizzo doesn’t just ask softball questions. And her job isn’t the in-depth, hard-hitting, information-laden reports. She reports on what’s going on with the team — mostly in-game. To lump her in with an investigative reporter is just lazy and misguided.

He’s also trying to draw a comparison between Rizzo and the beat writers for media organizations not owned by the Dodgers. It’s an apples and oranges situation. What Rizzo does, for the most part, is objective. There are times she strays across the line that Hoffarth and other old school journalists have arbitrarily determined to be “the line.” In her line of work, it’s unavoidable.

Another excerpt:

“This also shouldn’t be taken as a direct hit on Rizzo – it would have been just as much a violation if David Vassegh, the team reporter for the Dodgers-co-owned KLAC-AM 570, was seen doing the same thing. Even more egregious if it was a Los Angeles Times or Southern California News Group representative. If it was Orel Hershiser or Nomar Garciaparra or Jerry Hairston Jr., it would have looked less bothersome to most since they were former players, but still in the SportsNet LA corral. A homer is a homer is a homer. It boils down not so much on how one defines their role, but more through what prism the media consumers want to view them. From this mini-experiment, the bottom line seems to be the fans accept this is a team-owned channel, and those covering the team on this network shouldn’t be confined by standards of other journalists.”

I’ve been as big a critic of David Vassegh as anyone — even if it has been in subtweet form on Twitter — but even I think this is ridiculous. Vassegh displays even more bias when talking about the Dodgers on the radio, but he has also been critical of players, the manager, etc., in the past. Remember that time he challenged Adrian Gonzalez to a race? No one raised an eyebrow there regarding objectivity. And that’s OK! Things like that shouldn’t raise any eyebrows.

I will agree that if Andy McCullough, J.P. Hoornstra, Bill Plunkett or any non-Ken Gurnick (employed by MLB Advanced Media) beat writer did that, it’d be a bad look. And for the record, Gurnick plays it down the middle — something that’s difficult when he’s the only one of the lot employed by Major League Baseball.

——

It seems there’s a little more to this than what we see on the surface. Let’s take a brief look at Hoffarth’s history with Rizzo.

Again, she’s employed by the network that is the exclusive TV home Los Angeles Dodgers. Mark Walter, for all intents and purposes, signs her paycheck. She isn’t Dan Rather … well, that might not be the best example. She isn’t Walter Cronkite. If she were, she’d be in a different line of business. With a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism, she knows the craft.

Here we have Hoffarth putting “reporter” in quotation marks, thus discrediting Rizzo has a legitimate reporter. The MLB.com link is DOA, so I can’t see what he was criticizing, but this is a theme with Hoffarth, it seems.

It’s clear he has an issue with Rizzo. I could speculate as to what that is, but I won’t. I shouldn’t.

*Cough*Erin Andrews*Cough*Michelle Beadle*Cough*

——

Like I said, Rizzo doesn’t need my defense, so let’s see what others have written about here in recent years. Here’s Kevin Crust of the Los Angeles Times writing about how she earned the players’ respect.

“‘What’s your game-day routine?’ Often, people think we just show up right before first pitch, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m here four-and-a-half hours before the game starts. My typical routine is to to come to the park, gather all of the interviews for our pregame show as well as do the one-on-one interview, all of the manager’s interviews and then I host an hour show prior.”

“During the game, I do anywhere from three to five sideline hits. And then postgame, the interview on the field if the Dodgers win, which we’ve had a lot of this year — not lately — but a lot. And then I go immediately to do the Dave Roberts postgame press conference and then go into the clubhouse to gather all of the player interviews for that particular game. It’s that, every single game, throughout the entire season.”

“‘What do you tell young women who want to break into the business?’ You have to be doubly prepared and work twice as hard as your male counterpart because you already have that stigma that you don’t know what you’re talking about. I think you have to be prepared to move and to sacrifice and not make money and really see if you want to do this. It is not an easy path. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and thick skin.”

This was a Q&A from the Times, so there was objectivity when reporting it, which I’m sure Hoffarth appreciated.

Matthew Moreno of Dodger Blue, a Dodger (duh) blog, had this profile on Rizzo at the end of March.

“Considering the number of interviews she conducts throughout the course of a season, Rizzo sincerely appreciates any player or coach who will grant her the time. And when those interviews come after a loss or difficult moment, it’s about understanding the scope of the situation. ‘The biggest thing is sticking to the game and making sure you’ve done your homework,’ she said. ‘In the tough losses, you pinpoint perhaps that pivotal moment that won or lost the game. For me, the biggest thing is being prepared and asking questions that are relatable to the game.'”

Hoffarth probably didn’t appreciate this as much because it was written by a blogger, a group of people for whom he doesn’t particularly care. But here’s a nugget: Moreno is one of the only Dodger bloggers who regularly gets credentialed, so he must be doing something right.

——

I can somewhat see where Hoffarth and Jackson are coming from. Kinda. Sorta. Both are old school writers who were formed during a more rigid time for journalism. While we still need objective reporters to inform (see the current political climate), I’m not sure dying on the proverbial hill of “the team-based, in-game reporter needs to be 100 percent objective all the time” is wise.

Rizzo does a great job and isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions. If she receives a high-five from the manager of the team she covers after a feat like a combined no-hitter — a good-not-great feat — then who cares? Journalism is evolving, and Rizzo still informs the viewers (and her Twitter followers) of the goings-on. If she could totally disconnect from the team and be 100 percent objective, well, she’d be in a class of her own because she’d not be of this world. Remember, she spends as much time — if not more — with the team and the players/coaching staff than her own family.

The bottom line is she is good at her job and for someone to question how a simple high-five “raises objectivity concerns,” seems like quite the stretch and just wanting to be upset about something.

If I’ve learned anything in journalism, it’s that there are many different kinds of journalists. In the end, though, most enjoy the misery. It’s in their nature.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.