So a quick summary: RG.com isn't posting full interview transcripts. Word got out that the International Tennis Writers' Association had requested they not post the full interview transcripts. Fans found out. Fans complained. So ITWA wrote a very very long letter. You can read that letter here.
I find the letter a bit odd. Tennis fans aren't dumb. WE KNOW WHY YOU DON'T WANT THE TRANSCRIPTS POSTED. It's the same reason why the record industry went after Napster, why movie studios are constantly revamping their digital copyright technology, and why authors were freaking out about the prospect of e-books. Of course you're trying to protect your business model and your exclusivity. If you lock other people out who might be able to do a better job than you then you get to kick back, throw your feet up, and be the lazy fat cats. DUH.
But let's start by looking at the current landscape of tennis media. One thing that has happened over the course of the last five years, whether it's because of Twitter or the internet or whatever, is the ever-increasing distrust of the mainstream tennis media (I mean, media in general really, but let's focus on tennis). Fans have been given a remarkable amount of transparency over the last few years. If we hadn't (i.e., transcripts weren't previously made widely available) we wouldn't be complaining now.
But the cat's out of the bag. We now know the transcripts are there, tournaments have the capacity to post them with ease, and they yield information that we value and isn't being reported. As uberfandom has become a thing (a very good thing, if you ask me), fans have an insatiable appetite for any and every scrap of information about their favorite players. That appetite leads them to search for the info at the source, and when they have, particularly via transcripts, they have found that the people writing about tennis often get it wrong. Perhaps not "wrong" per se, but to the extent anything is subjective, tennis fans often find themselves disagreeing with tennis journalists on a "definitive" take.
Now, tennis journalists want to take that transparency away. But we, tennis fans do not trust you. Whether that's because you've done a shit job or because we're dumb is not a point I'm going to argue right now. But the debate only works if we just accept that as fact. There is no trust in the system right now. As a journalist, I would think you care about that. Or maybe you don't care and you're just trying to earn a living. If that's the case, fine. But don't act all indignant when the very tennis fans that you're trying to court to read your work tell you to go fuck yourself. Do your jobs well and earn back that trust.
For example, many fans have been left scratching their heads this morning as they read multiple news reports of Rafa's "dominant" performance over Ljubicic. As "relevant quotes" from Rafa's press conference began to hit the wire (journalists are leaking the quotes *they* deem relevant), most Rafa fans' immediate reaction was, "Let me see the transcript. There has to be context to these." As the transcripts did hit the web (Wikileaks-style), Rafa fans felt vindicated. There *was* context. Not only that, but there were great little Rafa quips in the full transcript that were wholly ignored by the MSM. As this happens over and over and over again, tennis fans feel like they're either being mislead or not being told the whole story. Distrust and skepticism grows.
Tennis journalists may want to live in this world where they have complete 100% control over the source material and therefore derive their value from having that access. But that's a dream world. That world simply no longer exists. Information that has value will always get leaked. Look around you. What *doesn't* get leaked these days.
But what leaves a bad taste in my mouth in this instance is this: It's not the tournaments who are making this independent decision, saying that they want to incentivize on-site journalism and have thus refused to put up the transcript. Instead, here you have a PRESS ORGANIZATION lobbying for limited public access. I've spent the last few days trying to think of another situation where I've heard of that happening. I honestly can't think of one.
It just strikes me as laziness. If you, tennis journalist, are worried that a blogger who is sitting on their couch watching the matches on TV and reading transcripts as they're posted on the OFFICIAL TOURNAMENT WEBSITE, can and will do a better job "reporting" than you who are on-site, doesn't that speak volumes as to your value? If what you're doing on-site is no better than what someone's doing off-site, then clearly you're not using your access. You absolutely have an advantage over the couchsurfers. You're there. You can ask for interviews. You can find angles. You see things that we don't see. You can just be a fantastically eloquent writer who can describe the sound of Rafa's shoes sliding in the Bullring in a way that makes me wish I was there. Christopher Clarey, Steve Tignor, Tom Perrotta, Doug Robson. They do it right. I don't read every piece they post because they have scorelines and quotes. I read every piece they post because they see things and write about things that I marvel at. They take the quotes and weave them into a compelling narrative. Their perspectives and their words make me love tennis more.
What the ITWA letter also doesn't address is the issue of a 24-48 hour embargo on transcripts. No right-thinking tennis fan would object to this and no right-thinking tennis journalist would either. If you need quotes for your stories, you need them immediately and you have to file your stories in a 24 hour period anyway. So there's your exclusive access. 24 hours later, us tennis fans get to read the full transcripts, we get to check your work, and we get all the juicy little nuggets that you find trivial or juvenile. Win-Win. How can that go wrong?
Last point. If I am the tournament, tour, or player, I WANT the transcripts to be released to the public. From a tournament perspective, it's a huge hit generator for any tourney website. Need to off-set the costs of transcription services? There you go. And if I'm the tour, I want as many people writing about and talking about my players as possible. More access equals more stories and more chatter. And if I'm a player, I want my quotes out there in full context and I want my fans to hear it all. I don't want to give journalists full control over my words and my story.
So yeah. Those are my thoughts. It's not an easy debate and there are merits to both sides. But tell me: What doesn't a 24 hour embargo solve?