Covering the lockout: 101

Posted July 06, 2011 @ 11:22 a.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

On July 1, the NBA joined the recent new craze of locking players out.

Contrary to the NFL, the NBA did it without much of a whimper. There were no extensions to the Collective Bargaining Agreement deadline, players' association leader Billy Hunter wasn't running outside like DeMaurice Smith did to present an ultimatum and there was nothing that could be done to save basketball on that day.

Having entered my fourth month of following this lockout, I've seen the best and worst of what the lockout has done for us journalists. On the one hand, writers have had more time to analyze the league and teams they cover.

On the other hand, writers have had more time to analyze the league and teams they cover.

NBA writers will have it tough, as many are predicting a long lockout that could very well cancel the 2011-12 basketball season. To help you along, here are some tips that have gotten me through covering the lockout.

1. Find the NBA version of Kenny Britt.

Britt, the budding star receiver for the Titans, made headlines what seemed like every few days this offseason for his run-ins with the law. Whenever news got slow, you could generally count on Britt to get arrested for careless driving or obstructing an investigation, or to turn himself in on outstanding warrants to bring NFL media outlets some breaking news.

2. Hang on to each and every tweet of the players' and owners' spokesmen (and hope they are entertaining).

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello and NFLPA spokesman George Atallah have done a great job using their Twitter accounts to update media and fans throughout the lockout. It appeared to be a sign of progress when the two actually started tweeting joint statements during the June negotiations. Aiello and Atallah also provided entertainment when tension increased in March, including taking some jabs. Aiello has also been known to respond to writers and fans with (sometimes) snarky updates that keep those of us waiting for him to tweet "the lockout is over" a chance to be entertained.

3. Return to the days of middle school by having to decipher passive-aggressive behavior between the two sides.

I remember witnessing a host of verbal, passive-aggressive arguments growing up, mainly between junior high girls. The arguments were catty and accomplished nothing. I figured everyone outgrew them, until I watched the owners and players squabble, mainly on Twitter, back in March and April. It really brought me back.

4. Get ready for David Stern and Billy Hunter to sound like broken records.

I thought Yahoo's Doug Farrar made a great point in his open letter about phrases that you could recycle throughout the lockout. Commissioner Roger Goodell's rhetoric got so repetitive that my computer would already have the quote "We need to return to negotiations" before he could finish conference calls with season-ticket holders. Technology is truly something else.

5. Cover player-organized workouts, which likely have no bearing on how a team will perform, as if they are the biggest piece of news (because during a lockout, they usually are).

We'll need to go to bullet points for this. I haven't had the pleasure of covering one of these myself, but watching beat writers do it, I think I have it down:

6. After talking with your sources, write countless articles with predictions on when the lockout will end.

If all the reports I've seen that tried to predict when the lockout would end were true, the lockout has not only ended about 27 times, but it also will last until October.

7. Find your Albert Breer.

The NFL Network reporter has done a stellar job of covering this lockout. Breer has the thankless job of staking out negotiations wherever they are taking place between the two sides, while giving us the X's and O's of what's going on behind the scenes, even when parties are keeping their mouths shut when they leave. But what has Breer really brought to covering the lockout? Photos of what the negotiating teams eat during lunch breaks.

8. Have a prepared answer to the following: "When will the lockout end?" "What do you write about during a lockout?" "Are you sick of me asking you when the lockout will end?"

My grandparents visited me in the middle of April and my grandma is a diehard NFL fan (and, of course, of Pro Football Weekly). She wanted to know the details of the negotiations, when the lockout would be over, etc.

They returned to visit last week and, unfortunately, the same questions were relevant.

9. Make lists and rankings, and lots of them.

Possible lists could include the free agents on the team you cover or potential targets in free agency. Maybe poll an unknown number of players and ask them who the top 100 players in the NBA are. These are simply suggestions, but the video folks here at PFW have done a great job with our rankings of owners, coaches, fans and nicknames, and it has given the fans a nice distraction as something to talk about.

10. Put up with the cynicism and frustration while continuing to provide a service to your readers.

Remember those lists and rankings? Fans and even other writers will start to poke fun, wondering when the lists and rankings will end. Sure, I thought the NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2010 was kind of silly, but it got everyone talking, and I'd rather talk about a player's ranking (as arbitrary as it might be) than an antitrust lawsuit.

You might write stories that you wouldn't have written during a normal offseason, and you might even take a picture of the NBA team you cover practicing at a schoolyard, but it's our job to provide news to our audience. Don't worry if you have succumb to what the Twitter folk call the "#lockoutlife." Continue to find anything and everything you can to give your readers updates of what's going on, in addition to stories about basketball, not collective bargaining, to keep them distracted. Even if it is yet another list of rankings.

Good luck, NBA writers. You have a long, frustrating road ahead.


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