Monday, August 14, 2006

San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Tim Sullivan quits awards voting

From his Dec. 16, 2005 column:

I shouldn't be casting ballots that can trigger contractual bonuses or endorsement opportunities for athletes I might have occasion to interview. Neither should I accept the responsibility of deciding whether Mark McGwire is still entitled to the presumption of innocence following his clumsy evasions before Congress.

For years, I've had misgivings about voting on awards. Baseball's steroids scandal supplied the last straw. Better to recuse oneself than to render a judgment based on unsubstantiated suspicion. Better to stick to the sidelines than to get in a game in which you never really belonged.

In journalism's post-Jayson Blair credibility quest, several American newspapers have established policies to distance themselves from awards voting. That list now includes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post and the Associated Press.

"In general, it is inappropriate for reporters to vote on awards and rankings; doing so could reasonably be seen as compromising their objectivity," the Los Angeles Times declared in ethics guidelines published July 13. "For critics, whose job is to express opinions on the merits of creative works, awards voting is less troublesome.

"Nevertheless, any staff member invited to vote for an award must first receive the permission of the managing editor. No staff member who votes for an award – whether in sports, the arts or any other area – may be part of the paper's coverage of that award."

Faced with an eroding electorate, the Baseball Writers' Association of America formed a committee during the recent winter meetings in Dallas to explore awards voting alternatives.

To some baseball writers, this heralds a looming crisis. To me, it represents an inevitable reckoning. To Peter Schmuck, president of the writers association, it is a curious irony. Because Schmuck works for the Baltimore Sun, he is unable to vote.

Enlisting journalists to vote on awards is, foremost, a means of generating publicity. Much as it might appear to flatter your intelligence, the actual goal is to appropriate your ink. In return for recurring ego gratification, reliable subject matter and recognized influence, media types provide priceless amounts of free advertising.


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