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I’m a Grizzlies blogger. I write sporadically, at best, about my favorite NBA team. I have 0 credible NBA sources. There really isn’t anything that qualifies me to write about the Grizzlies, but that hasn’t stopped Geoff Calkins, so why should it stop me? (I kid, I kid.)

Ron Tillery is a professional journalist for The Commercial Appeal, assigned as the beat writer for the Memphis Grizzlies. In a one-paper town, he ends up being the de facto go-to source for much of the Grizzlies fan base. He should have a myriad of sources to rely on to provide a clear picture of what’s happening with the Grizzlies, from minor day-to-day issues, to game recaps, to larger scale ongoings of the organization. The knock on Tillery has been that he doesn’t break enough stories, and he’s also been in the Heisley/Hollins camps when it comes to where his stories lie. I’m not offering this up as truth, merely perception.

Columnists, like Calkins, are paid to offer educated opinions. Beat writers are paid to write unbiased stories, digging deeper within a team to find out what’s going on behind closed doors, to gain insight into things that a regular fan like myself can’t possibly have access to. That’s why I take such exception to this article about the Barry Hecker/Lionel Hollins/Dave Joerger situation. 

For a beat writer to espouse rumors as fact without providing any sources, and to use gray areas and generalizations without specific examples to support an opinion is haphazard at best, derisive at work. Let’s break it down:

First, if Hecker was let go almost six months ago, why is the story just now surfacing through a national outlet instead of from Tillery? Why is this a reactionary piece instead of a breaking story back when it happened?

Now, in the article, Tillery says, “but many people involved in the situation will take issue with his (Hecker’s) accounts although none of them find it worthwhile to publicly respond.”

Here’s my questions:

Who are the “many people” Tillery is referring to?

Did Tillery talk to the key people in this: Hecker, Hollins, Joerger and Dave Mincberg?”

If he did talk to any or all of them, why didn’t he provide their insight? Did they ask for it to be off-the-record, or provide “no comment.” If so, which ones? Sometimes a person’s unwillingness to respond publicly is just as important as a response.

These are important details that one should know. Instead, Tillery just gives a nondescript statement that “many people involved in the situation” (which could be anybody, really) “will take issue with his accounts” (which means they disagree), “although none of them find it worthwhile to publicly respond” (because they can use Tillery as an unofficial mouthpiece).

Let’s move on.

Tillery then offers “what he knows” but doesn’t provide one source. Is this journalism?

And of course, what Tillery knows seems very much like what Lionel Hollins would say about the situation, does it not?

Tillery:  “In the immediate aftermath, former Griz coach Lionel Hollins expected Hecker to return and was blindsided when Hecker went to human resources. Griz management (namely Mincberg) made the decision to terminate Hecker once he involved an attorney.”

Of course Lionel Hollins would say that he was blindsided by Hecker, rather than take responsibility for the situation. Of course Lionel Hollins would lay the blame of the firing on someone else (Mincberg) rather than say it was his own doing. I’m not saying these things are or are not true, but as a journalist, Tillery needs to provide sources, or else he runs the risk of looking like a puppet for someone else’s agenda.

Tillery:  “Everyone in the organization reviewed video footage of Hecker’s encounter with that Thunder fan and was disturbed by Hecker’s actions. The fan was a big-time attorney whom Hollins eventually called to apologize for the incident. Thunder general manager Sam Presti couldn’t have been more grateful to Hollins for the gesture.”

Really, there’s footage of Hecker going off on a fan? Can someone link to this? In this day and age, if there’s footage, it’s available somewhere. Why hasn’t this been provided? Also, how are we sure that “everyone in the organization…was disturbed by Hecker’s actions.” Who consists of “everyone in the organization?” Also, how does one know that they were disturbed? Can I have one source please? Just one? Pretty please?

As a side note, I love the fact that the fan was “a bit-time attorney.” This has nothing to do with the situation whatsoever. I mean, if the fan was a medium-sized attorney, it would be the same story right?

Tillery:  “Hollins and Hecker remain associates despite the incident even though Hollins repeatedly had to scold Hecker for various acts deemed unprofessional by most in the organization.”

I’m perplexed by the statement, “even though Hollins had to scold Hecker for various acts deemed unprofessional by most in the organization.” What acts? I need to know this. Was Hecker showing up to practice in pajamas with a 40 in his hand? Was he screaming at small-time lawyers to sit down as well? I need to know! Also, again, who are “most in the organization?” Tillery is acting like he has verified these details with multiple people, but hasn’t provided one source.

The last three paragraphs of Tillery’s article, at a minimum, seem fairly straightforward. Tillery validates Hecker’s claim that he didn’t’ get along with Joerger, because, surprise, it doesn’t hurt Hollins to agree with this part of Hecker’s story. Also, Hollins and Joerger don’t talk anymore. That’s pretty much common knowledge at this point.

Since I’m a blogger, and not a journalist, I can give opinions without sources (and I’m giving MY opinions, which is key). The perception that Hollins and Tillery are close is because of articles like the one above. I think that Hollins used Tillery as a sounding board for the Hecker situation but didn’t want to comment publicly since it wouldn’t help, in the slightest bit, to help him get another coaching gig. Hollins wanted his side of the story out there, or a version of a story that makes him look less culpable in the firing of Hecker.

It’s sad that our local paper and beat writer can’t get the story when it happens, or even worse, can’t get the story six months later. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tillery knew the details of the Hecker firing when it happened but kept quiet because he didn’t have sources to go on record or because Hollins didn’t want this information public, but now, basically, the cat’s out of the bag, so Tillery has to respond to save face as a credible source of Grizzlies information. The problem is, without sources, Tillery isn’t credible. It just leads regular old bloggers like myself to wonder what the difference between the beat writer and me is after all? He’s throwing out stories and rumors without sources. Anyone can do that…heck, I just did. Too bad I’m not paid for it.


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5 Responses to Who Needs Sources Anyway?

  1. Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

    Well, there’s this:

    Tillery WAS quoting a source: The Sean Deveney piece that originally appeared in The Sporting News. Oddly, that piece also only offers quotes from Hecker, as well as a few other quotes from players about largely unrelated content. Not even the mention of attempts to get comments from the Grizzlies, Joerger or Hollins. Generally, that would look like, “The Grizzlies were contacted but declined to comment.” or “Did not return phone calls.”

    Secondly, as a former news reporter myself, sometimes the reporter writes an opinion/analysis piece. That’s my understanding of what Tillery was trying to do there, and has been doing all season. The rules on a piece like “Grizz Insider” (in fact, that title itself) are that it is a little more “gossipy” so to speak. It’s not unlike the “gossip block” you’ll see where the writer just shares tidbits that are interesting but don’t merit a full story.

    Finally, and I TOTALLY get this: He wants to preserve his relationships. He’s got to cover the team, gaining some level of confidence from the Front Office. He obviously had built up a lot of cred with the Heisley Front Office. Undoubtedly still learning the Levien/Hollinger/Lash dynamics.

    Sure, he could blow this thing up, probably knew all the info months ago, likely talked “off the record” with all the key players. But doing so might make it harder for him to cover the team the remainder of the season, so he asks himself: Is it worth it to blow any goodwill you have by breaking a story about a dismissed coach with an ax to grind?

    Even in the piece you mention, he buries it down deep in the article. National media has it, he HAS to cover it.

    But I still cut Tillery some slack. Building up trust with a source takes time, restraint and judgment. I get your point, but I don’t blame him for not risking burning the very bridges he will need to do his job.

  2. Chris AvisNo Gravatar says:

    The Sporting News piece was, more less, Barry Hecker’s side of the story, so that was the source for the piece. There wasn’t necessarily a need to add other sources. It was simply a piece based on “hey, this guy wants to share his story, here it is.”

    Tillery’s piece wasn’t an opinion piece based on what he think happened. Tillery specficially said, “here’s what I know.” It’s one thing if Tillery gave an op-ed piece on what he thought about Hecker’s stance, but he didn’t. He gave a rebuttal piece that spoke for other people, but didn’t give any source of where he got this information. That’s my problem – he provided an opinion piece, it just wasn’t his opinion, and we aren’t sure whose it was. We have to guess who provided the content he is providing. That’s irresponsible journalism if you’re going to provide content without attribute.

  3. 3sobsebulbaNo Gravatar says:

    (Pre comment alert-THE FOLLOWING IS AN OPINION PIECE-haha)
    I think the elephant in the room is what Tillery’s agenda would be here, if there is one. I think its worth at least considering that he has, was and will be a Hollins guy, and that given a reasonable chance to do so, he will take the opportunity to defend Lionel and ride the wave of public sentiment towards him in the wake of the (disatrous?) first 20 games of the season. What an endgame to this posturing would be, I’m not sure, but can anyone deny that Ron would have a lot to gain if by some miracle(I realize the near-impossibility) Lionel Hollins could regain his job as Memphis Grizzlies head coach? I don’t necessarily think Tillery has anything against Joerger, but it seems clear to me and all my “sources”(I’ll call them a large chunk-maybe even a majority- of the Grizz fanbase) that he thinks that Hollins was at the very least a better coach than Joerger, if not a better person, leader, and motivator as well. Is it a stretch to think that Ron considers his opinions about the franchise as highly representative of the city? So, finally, why does Tillery write this piece? To defend a friend? To stir controversy? To sell papers? To sow seeds of discontent? Or just to respond to a national story? Is Ron Tillery even expected to be unbiased in situations like this? Love you hear your thoughts.

  4. Chip CrainNo Gravatar says:

    Tillery does a very good covering
    The Grizzlies. I’ve lived in many cities with NBA teams and Ron’s coverage is among the best I have seen.

    That being said I do believe he dropped the ball on this story. There are numerous assertions not corroborated with sources. If it is simply an opinion piece it should be clearly stated as such because Tillery is viewed rightfully as the Beat Writer for the Grizzlies. Everything he writes is viewed as a real news story and not an opinion piece.

    I don’t believe Tillery has an agenda supporting Hollins. He did have a long-term relationship with Hollins and can turn to him for confirmation on stories. That isn’t the same as implying a grand conspiracy cooked up between the two men to get Hollins story out without tainting Hollins in the process.

    The reality is that people know they can ask not to be quoted today and use that right a lot more than they used to do. It’s a thin line reporters travel between telling the truth about situations and leaving them unreported all together because a source refuses to be quoted directly. He may have strayed too far over the line here but I don’t believe it was intentional.

  5. Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

    Good points, Chris.

    I get the distinct impression that had Deveney not posted that story, Tillery wouldn’t have written his. But when national media covers it, and the wires pick it up, he HAS to write something. I’ve been on that side of it, too, when everyone else has the story so you gotta do SOMETHING.

    One more thing to keep in mind here: the NBA is entertainment. And in the entertainment business, gossip and unnamed sources are pretty common. And it worked because . . . well, here we are writing about it!

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