The Silence of the Slams.

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It all started with an apology.

“We are very sorry, we have been asked by the International Tennis Writers Association not to release the transcripts of post-match interviews this year so as not to disadvantage the reporters here at the French Open. You can find many of the relevant quotes in the articles posted on our website.” – Roland-Garros team

The arguments against has been made by bloggers far more eloquent than I, so I won’t repeat what’s already been said. What follows is simply my self-serving musings on the Scriptgate.

There was a time when I wasn’t so obsessed with tennis. I mean, I enjoyed it at school. I watched religiously every Aussie Open, sometimes during Wimbledon too. I talked about it with friends when a slam was on. But was it the primary entertainment of my life? No.

And then, the interwebs happened.

Suddenly, not only could I watch tennis on TV, I could live stream it, download it. I could log onto a forum and chat to passionate, opinionated people across the world about it. There were arguments, debates, there was much teasing. We developed a common language, our own nicknames for players that acted like secret handshakes between friends who have never met each other. Instead of relying on a commentator to introduce a player I’ve never heard of before, I log on to wikipedia. Instead of reading about how a player reacted after a match in the newspaper the next day, I refresh the tournament website until the press transcript comes up. Because of the democratisation of media and information, a lively, inclusive online tennis community has emerged to all of our benefit. The most interesting and passionate debates, observations and opinions on tennis are not in fact found in the Tennis Magazines or newspaper columns, but in online forums, on Twitter and in the comments section of tennis blogs.

Which is precisely why this recent decision by Roland Garros to embargo press transcripts really, really seethes me.

In an age where people continue to demand faster, more transparent, more comprehensive information through new media, tennis has decided to take a step back. The ITWA has decided that we should only hear the story through its mouth – processed, interpreted, spun, analysed. And then we should just accepted it. Simple as that.

But don’t you see? There is no going back.

Tennis writers play an important and (mostly) respected role in offering their “expert view” and contributing to the interaction between formal and grassroots social media, but gone are the days where stories can be monopolized by a few with accreditation. Through transcripts and a variety of media, readers now treat media coverage of the sport with more suspicion than ever. We’ve all compared a press transcript with a news report and seen the half quotes, misquotes, the sensationalised quotes, the paraphrased quotes, the reinterpreted/spun/edited quotes, all used to generate headlines, profit or to make an unnecessary point.

Moreover, given the determination of certain tennis writers to provoke, agitate and surprise attack players into committing media blunder, it has become more important for fans to contextualise players’ words in relation to the question asked.

In other words, fans are no longer satisfied reading processed information and taking it at face value. We want to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. We want to do the processing and the interpreting ourselves, and this embargo on press transcripts is an attempt to reestablish traditional media’s monopoly over who gets to “tell the story”, or – in the words of Roland Garros – who gets to print the “relevant quotes”.

A second aspect of this hasn’t been mentioned, which is that tennis is a sport driven by personality, and personality is rarely evident in the reports of formal media. It was through the minor, “irrelevant” questions asked during press conferences that I got to see the light, dorky side of Roger Federer. It was while reading broken English answers to fluff questions that I grew to love guys like Davydenko. It was through perusing entire transcripts, not just “the relevant quotes” that I saw something sarcastic, intelligent and level-headed about Maria Sharapova, beyond her PR-savvy, glamourous facade. And what about Marat Safin? Press transcripts made him legendary.

What I’m trying to get at here is that fans need access to press transcripts because it is precisely the silly side of press conferences, the stuff that never makes it into the mainstream press, that eventually become the clearest indicator of a player’s personality and fan base. And this culture of personality is what drives spectators to tennis tournaments and consumers to Nike stores.

So how anyone could think withholding press transcripts from fans is good for the commercial success or level of active participation in the sport is simply beyond me.

Now, I’m not going to dump it all on the ITWA. Given the prominence of more “national” sports in many countries (e.g. AFL in Australia, and football in Europe), I can imagine how hard it would be to persuade an editor that you need to fly around to some fantastically expensive destinations at least 4 times a year to cover tournaments involving yellow fuzzy balls. But what’s interesting and I think the biggest downfall of the ITWA’s argument is that it blames its difficulties on the democratising effect of social media. The argument seems to be that the availability of transcripts contributes to the death of tennis coverage rather than its continuing relevance and viability.

Really? If anything, transcripts have played a part, as I have argued, in creating a greater market and an active community of followers for tennis coverage. Instead of harnessing the opportunity and adapting to the changing media landscape, the ITWA decided to take protectionist measures to actively reduce transparency.

What’s more disturbing is how easily Roland Garros accepted the ITWA’s request. So much for “fan interaction” when the most substantial way for fans to gain a glimpse into the sport is now embargoed. What we’re seeing is a move by the tournament website and journalists, the supposed “bridge” between players and the general public, to arbitrarily decide on who tells the story and how they’ll tell it.

Where do the fans and the players (who owns copyright over their own answers) feature in all of this? What is now going to be deemed “relevant” and worthy of press coverage? Who is to notice and report about the views and words of those lower ranked players only a few hardcore tennis fans care about?

While voices within the ITWA resort to a persecution complex to defend their position, the silence from tournament and from players is deafening.

There are things you can do: write to ITWA and let them know that YOU demand information straight from the source, not filtered through whatever colour tinted lenses their writer members wear. Tell Roland Garros on Twitter and Facebook that if they really did take tennis fans seriously, they would provide press transcripts.

But most importantly, be reasonable, be constructive, acknowledge the difficulties for the other side. If I, a slightly hysterical and rude fangirl, can write an entire post without resorting to shrilly, sloganistic personal attacks, so can you.

Play nice, kids.

xx doots

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23 responses to “The Silence of the Slams.”

  1. LJ says :

    BRAVO *STANDING OVATION*

    that was some eloquent shit sistah!!!!

  2. courtthirteen says :

    Perfectly well said. Have nothing to add, though I know the conversation will run on from here. Thanks for summarizing it so well.

  3. PJ says :

    See! Knew that you’ll be able to write something slam-dunk awesome on this whole issue.

    Great points made – especially on the fact that press transcripts present a different side of the player to the fans. I admit that reading all those interview transcripts since I became truly ingrained in the sport has given me more of an insight to the person off the court. The transcripts are fun, great for reading, and brings fans closer together as well as bringing the fans closer to the player/sport.

    I can understand the 24-hour-ban (there seems to be suggestions surfacing that the ban is for 24-hours and not lifetime…doubt it since not ONE transcript has appeared on the RG site) but the lifetime ban really befuddles me. Just because I don’t have the press accreditation therefore I don’t have access to my favourite’s words? We don’t even get full interview videos – only snippets, therefore they can’t justify it by saying WATCH THE VIDEOS.

    My biggest fear is that this spreads onto the other Slams and eventually the Masters tourneys as well. I mean, this is tennis – a sport – but the idea of the censorship is kind of horrifying. Imagine the day when the words of politicians are not made available but we have to rely on political (or not) journalists for their words. Talk about starting World War Threes.

    I think foreign-language transcripts are somehow floating around, but I don’t think for the English transcripts. Which puzzles me.

    Anyway! Ah-mah-zing write-up. Applause and apple-sauce!

    • flo says :

      It is a bit ridiculous. I don’t think people who read regularly about tennis, especially during slams, would skip over writers because they can get the transcripts from the official site. Nor do I think monopolizing them will give the beat writers an edge, particularly as it seems there will be workarounds for the popular players. I read the tennis writers because of their insights or because they have access to former players and glean some information about changes in some player’s game. For the most part, the press corp asks horrible, banal, idiotic questions. Sometimes it’s because they don’t cover tennis regularly and sometimes because they are lazy. On some level the ITWA must feel they’re losing some audience to some independent blogs with anyone having access to the transcripts, but I think overall this just seems petty. ITWA wants more page views or whatever, I suggest better quality of analysis and coverage. Why the fuck do they think they are qualified to provide relevant quotes when they haven’t been able to do that previously?

  4. Charles David says :

    Very well said🙂

  5. jbs10is says :

    very nicely done – you’ve expressed our frustration perfectly. i simply do NOT understand how denying this fan base access does anyone, the tourney, the players, the SPORT any good atall.

    the media can’t possibly write about all the players people are interested in. because really, there are SO many other players aside from the top 4 or 5 that are typically chosen to be quoted.

    not to mention the deaf fans, who can’t hear the vids that are provided, that’s even MORE frustrating for them.

    am feeling very ‘power to people – we will overcome-ish!’ like we need a sit in or something.

    • dootsiez says :

      it is isn’t it?

      But honestly, the idea that a few tennis journalists can successfully lobby a slam too embargo information from fans just seems to be against all moral impulse.

  6. clairetennisfan says :

    Doots you rock. It’s compulsory that you become a world famous writer. ok? (though obviously we’ll then blackmail you with old federporn posts and rumours of alleged federbear abuse).

  7. nonettennis says :

    You do a god job detailing the issue from a fan’s perspective. I agree with your take on it.

    My suggestion is that fans mass tweet the players themselves, in an effort to budge them from their alleged silence, and comment themselves on the use of their words in pressers. Many players may not be aware of the ITWA’s demand, it’s acceptance by Roland Garros, or the ripples it’s making in the tennis spectator sphere. If they were to speak up/out on this subject(since it is their words, after all), the blatantly Luddite decision could be modified or reversed. Personally, I wasn’t upset about the past action of the 24 hour embargo on the pressers publication.

    Players can conduct press conferences directly with fans, using Twitter and/or FB. Are they barred from doing this by the various governing bodies (during tournaments) as well?

    Keep Smiling

  8. rosso says :

    Agree with all the points made, well put! This stance by the ITWA just doesn’t make sense to me, it’s a backwards step & I fear that if it continues at RG it will spread to other tournaments & a huge part of following tennis & the fandoms it creates will be lost.

    That said I was wondering earlier, could a player post a transcript of their own interviews on their own website if they were so inclined & had someone able to transcribe it? Would they be allowed to do so? I’d love if the players themselves in reaction to this situation & so as to prevent themselves being misrepresented/misquoted/used in some jounrnalist’s own agenda/storyline decided to post their own conference transcripts on their own sites for everyone.

  9. Alex says :

    As usual we only get what our overlords grant us.

  10. Matt Zemek says :

    Doots is the number-one seed in the media criticism bracket… and in a Nadalian, not a Wozniackian, way.

  11. dari says :

    Applause!
    Sent a civil and firm email to ITWA yesterday, as I’m sure so many others have. Hopefully we won’t see this spread to other slams and that it will be overturned by RG next year. Wonder how French got talked into this?

  12. Katarina_YYZ says :

    Exactly as you said: there is no going back. Let’s topple the ITWA Mubaraks.

  13. bob says :

    Bravo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Deborah says :

    Doots, I knew I could count on you to write the most reasoned response to this fiasco. When I heard of this yesterday on rf.com, I was incensed and immediately sent an email to ITWA. I guess it was civil. At least I didn’t call anyone “low rent”. JLWertheim, on his report today, claimed not to know why there were no transcripts. I wonder if these clowns understand how tennis has become such a worldwide sport? Do they think their “selected relevant quotes” are responsible? I’m trying not to think of my favorite quote from from Mary McCarthy when I think about these jokers: “Every word she writes is a lie, including and and the”.

    Read more: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mary_mccarthy.html#ixzz1NP1xSJWB

  15. Annie says :

    Fantastic article. I’ve tweeted it to my followers and am talking incessantly about it on-line.

  16. kefuoe says :

    I want to add my kudos for a well-reasoned and well-written response to this situation.

    In addition to the excellent points made, I would add that this seems to be a bit of a free market issue to me. I think it’s incumbent on the professional journalists to demonstrate what value they actually add to the interview transcript. If they would like us to believe that our enjoyment or understanding will be diminished without them to provide context, then they need to be giving us more.

  17. tennischick says :

    well written. it’s only a matter of time until bloggers start being respected as legitimate tennis journalists. the establishment seems to be running scared.

  18. keysersoze says :

    yeah, the 2nd thing i looked for after results are interview transcripts. and i was horrified to see tt its missing. im glad so many pple shared the same sentiments. hope thats enuf pressure to bring tt good thing back to tennis junkies.

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