On the Cubs beat with Bruce Miles

Possibly one of the great jobs to have is that of beat writer for a major league baseball team. Free tickets, great seats, access to all aspects of the game… my view from the cheap seats (i.e. as a blogger) is being a beat writer is a great gig to have. That may well be, but of course it is a job too. There is competition – a team like the Cubs has a large media contingent to mirror the large public following. So each beat writer wants to report the team and game news, but also ask the questions, find an interesting angle, and score your occasional scoop. 

By Pat Hughes & Bruce Miles

I thought it would be interesting to ask a few questions of Daily Herald Cubs beat reporter Bruce Miles. He has been on the Cubs beat for more than ten seasons and writing about MLB for twenty years. One of the first local beat writers to blog, you can find his contributions at Chicago’s Inside Pitch. He shares this blog the Herald’s White Sox beat writer Scot Gregor. Bruce also co-authored a fine retrospective on the career of Haray Caray, “Harry Caray: Voice of the Fans” with Pat Hughes. Not just a book, it includes an audio CD as well. Harry was a larger than life figure and he is remembered well here.

Exclusive Interview with Bruce Miles:

CubHub.net: You are the eyes and the ears for Cub fans. Much of what we know about the team comes from beat reporters that are embedded with the team. How do you decide what to write about? Are stories assigned or do you have complete autonomy in choosing the stories you bring?

Bruce Miles: The beauty of being a beat writer is that you’re essentially your own boss. On a day-by-day basis, it would be hard for an editor to “assign” a story because the news of the day and the game carry things. Occasionally, when the Cubs have an off-day, the sports editor may suggest a feature. But most times, I come up with those on my own, as do most other writers. In deciding what to write about day after day during the season, you let the news of the day and the game carry things, and you put your own interpretation on that while trying to find out other facts about the story that will round it out or give it more depth. During spring training, each beat writer usually has his or her own list of feature topics he or she likes to write about. (You focus less on the games in spring training.) For example, I like to focus on one particular aspect of a guy’s game, or I like to talk to the older non-roster guys in camp to see what keeps them coming back. And you always look for good human interest stories.

Q: I’m under the impression that Mark DeRosa was a media favorite as he seemed always available and highly quotable as well as being a good guy. In his absence, what player(s) make for the best interviews and are generally regarded as media friendly?

A: Ryan Dempster is the best in this regard. See Question No. 1. I did a story on him being the “face” of the Cubs now, largely based on his personality and availability. Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot and Reed Johnson can be quotable, and Geovany Soto should become a “go-to” guy because of the position he plays. I’m also a big fan of Ted Lilly. He’s an honest guy who doesn’t sugar-coat things.

Q: Mark Cuban wrote a post on his blog suggesting a “beat writer co-operative” model of pro sports teams subsidizing beat reporter coverage for their teams. What is your reaction and thoughts about this concept?

A: Interesting concept and one I have to think through some more because of the whole “separation of church and state” Mark refers to. He’s a sharp guy, no doubt, and he’s looking for optimal coverage. If this is one way to get it, it’s at least worth exploring, provided reporters maintain their independence.

The NaturalQ: My image of a beat writer is not too far from Robert Duvall’s character in The Natural; always around, sometimes lurking, knows all the dirt, sees all the struggles perhaps clearer than those involved. How does reality differ from that image?

A: You’re watching too many movies. The problem I have with media depictions in the movies is they too often stereotype. Nobody really “lurks.” The beat writers are there every day. The players know us. We know them. The writers do know who is struggling and so forth, and I think we understand that this game is damn hard. You may ask a player about it, but if you want to get a good story from it, you show a little empathy and respect.

Q: I run CubHub.net with respect for intellectual property. Any content that is not original is attributed. I use only original artwork and photos. However the nature of the emerging web has run roughshod over the pillars of journalism, reporting, and intellectual property rights. Many (most?) blogs and fan sites borrow liberally from professionally written and produced content. How do you feel about the ‘citizen journalism’ of blogs and fan sites?

A: Well, I’m talking to you. Seriously, I was one of the first journalists to recognize the importance of fan sites, blogs and the like. I’ve never looked down on them. In fact, I’ve learned a lot of things from reading them, particularly in the area of sabermetrics. As long as the bloggers and fan sites are attributing the original sources, I have no problem with that.

Q: Do you travel with the team, on the team planes & buses?

A: No. All of the writers make their own arrangements. The last time I was on the team charter was shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when travel was uncertain. Andy MacPhail invited the writers aboard the charter, but our papers paid the fare. I did a few charter flights from 1998-2001, but times have changed, and teams would rather be away from the media in travel situations. But on those occasions when one or more of us would take the charter, everything was off the record on the plane and buses to the airport. And nothing every untoward ever happened anyway. Sometimes, one of us will hop on the team bus back to the hotel after the game (if we’re staying at the same hotel; we make our own arrangements there, too). That’s no big deal, and a lot of players take cabs or walk back to the hotel or out to get a bite.

Q: What is your favorite diversion or pastime on the road?

A: I like to work out first thing in the morning. I get up and use the hotel workout room before grabbing a light bite. I like to walk the cities and see the sites. New York is a fun walking city, as are San Francisco, the historic parts of Philly and Denver. I also like Pittsburgh; it’s an underrated city. Any town with a good bookstore near where I’m at also is all right with me.

Q: Where do you get your best scoop material; in the clubhouse, at the hotel bar, or where?

A: At the ballpark. Most writers don’t hang with players in the hotel bars. Most often, we don’t stay at the same hotels. Just talking with guys in the clubhouse, on the field or in the dugout is the best place to get scoops.

Wrigley Field press boxQ: How do you balance maintaining a relationship with players, management and the organization while still reporting what might be unflattering news or observations about them?

A: As Rod Beck told me, “If I sucked, write that I sucked. Just don’t get personal.” That’s how I’ve always approached it. I have a very good reputation for fairness. That doesn’t mean teams or players always like what I write, but I try to present all sides of the story and be fair. If a team is going bad, you have to write it. The facts will be on your side, and it’s hard for anybody with the team to argue otherwise. As long as you take that approach, you can maintain relationships. One reason players and team people respect the beat writers is that they’re there almost every day. The late Hall of Fame writer Jerome Holtzman told me, “If you rip a guy, make sure you stand in the middle of the clubhouse the next day so he can have his shot back if he wants it.” I’ve done that. Players don’t like it when a columnist takes a shot and then never shows his or her face.

Q: Do you visit Cub fan blogs or sites, or read fan comments that posted on the web? Which sites do you visit?

A: In addition to yours, of course, I read North Side Baseball, Bleed Cubbie Blue, Desipio, Ivy Chat, Goat Riders, The Cub Reporter, Hire Jim Essian and too many others to mention (sorry if I slighted anyone). I do read the comments, and I’ll post from time to time.

Q: What is your impression of MLBtradeRumors.com? It seems they have relationships with particular writers and reporters throughout the league in their efforts to aggregate the latest roster and player developments. Do you actively participate or does the site simply re-publish and link to your articles on the Daily Herald website?

A: That’s an excellent site, and Tim Dierkes has a lot of credibility in the media and within baseball. He checks his facts, and if there’s a bogus or questionable rumor, he takes it down. He’ll publish links to my work, and if I have something good, I’ll let him know, and he’ll post a link. Tim talks with media members and baseball people alike.

Q: How do you use Facebook? If so, for personal use, professional use or both?

A: I don’t. Maybe I should start.

Q: How do you feel about the emergence of Twitter as a real time, running commentary and how does it affect your job?

A: I don’t Twitter. On some sites, it’s hard to find. I do enjoy blogging, and we have some good dialogue on the Daily Herald blog, Chicago’s Inside Pitch.

Q: Please share your favorite story about a Cubs player.

A: There was a player who shall remain nameless who asked a Cubs official to take a look at his brother, who had not been drafted. The player said his brother played college ball and hit well but was never drafted. “OK, the official said, where does he go to school?” The player looked at the guy and said, “I don’t know.”

Q: Please share your favorite story about a colleague – one of the other members of the local Cubs beat writers.

A: My pal Paul Sullivan, a fair competitor and a good guy, went on Channel 9 during a rain delay in 1999 and said Ed Lynch should be fired and Andy MacPhail should come down and be the GM. Sully was ahead of his time; that happened a year later. Sully caught some immediate flak for that one, but it was great TV.

Q: How do you feel about the word “Cubbies” instead of referring to them as Cubs?

A: Hate “Cubbies.” Let’s stick to Cubs.   (CubHub.net reply:  AGREED!!!)

Q: Do you own an iPod? What are you listening to lately?

A: Oh, yeah. I like all things Rush. I’ve seen them 14 times, including three during the 2007 season. Chip Caray, a big Rush fan, got me backstage in ’04. Right now, I’m listening to their Retrospective disc the put out recently, highlighting their Atlantic Records years 1989 until now.

Thanks to Bruce for taking time to participate in this exclusive interview with CubHub.net!

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    April 26, 2009  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   Posted in: book, feature, game of baseball, interview, the media

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