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April 27, 1998

Interview with Henry Schulman

BP interviews the SF Chronicle Giants beat writer

by Steven Rubio

Henry Schulman is the Giants beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He has been a sportswriter for 10 years and a professional reporter for 18. He started covering the Giants for the Oakland Tribune in 1988 and moved on to an afternoon paper, the San Francisco Examiner (1993-98), before starting at the Chronicle this past March.

BP: Henry, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. What comes to mind when you imagine your audience?

HS: When I was at the Examiner, it was easy to picture my audience. More than likely, my reader was someone who picked up the afternoon paper to read on the commute home. Generally these are more educated, affluent readers. At the Chronicle, which is the dominant morning paper in the Bay Area, I know I have a more diverse readership, wealthy and poor, educated and not. My readers are the mom and dad who wake up in the morning and read the paper over the breakfast table, then pass the sports section on to their kids to read.

In general, I try not to think about my audience when I write. I try to be creative in my writing while giving as much insight into the previous night's game as possible. I assume that most of my readers already know who won or lost the game from watching the game on TV or the recap on the late-night news. Everyday, I try to provide my readers with a snapshot of not only what happened in the most recent game, but where the team is in the scheme of things.

BP: What do you consider the most important kinds of information you use in preparing an article?

HS: Perspective is important for a beat writer. The Giants have just lost six of their last seven games as I write this, but it's important to remind the reader that only 21 games have been played, and while the team looks bad it doesn't mean this is a bad team that is destined to have a bad season. That's where accumulated knowledge comes in. I have covered nearly a dozen baseball seasons, and I try to harken back to similar seasons in the past to offer some of this perspective.

BP: We've noticed that you are occasionally slipping statistical references into your work, like OBP, that are more than the usual Triple Crown basics. How hard is it to do this and still maintain a nice flow to the writing?

HS: Statistics are the bane of good writing. They do nothing but slow the story down. However, they are vital to provide an understanding of a player's or team's relative performance. Ninety percent of the time I will stick with batting average, homers and RBIs for hitters, and won-loss record and ERA for pitchers, when I use statistics because the reader can digest those without thinking. I will throw in such things as on-base percentage, slugging percentage and strikeout-walk ratio when it's pertinent to a story. If, for instance, I'm writing about Darryl Hamilton's troubles or success as a leadoff hitter, I pretty much have to delve into his OBP.

BP: How knowledgable do you think your readers are in advanced stat analysis?

HS: Most newspaper readers really don't know how good or bad a .452 on-base percentage is because they're not used to seeing it. If I turn it around, and say the hitter reaches base 45 percent of the time, that has a greater impact.

BP: How has your writing about baseball changed over time? In particular, do you use "advanced" stat analysis more often? Less often? No change?

HS: Baseball writing has changed dramatically over the years, but statistics have nothing to do with it. While baseball writers (as well as scouts and managers) have much greater access to better stats, this helps us merely in our understanding of the game. It doesn't translate well into articles.

The big change in baseball writing has been the personalization of stories, writing more about the player than the game, more about their feelings and personal lives and less about the nuts-and-bolts aspect of their performances. This is because newspapers now have to compete fiercely with television and, more recently, the Internet, to attract readers. Now, computer users can follow a game pitch-by-pitch in real time on some web sites. They can even listen to games on Real Audio. My job is to provide the analysis you can't get from sources like this.

BP: What use do you make of the Internet in your work?

HS: I can only begin to describe how I use the Internet in my job, and how it has helped me. First, I have easy access to stories from newspapers around the country at my disposal for background. If I want to write about Pedro Martinez and want to read up on him, I can go to the Boston Globe web site and find a ton of stories. Second, I can quickly keep up with my competitors in the road by checking their stories on the Net. Finding statistics is also simpler. Minor-league stats, for instance. I often check out USA Today's web site to see how some Giants minor-leaguers are doing. I also read posts to the Giants' Usenet bulletin board to get a handle on how some fans feel about the team and the reporters who cover them.

I use the 'Net more than any of the other beat writers, and even I am pretty much a novice in this area. The more I delve, the more I like it.

BP: In the past, we've been critical of the media for their representation of Barry Bonds. Could you offer your own impressions on Bonds/media, and the complaints of folks like us?

HS: I have had this discussion many times with fans, who assume that we write negatively about Barry Bonds because he treats those of us in the media like dirt most of the time. I find such criticism amusing in light of how the Bay Area media have fawned over Bonds since he arrived in San Francisco in 1993.

For the most part, writers on the Giants beat have been able to separate their personal feelings about the player from his performance, which, to be truthful, has not been very good the last couple of seasons.

I have gotten into a lot of arguments on Usenet over this. Although Bonds put up some great homer and RBI numbers last year, while drawing 145 walks, his clutch hitting left much to be desired. When people throw his numbers into the discussion, I often rely on my observations as one who witnessed a majority of the team's games last year to say that he was not producing those numbers in key situations, and was not hitting the ball with the same authority he had earlier in his career.

For this, I've been accused of having a grudge against Bonds. I don't. We get along fairly well. While I know he doesn't respect me or my colleagues for what we do, I've never taken it personally. I find it insulting when people link the tone of any article I write to how I might feel about that player as a person, because that suggests I am not professional enough to separate the two. I feel I am.

BP: Thanks again, Henry, for giving us some insight into the job of a beat writer.

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