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December 2, 2014

An Agent's Take

Advice For The Teenaged Rumors Reporters

by Joshua Kusnick

Normally I use this platform to discuss various stories about my career, so I apologize in advance for going off-script a bit, but I want to share my take on this new trend created by social media: The teenaged rumor hound. My old editor here at BP, Ben Lindbergh, covered the issue in Grantland this week:

Middle School Is the New J-School: While breaking non-fake national news at 13 is an impressive accomplishment, there’s a difference between breaking signings sporadically and doing so consistently. Even if no individual newcomer has the sources to challenge the supremacy of the biggest names in news, though, an influx of enough of them could raise the replacement level for transaction reporting and eat into the heavyweights’ share of the rumormongering market.

I have a unique perspective from being on the other side of this reporting. So, as Heath Ledger once said while covered in clown makeup: And here, we, go!

First, let me say I never take for granted my position in the baseball world. I do not think I’m above anyone on the inside or the outside of this game. I respect the game and all that comes along with it, and dealing with the media is a fairly large part of my job. Working with reporters who can openly discuss your players is always helpful as an agent. However sometime in 2013 I began to notice what seemed like a potentially negative trend. I was contacted by well over 100 teenagers asking me to be “their source.” I would have people just flat-out ask me for information—sometimes just general information, but mostly secret information. I have gotten all sorts of variations: The “I’d be honored if you were my source” approach, or the “I have dream, just like you had to have had when you were my age, so you owe it to me to help” plea. My favorite: “If you’re not willing to work with me as a source can you just tell me who would?” After I use the word “no”—my usual retort—all courtesy goes out the window and I’m an arrogant jerk for not jeopardizing my career to feed them news. This occasionally devolves into harassment. Some—and, to be very clear, not all—of these kids go on various microblog sites and harass players, family members, agents, team officials, reporters—far beyond crossing a line. It’s not even the fact that these kids are trying to get their foot in the door. It’s the way they are going about it that is offensive and destructive.

Among the professional journalism crowd, and I suppose all baseball circles to some degree, these “kids” are a constant topic of discussion. I have seen only one of these reporters break through to the mainstream, meaning he is likely the exception, not the rule. And he didn’t get to this point by being lazy. He got his foot in the door, took advice, learned rapidly and now has a bright future. Sadly, this is not the case for many of what I call “Transaction Monkeys,” the kids who frantically tweet every minor move that can easily be found on milb.com or any transaction website. Repetitiveness is not a skill, nor should it be rewarded.

Now I understand the value of youthful boldness. I’ve beaten it to death, but I was the youngest agent ever at one point, so I always answer my emails or answer any questions from young people that I can. But lately it just hasn’t been enough. So here is my personal advice to those who are clogging up your Twitter feed.

1. Never ask anyone online to be a source EVER. What does that even mean? I don’t know you, and I will likely never work with you. I will answer any questions you have for me regarding how to work your way into the industry. You can’t find sources because you do not create any sense of reciprocity. It’s just take take take. Before just cold-asking someone for something, imagine how you’d react if the roles were reversed and a stranger asked you for a favor that could ruin your career.

2. You will get burned by a source if you find any. Be prepared for the blowback of getting burned. If you’re wrong, own up to it and do not blindly stand by a “source” that you do not even really know. Now, if you know dead to rights you’re correct then stand by it until the end. However, if there is uncertainty regarding your information, just be safe and do not bother even running it. Quality control is what helps sets you away from the glob out there.

3. You will get the hammer dropped on you by a ballclub at some point. Clubs hate leaks. If you get called out by a club and cough up your source, nobody will ever give you information again. If you take a stand against a team the team will hold a grudge. Good luck figuring this balance out.

4. You will likely mess up a lot since your entire plan is dependent on strangers. Unless you actually take the time to cultivate your sources and get to know these people your entire operation is dependent on a bunch of strangers. There are no shortcuts. The only way to build up a source base is hard work and time.

5. Know what you want to do in the sports world. I mean, this is easy. Reporting transactions isn’t exactly your first step toward becoming a front office official or agent. I would not suggest using it as a tool toward becoming a writer either. I would suggest not doing any of this.

6. DO NOT BE A TRANSACTION MONKEY. Do not continuously retweet other people's information. Generally speaking, do not use MLB in your Twitter handle unless you actually work for those bodies. Do not try to trick anyone. The people who do this for a living know what you’re doing and it is inflammatory. Do you really want deception to be your foot in the door?

7. Take no for an answer most of the time. Dedication and persistence is important, but when someone says no to you, respect it.

8. Refine your craft. Write as much as possible. Take advice from insiders and do not whine when you are refused. Listen to what they’re saying if they’re trying to help, and take from it what you will. Just because someone won’t work with you does not make him useless to you. Ask smart questions about what you’re interested in.

9. Build relationships

10. How do you get to be an insider? No short cuts. There is no substitute for hard work, determination and good old Father Time. Build relationships. I actually had to explain what that meant to someone today. If you do not know how to build relationships you need to stop asking people to be your source.

Joshua Kusnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joshua's other articles. You can contact Joshua by clicking here

Related Content:  Rumors,  Hot Stove

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An Agent's Take: When ... (11/20)
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