First, some background on how the newsroom works. Sports reporters cover the Magic and its players, and when they are on top of their game you should not be able to tell where they stand on an issue. On press row at games, it’s rare to see a reporter or columnist show emotion, even if the home team is winning a title. Reporters should be writing about the many aspects of the Dwight Howard story, from potential roster moves to chasing reports and rumors of other teams’ interest in Howard.
Sports columnists, meanwhile, are paid to state their opinions. And they frequently take unambiguous positions. Mike Bianchi, for example, said earlier this week he desperately wants Howard to stay in Orlando.
And, finally, there’s the Sentinel as an institution. The editorial board is composed of an opinions editor and three editorial writers. The newsroom has no say in the editorial board position of the Sentinel, and likewise the editorial writers and Opinions Editor Mike Lafferty hold no sway over the reporters and editors, including me. If the Sentinel’s editorial board takes a position on the Dwight Howard contract saga, I’ll see it at the same time as readers.
To be sure, our coverage of Howard is complicated by his celebrity. Dozens of readers and Web users have told us – in sometimes colorful terms – to ease off Howard because our coverage will antagonize the superstar and surely drive him away from Orlando. Those readers say the Sentinel’s coverage helped drive Shaquille O’Neal’s free-agent exit to the Los Angeles Lakers 15 years ago. And Howard fanned those passions when he mentioned Shaq’s exit in his Twitter post.
Our coverage – and our decision-making – is driven by our effort to put Howard’s future in context and report any developments that arise. We also will continue to initiate online conversations about what kinds of moves the Magic should make to keep Howard or how to get value if they elect to trade him. That’s what a newsroom should do.
Howard’s comments aren’t worthy of a response from the Orlando Sentinel. Don’t feed into athletes and their emotional comments on Twitter.
Whether Dwight stays or goes will ultimately have nothing to do with the local newspaper in town. He’s already made that decision in his head.