Of the many misconceptions about journalists, one of the most common is to call them lazy. They are many things, but in my experience, lazy isn't one of them.
They are, however, time-constrained. They are captive to short-term deadlines, which tends to limit depth and encourages only the most cursory glances at topics that deserve more thought, if not analysis.
I was reminded of this late last month when I read an especially provocative blog posting by Mark Cuban. He's best known as the owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and founder of HDNet, a high-definition video and entertainment company.
Cuban was one of the first practitioners of the CEO blog and is one of the current masters of the genre. On his Blog Maverick site, he talks directly with - not just to - basketball fans and frequently gives sports journalists a hard time for what he perceives (often accurately) to be their failings.
During the recent NBA playoffs, Cuban was his typically demonstrative self at courtside and online. He fumed publicly, for example, over what he considered shabby officiating. This naturally gained him a blizzard of personal coverage, not to mention sanctions from the league. Some journalists complained that Cuban was making himself the story.
Which prompted his June 26 posting, entitled "Im sorry for what I make you cover" - yes, the apostrophe was missing. He challenged sports journalists, not for the first time, to stop writing about him.
Cuban needs a copy editor, but he made a serious point when he wrote, in part:
"If I shouldnt be the story, why are you making it the story? Can you not come up with something better? There are a million stories surrounding every game/ series/season. How in the world can you not come up with something better?"
I'm sure he knew that most will ignore his advice, which may or may not have been serious in the first place. Why? Because journalists love conflict, for one thing, and tend to run in herds.
When they're on deadline, moreover, they will always tend to go for the easy catch, as PR pros know well. This isn't shooting fish in a barrel; in this case, the fish are jumping out of the barrel into the net.
(This is also why the rancid prose of a certain thin, blonde, right-wing commentator continues to draw coverage by journalists who should know better. I won't mention her name because I don't want to add to her publicity bandwagon.)
I wish journalists would think broadly about Cuban's challenge, not just when it comes to sports coverage, but all coverage. Having done the easy story too many times when I was a reporter, I acknowledge that it's easier to offer this advice than to take it.
If we need better journalism, we also need more nuanced PR. Sometimes we get it; several of my best columns came from PR people who showed me an angle I'd not previously considered.
Yes, reporters need to "come up with something better." But this is a job for PR folks, too.
Dan Gillmor is the author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People. His blog is at bayosphere.com/blog/dangillmor. He is also director of the Center for Citizen Media (www.citmedia.com/blog).