I recently had a chance to do a quick Q&A with Yankees beat reporter Kat O’Brien of Newsday.
Kat’s the Andy Pettitte of beat writers. She’s experienced, professional and among the best at her craft. But, at the same time, she’s one of the nicest people that you can possibly meet. (Seriously, we’re talking “Mayberry” kind of “nice.” And, it doesn’t get any better than that.) Here’s our exchange:
WW: Having spent a good chunk of time covering the Yankees lately, after covering the Texas Rangers, has your view of the game changed? If so, how?
Kat O’Brien: I would not say that my view of the game has changed significantly since going to New York. Covering the two teams is very different, mostly in that there are so many more media around the Yankees. That makes it a little tougher to get to know guys. It takes a little longer just because there are so many other reporters around, but eventually, as a beat writer, they realize you are around a lot and tend to open up a bit. A lot more attention is paid to the Yankees than a mid-market team such as the Rangers, and there are a lot more star/highly paid players, but the game remains more or less the same.
WW: Speaking of the media crush around the Yankees, what’s been your experience dealing with the other beat writers? Is it dog-eat-dog or is the a camaraderie among the group?
Kat O’Brien: It actually is less “dog-eat-dog” than one might think. Obviously it’s very competitive to get stories and be first with given stories, and nobody is sharing exclusive information. But people do get along for the most part. Some are closer than others, but I’ve gotten lunch/dinner or drinks with everyone on the beat at one time or another. There are things you have to be competitive about but not 24-7.
WW: Now that you’ve been a baseball beat writer for a while, is it an occupation that you would endorse for some youngster who had an interest? Or, does it fall into the category of “If you like sausage, then you should never go work in a sausage factory”?
Kat O’Brien: Ha-ha, that’s a funny question. Given the state of the newspaper industry and media in general, it would be difficult in good conscience for me to recommend studying to become a journalist of any sort, let alone a beat writer. My younger brother is interested in journalism, but the way things are going, those of us already in the industry worry about holding onto our jobs. So my take that I probably wouldn’t recommend becoming a baseball beat writer has little to do with the job itself but more to do with job security. The job itself is great, though there is typically a high burnout rate because the travel and hours get to people after a while.
WW: Now that you’ve been blogging about the Yankees in addition to your traditional media duties, do you see the role of beat writer evolving into something new? If yes, what’s your best guess towards what that new role will be?
Kat O’Brien: That’s the million dollar question that applies to just about every job in journalism these days. The role of beat writer (as that of columnist and other jobs) is changing, and faster than most people could have imagined. Blogging is an important aspect of the job for most people. Another big change is that of deadlines. We now write news for the internet, as in ASAP, and perhaps rewrite for the actual print product.
As for what all this means for the future, I wish I knew. Some have speculated that print newspapers will not exist within just a few years, or at least that many of them will not. I hope that isn’t the case.
WW: It wouldn’t shock me if that happened. It’s sad. I can remember, as recent as 1998, when reading the morning paper and digging through baseball box scores was a daily staple. But, I doubt that many people under the age of 50 do that now. Switching gears a bit, what’s your thoughts about the 2009 Yankees? What do you think are their strengths and weaknesses?
Kat O’Brien: I think this is a really strong Yankees team. There are no glaring weaknesses to me in terms of offense, defense, starting pitching or bullpen. The one potential weakness is age. They have a fair number of older guys, which may make them more susceptible to injury . Some guys are already injury concerns, such as Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, just because they are coming off of surgery. Then again, the Yankees actually got younger by trading in Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu for Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher.
The strengths are many. The rotation is top-notch. What team wouldn’t trade its rotation to have CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte? The bullpen should be very strong as well, as long as Mariano Rivera is healthy and his usual self. And the offense has the potential to be terrific. I expect Posada to have a solid season. Even though his surgery was much more serious than that of Matsui, I’d actually be more concerned about Matsui, given that Matsui has had knee surgery in consecutive offseasons. The one thing to worry about offensively, IMHO, is how Alex Rodriguez fares after admitting to using steroids.
WW: There are opinions out there going both ways on Alex. Some say that he’s going to fold under pressure this season. And, others offer that this mess will have him focused like he was in 2007. You’ve been around Rodriguez more than most – having worked in Texas and New York. How do you think he’ll handle all this and perform this season?
Kat O’Brien: I think getting off to a good start will be more important than usual for him. However, Alex Rodriguez has a remarkable ability to block things out. I really don’t think he will be too affected by outside things, unless there is just a continual flow of further information coming out. He’ll probably have a terrific season.
WW: Speaking of terrific, in all the time that you’ve been covering the Yankees, what’s the one thing that you saw that you will never forget for the rest of your life?
Kat O’Brien: I will never forget having attended the final game at Yankee Stadium. That was really special to be at such a historic event. I might add, I’m sure I will never forget being at the stadium opener either this year. But it was really great to attend the final game and see just how much the Stadium meant to so many people.
That’s it. My thanks to Kat for granting this Q&A and for all her time and attention towards my questions!