Yesterday I unfollowed Travis Haney, formerly of the Charleston Post & Currier. I put it off as long as possible, but let us not kid ourselves. There was no avoiding it. His constant twitterial updates about the University of Oklahoma football team were picking at a wound opened by his absence. If we are not to begrudge his moving on from Columbia, surely he will not begrudge our moving on from him, right? Before we do, though, I'd like to examine what it was that we admired so much in Haney's writing.
I had been following Travis Haney's work for about a year -- ever since GoGamecocks.com decided to charge for the privilege of reading their coverage. At first I was mostly immune to the charms of his pen. Composing the Daily Feed dictates that I sift through a mountain of Gamecock-related stories every week, and on some level they all feel the same. As the weeks passed, though, I found myself checking with Haney and the P&C first and going to other sources later.
I imagine that this was the general sentiment for many of you out there. Travis Haney felt like a breath of fresh air after so many beat writers who seemed to regard the Gamecocks program with little more than a wry smile and an eye on their paycheck. It's hard to explain, but Haney somehow made us feel like he was one of us. He wasn't one of us, though -- as he would no doubt tell you.
Clemson supporters sometimes liked to assert that Travis Haney was, in fact, a Gamecock fan. Such an assertion implies a careless reading of his work and a misunderstanding of the duties of sports journalism. That Haney's pieces felt positive is a reflection of his writing style, not his affinity for Gamecocks. Sports journalism, apart from other types of journalism, functions dually to inform the reader and play on the reader's passion. The idea that a Joe Friday "just the facts, ma'am" type character could make it in sports journalism is absurd. Sports journalsim feeds on passion, and Travis Haney could identify, research, and communicate passionate stories better than anyone in the Columbia market. He was savvy enough to understand that Gamecocks fans didn't just want to hear about suspensions and injuries. He was savvy enough to understand that Gamecocks fans wanted to be understood.
That's really where so many other beat writers have fallen short. Take, for instance, the Post and Courrier's own interim replacement, Andrew Miller. In his introduction to Gamecock fans everywhere, Miller writes:
"I covered my first USC game in 1982 for UPI and watched Herschel Walker run all over the Gamecocks. Watched in 1984 as Navy ended USC’s bid for a perfect season. I’ve been around the program for almost 30 years."
How nice. Is this how you would introduce yourself to your new boss? OK, we're not his boss, but is this how you would introduce yourself to your new neighbor? By insulting us by bringing up an embarrassing loss to one of our most hated rivals and then following that by bringing up the most embarrassing loss in program history? And then there is this line:
(Gene picked the Gamecocks to go 12-0 this season, which has to be a sign of the apocalypse).
Was Miller trying to be funny here? Was he trying to play off the self-deprecating nature of Gamecock humor? Well, I have some news of my own for Andrew Miller. You have not yet earned that right. Do not tell me you've been around the Gamecocks for 30 years then tell me about how many friends you have made covering Clemson. That's not the way to gain acceptance with this crowd, sir. I do not care how long you have "been around" the Gamecocks, you haven't earned the right to be flippant about the implausibility of the Gamecocks being picked to go 12-0 (whatever Gene's motives for doing so).
Where is the tact? Where's the part about how he is actually, you know, looking forward to covering the Gamecocks? The general attitude of all too many Gamecocks beat writers seems to be one of taking the Gamecocks fans for granted. That we can be mistreated or abused and our passion for the University we love will keep us coming back for more.
This, above all else, is the genesis of South Carolina fans' frustration when it comes to the media coverage of our team. We would like to know that whoever is covering our beloved alma mater cares about us one tenth as much as we care about reading their coverage.You don't have to play to our ego or bombard us with over-wrought optimism, but we would like to be treated with a modicum of respect.
The above quotes are at best the glib blunder of a man who didn't think his current assignment was worth much thought. At worst they are a shot across his readership's bow aimed at turning a loyal. long-term readership into the sort of ephemeral, fume-and-vent following that one might associate with Paul Finebaum or FITSNews.
Travis Haney was better than that. Whether he recognized the value in gaining the trust of his readers or his style was merely a by-product of his outlook on life, I do not know. But when I read the work of Travis Haney it felt like he was experiencing Gamecock athletics the same way I was. He wasn't afraid to tell us when one of our players did something great, and by the same token he wasn't afraid to tell us when one of them did something stupid. It did not matter which of those scenarios was more prevalent, I trusted Travis Haney to get me the best information and respect the intelligence of his readers while doing so. It wasn't that his stories had a positive slant on them, and it wasn't that he delivered his stories free from bias. It was that he delivered the news with palpable happiness in his heart.
Travis Haney was not a fan of the South Carolina Gamecocks. He was a fan of his job. And that's why we'll all miss him.