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Media members need not be protected, accountability in award voting is a must

Apr 30, 2010, 12:12 PM EST

As in most things related to the NBA, the ultimate goal should be transparency. Transparency in the officiating, especially in a post-Donaghy era. Transparency from the league office in how they deal with specific rulings, punishments, and edicts. Transparency from coaches and general managers, who optimally wouldn’t pretend to be vying for a playoff spot if it was well out of reach, and who are well capable of imparting knowledge if they abandon the convenient cliché.

It’s about damn time the same applies to the media as well.

Media members write all kinds of things about the NBA on the daily basis, and their work is available for public scrutiny. If facts aren’t checked, if stories are unfair, or if something is misrepresented, the writer will hear about it. That’s how the wonderful world of feedback works, and that ability to respond not only makes for better writing, but a better understanding from consumers concerning what an NBA scribe hopes to accomplish. It is, in a word, good.

So why then does it make sense that on the occasion that such scribes have the ability to significantly impact NBA lore — in award voting — they’re completely removed from the results in a way that makes them completely unaccountable? They’re not revealing their party preferences or voting on controversial legislation, but casting a ballot for MVP or Defensive Player of the Year; the sanctity and security of the democratic process should be far removed from this particular arena, because well, it’s not democratic. Certain writers are privileged with a vote, and those with a vote should be able to defend their selections.

Choosing an MVP or Rookie of the Year may be a matter of opinion, but that doesn’t mean there are not wrong answers. There are also interesting answers, worthy of further explanation and clarification. There are toss-ups that fans would want to hear about, there are snubs that they would want explained, and there are surprise vote-getters that may even earn voters a pat on the back.

Howard Beck of the New York Times has been throwing this idea around ever since David Lee stumbled into a Defensive Player of the Year vote, and collected his thoughts in a post for the NYT Off the Dribble blog:

Removing anonymity from the process could have some drawbacks. Beat writers, who see the same team every day, may feel pressure to vote for the players they cover if they know the results will become public. Voting for a rival could conceivably cause tension with the home team’s star player or coach, or the media-relations staff.

But these concerns do not seem to have adversely affected the balloting in baseball or the N.F.L. And many N.B.A. writers already make their choices and rationale public, in blogs and in newspaper columns. No one seems overly worried about potential backlash from teams or fans.

Transparency creates more accountability because voters have to be prepared to explain their choices publicly. That is a routine part of baseball’s award process, and it helps promote discussion of the results, which benefits the game.

Beck could be correct in how beat writers could be swayed, but isn’t that what journalistic integrity is all about? These writers are supposed to be trusted to write what’s actually going on in the games and in the locker room rather than rosy pieces loaded with team-sponsored propaganda, so why can’t we trust them to do the same with the awards voting?

If someone is voting for an award with actual implications, they should be prepared to defend their choices. They should be able to tell us why there are three better defenders than Dwight Howard, how Ben Wallace or Ersan Ilyasova could possibly be the Most Improved Player, or why Jonny Flynn deserves a second-place vote for Rookie of the Year. That’s the responsibility that should come with the privilege of voting, and it’s honestly a wonder to me that secret balloting has lasted this long.

    

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