Q&A with SF Chronicle Giants Beat Writer Henry Schulman

Henry Schulman writes about the Giants for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Henry Schulman is the Giants beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and has covered the Giants for more than twenty years. Follow him on Twitter or read his blog, The Splash. Before the Giants game in Pittsburg this morning, Henry was kind enough to chat with me about life on the baseball beat!

What is a typical game day like for you?

For a night game, I get to the ballpark around 2:30 p.m., set up my computer and all my stuff, go through the Internet to see if there’s anything Giants related, check Twitter, and read Buster Olney’s column every day. I do that for about an hour. 3:45 p.m. at home, the clubhouses open three and a half hours before the game. I go downstairs, tweet the lineup, and hang out with the players. I have to write the notebook, which is a lot of stuff you get beforehand. Today in Pittsburg I might run over and talk to John Bowker, or I could write an update on Andres Torres’ health. I can talk to the manager on the dugout bench when the team is stretching for batting practice for around ten minutes. Then I can go to the visiting dugout and talk to them, because they’re still in there.

If there’s any breaking news, they just want us to blog what’s going on. I finish my notebook; at 5:45 p.m. batting practice ends; you can go back in the clubhouse if you want. You have until 6:15 p.m. when the clubhouses close. Then after that I go up to the press lounge and have dinner. At 7:15 p.m. the game starts, and when I’m watching the game, I’m constantly writing. I have to write a running story and I have to file it as soon as the game is over. There’s the manager’s press conference in the press conference room, I talk to players, and rewrite the story, which is usually due five minutes to 11 p.m.

Is it stressful to constantly rewrite your stories?

The most stressful thing is when you have a flight to catch and the game goes late. That’s one reason why I almost always fly the next day.

The only frustrating thing is when you have a back and forth game late. That’s the most stressful. I have two computer screens going at the same time, two stories going at once, one saying they won and one saying they lost.

What’s your favorite thing about being a beat reporter?

Watching the game, the three hours or so that I’m watching the game. When I tell people what I do, they say, “Wow, you get to talk to the players!”  I don’t get to; I have to. It’s not always fun talking to players; they don’t always want the media around. Some are better than others. The players don’t always sit around their lockers. Reporters are allowed in the clubhouse, but the rest is off-limits, and the Giants have a weight room, training room, Jacuzzi room, lounge, and traveling secretary’s office. So any one time when we’re allowed in the clubhouse, there might only be three or four players in there, and we are standing around waiting for a player to come in. I literally work on my legs and back just to practice standing.

What would you say are the biggest benefits and challenges of constantly updating information though tweeting and blogging?

Letting your readers know exactly what’s going on in real time. I like to tweet during games to tweet my analysis of what’s going on. I enjoy the back and forth. The drawback is you always have to feed the beast. They don’t make me update the blog with every little piece I have. I just use it as an extension of the newspaper. The biggest problem I have is that our blog software is awful. We have a third-party blog software, and we are changing to WordPress soon. That alone keeps me from writing a blog, because the software makes it so difficult.

How do you differentiate when you use your blog versus when you would write a full story? Would you rather break news on your blog, or in the actual newspaper?

I learned this craft when you hid everything and you didn’t let anyone know what you had. You wanted everyone to see it for the first time in the paper, but now you have blogs and Twitter. You have national reporters and they’ll break stuff the second they get it, and I know Baggs will break something the second he gets it. The exception is if you are pretty darn sure you have something by yourself. If I am pretty darn sure, and you can tell just by how the other reporters act and who they are talking to, I’ll write it up and tell my editors not to put it in the story until the game is over. The general rule is if you’ve got something, you put it out, and if the other reporter puts it out in ten minutes, you’ve scooped them.

How important are relationships with the players? Where do you draw the line of being a reporter and being their friend?

I wouldn’t say the line demarcates reporter and friend. I wouldn’t even call it a line. You’re not their friends. You don’t hang out with them; you don’t call them up and ask about their families. I have some ex-players I’m tight with. What you do is always let them know you’re the reporter, they’re the player, this is a business relationship, but you’re cordial with them. The biggest thing you can do is be ethical in how you write, and what kind of questions you ask. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. You try to do things the right way, and then they respect you more. Don’t stir the pot and ask one player one thing and then run over to another player and tell them about it, but they know if there’s something negative, I’ll write it.

How do you respond when a player does not want to talk to you?

I covered Bonds for years, and on and off he wouldn’t talk to me at all. It was my co-workers who wrote Game of Shadows, and Bonds would take that out on me. If a player doesn’t want to talk to me, I say, “I’m going to write it whether you talk to me or not, so if you want to get your side in the story…” Even if I wanted to do a feature on [Aaron] Rowand for example, and he didn’t want to talk to me, I still have to write a feature on Rowand, and I do it by getting quotes from people who know him.

How do you justify when to omit or include something you’ve seen in the clubhouse in an article?

Technically, if someone does something in the clubhouse when the reporter is in there, the player has to know that it’s on the record, but sometimes guys say stuff out of anger or frustration. But if two guys are in the clubhouse joking around, and saying “You [expletive]!” I’m probably not going to go write a story about how they said that word because they weren’t talking to me. In those cases I just weigh it individually. If I’m interviewing a player and I have my notebook and recorder, and he says, “That [expletive] threw at me,” then at that point he knows he’s on the record and I might put that in a story.

How do you deal with canned, scripted answers to get to the root of the story?

Ask better questions. The boring answers you often hear, you hear them on TV and radio. They just want the 15-second sound bite so they ask general, dumb questions so they get the answers. It even drives me crazy. If someone gives me stock quotes, I won’t use them, I’ll just paraphrase. Never start a question with “Could you talk about…” It’s just a pet peeve.

What is the relationship like among all the Giants beat writers?

There are only two other than myself. Baggarly, Haft, and I are very, very close. They are exceptionally good guys, and I’m sure they would say the same of me. A lot of times we hang out with each other. We’re all a little different.

Henry Schulman and Dylan Hernandez tease each other on Twitter.

Is your Twitter war with LA Times Dodgers beat writer Dylan Hernandez real or are you actually friends?

Yes, we are actually friends. Before he went to the LA Times, he was at the Merc and I am quite a bit older than him, so I mentored him…When Dylan first got a Twitter, he would retweet things that I tweeted, and every time he did that, he would get more followers. So he came over to me in the press box one day and he told me to insult him on Twitter so he would get more followers. Now it’s taken on a life of its own, and it’s gotten to the point where one of his followers will insult me, and then one of my followers will insult his follower and defend me.

The most important thing is I am not as big as Dylan says I am! I am a decent-sized man and I am very athletic for my size!

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