Informing an audience while maintaining a level of respect is paramount for a sportswriter. Just ask Jeremy Rutherford, former beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and current Blues writer for The Athletic.
“You have to be professional all the time. That’s the biggest key. I see so many people who try to get into media, and then you look at their tweets saying this player is horrible or they need to get rid of so and so,” Rutherford said. “Look, I grew up in St. Louis. I used to go to the practices and get pictures signed, but you have to cut the cord. When you take the job as the Blues reporter, you have a job to do and you have to be objective.
In case you didn’t notice, Blues players and management read your articles. Yes, even the blogs and fan-run newspapers. Nothing goes unnoticed, and don’t ever believe a player who says they don’t read anything. So, in order to live in that world and make a living, Rutherford must maintain a high level of professionalism. “If you want to have a working relationship with them, you can’t have all these fan-boy comments,” Rutherford said.
Throughout our 45-minute conversation at LeGrand’s Market last week, Rutherford kept circling back to two things in describing his job: a tireless drive to be professional and the need to be ready for anything at any time.
“There’s a lot to the job, but it’s a constant, constant, constant (need to) be on your toes. Be ready for anything, and when things do happen, carry yourself professionally,” Rutherford said.
Moving to The Athletic carried many rewards for Rutherford, with having more time to compose a story being one of the most important aspects. “I don’t want to say quality stories, because a lot of guys out there are writing quality stories like Tom (Timmermann) and Lou (Korac). (The Athletic) just allows you more time to put into stories,” Rutherford said. “Now, I’m not worried about whether (Jake) Walman gets called up or sent down. I’m worried about what people are going to get out of this.”
“When I’m done doing this, I don’t want to be the guy who missed a lot of key moments in my life, family and funerals for example, in order to be an update guy. A person who is a machine,” Rutherford said.
Sometimes, what people get out of a sportswriter’s columns and reports should be taken with a grain of salt. Rutherford experienced the turbulent nature of his profession when Oakville native Pat Maroon was a free agent this past summer and was circling the Blues as a possible landing spot.
After hearing from a pair of sources, Rutherford reported that Maroon was indeed heading back to the Blues, but sometimes, such a report can lead to a human reaction from an athlete. Such a reaction happened to strike Rutherford during a summer vacation in Florida.
“My family is all going out to the beach…I am literally putting sun tan lotion on my kids, so I can sit inside the house all day and monitor the Maroon negotiations,” Rutherford said. “I am locked in the condo all day because there’s no cell service on the beach. I’m trading messages with five different people, and two different sources said Pat is going to sign with the Blues.”
Rutherford wrote a story about Maroon coming home, and it was expected to happen that Sunday, but then real life happened. “When the story came out about Maroon signing with the Blues, a couple teams saw the story and called the agent. A couple of the offers got beefed up, and it gave Pat pause,” Rutherford recalled. “In his mind, I think he always stuck with the Blues, but he wasn’t doing his due diligence if he didn’t check out the other offers.”
In the end, the story was right, but there was Rutherford, locked in a hotel room reading tweets from Blues fans about getting new sources and worse without being able to respond. “That’s one of the tough parts. If you respond, then you’re just feeding into it, so you bite your lip. In the end, I knew what was right and what was really going on,” Rutherford said.
The Maroon ordeal reminded Rutherford of how much times have changed in sports reporting since he started at the Post-Dispatch 14 years ago. “Back when I wrote for the newspaper, when you didn’t have blogs or Twitter, that stuff happened all the time. It would change two or three times before you wrote your story,” Rutherford said. These days, the immediacy of reports and the hunger for knowing things first made the fact that Rutherford heard from two separate sources that Maroon was signing in St. Louis a non-factor.
“Everything is fluid, but there are times when you are reporting exactly what the horse’s mouth is telling you that second, but it changes,” Rutherford said. In the end, he wrote what he knew, and what was told to him. It wasn’t by luck or a writer jumping the gun. It was standard reporting. The same thing he’s been doing since he wrote about those kids in the little league games in Affton.
What are some of the best moments for Rutherford? “There’s a been a million of them, and you have to pinch yourself at times. I think just being there. Sometimes you take it for granted. When I don’t feel like going to a city, I think about all the Blues fans who would love to go to Montreal,” Rutherford said.
“Being able to walk into the press box and have Bob Plager sit down next to me and talk hockey for 15 minutes is unbelievable.”
No matter who he writes for, Rutherford never forgets to appreciate the little things and respect the job.