Yesterday in this space, orangeandwhite.com posted an opinion piece written by Bob Gillespie that first ran in The State newspaper, one of the Independent Mail's 'coverage partners' in this new age of wheeling and dealing, sharing-spirit journalism.
Bob - who I've known and respected for longer than either of us care to remember - presented some fair and insightful observations about Clemson's new world order in its relations with the media. His commentary followed up on an article written by Ed McGranahan and published two weeks ago by the Clemson Insider, and pertained to an internal memo that outlines the administration's new 'philosophy' to personnel in Clemson Athletics' media communications department.
The gist of the memo is that the primary focus for Clemson's communications effort is no longer to support and assist the traditional media as it endeavors to cover the Tiger athletic program.
The role and function that Bob Bradley helped pioneer and perfect is no longer, according to the memo, "the singular focus or even foremost priority of our department."
It's interesting, and telling, to me that the two men who've chosen to relate the story are veteran, semi-retired reporters of the highest standing. Both Gillespie and McGranahan are consummate professionals when it comes to covering their beats, whatever those beats may be. Gillespie is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and I've never, ever known anyone less of a 'homer' than Bob. I can't, off the top of my head, recall where Ed went to school, though I've known him and called him a friend since I was a pup in the business.
That - in part - is the point.
These men are journalists who, throughout their long careers, have maintained the highest standards of professionalism and objectivity. And if they're troubled by the trend they see sweeping away media independence at Clemson, then perhaps Clemson fans should be troubled as well.
Those who practice what we call 'sports journalism' today range from unbiased, creative professionals on one extreme to unabashed fans and lackeys masquerading as journalists on the other, with a vast gamut of in-betweens.
Journalism, sports or otherwise, is a shadow of what it was 40 years ago, when I stumbled into the business. The wounds, by and large, are self-inflicted, as media companies have consolidated, slashed costs and manpower, and followed dwindling advertising dollars wherever they might lead.
Those compromises, fueled by the newspaper business's belated effort to come to grips with the digital age, have left the door wide open to the kind of move Clemson is making today.
I covered my first Clemson football game as a sophomore student in the fall of 1973, having been unexpectedly thrust into the job of sports editor of The Tiger.
On the Saturday morning of my first game, I dressed in khakis and my best orange shirt and showed up at the press box, where I was warmly greeted by sports information director Bob Bradley. He seated me at the end of the front row beside none other than former Tiger coach Frank Howard, and told me that if the Baron 'didn't burn off my ears,' I might be in position to learn something.
After the game, as I was packing up to leave, Mr. B came down, put his hand on my shoulder and said, in as kindly a manner as possible, "It was good having you here today, son...But I have to tell you, if you come back next week dressed like a fan, I'll have to ask you to sit in the stands."
Suffice to say, Bradley wouldn't like what he'd see if he turned up at his press box on a Saturday next fall.
The roles between journalist and fan have been blurred, perhaps irrevocably; and the real loser here is the thinking reader who wants his or her news straight, no chaser.
I'm not going to belabor my point, which is that things are changing - have already changed - at Clemson, and not for the better.
But I will point out where I believe the most damage has been done.
During my four decades in the business, my best stories - and by 'best,' I mean the stories most informative and interesting to readers - have come from open, casual access to coaches: in the case of football, assistant coaches.
For many years, part of my weekly routine would be to stroll down the corridor of whatever space the football offices occupied, stick my head in the door of Chuck Reedy or Nelson Stokley or Tom Harper or Tommy West or Billy D'Andrea or Reggie Herring, and ask 'hey coach, have you got a minute?'
Usually, they did. If not, they'd tell me when to come back when they did have a minute.
From these men, I learned to interview with an open mind, willing to learn, and then to pass on what I learned to my readers.
I recall sitting on the sofa in 'Brother' Bill Oliver's office as he stood at his chalkboard, passionately diagramming how he planned to go about disguising his blitzes.
Or dropping in on Larry Van Der Heyden in the athletic dining hall, where we used to share lunch with the coaches and players after Tuesday press conferences, and watching over his shoulder as he graded 'assignment tests' that he required his offensive linemen to pass before they hit the chow line.
The doors were always open. Perhaps sometimes too open.
Danny Ford once caught me sitting in on a wide receivers meeting, at Lawson Holland's invitation, for a story I was working on about the process of weekly preparation.
Ford saw me, motioned Lawson outside, and I exchanged glances with the grinning players, who seemed to know what might be coming from the muffled, raised voices outside the door.
Lawson came back into his office, quickly finished up his meeting, and told me, as I thanked him for the hospitality, 'Come back any time, but I don't think we probably should do it like this any more.'
The door, however, remained open - for decades.
The sea changed dramatically a few years back when Clemson announced that it was limiting access to assistant coaches: henceforth only the head coach and the offensive and defensive coordinators would speak to the media.
The exception, for the year, would be the head coach's summer golf outing, where the rest of the assistant coaches would be available for interviews.
Dabo Swinney, Chad Morris and Brent Venables are all prolific talkers, as were Tommy Bowden, Billy Napier and Kevin Steele before them.
But in this business, 20 minutes with Robbie Caldwell or Dan Brooks or Tony Elliott or Marion Hobby or Danny Pearman or Jeff Scott is pure gold - a different perspective, and, for me, another chance to learn something new and to pass it on.
So when you hear us media types complaining about things not being the way they used to be, we're not just whining. We're genuinely concerned about how the 'trough-feeding, one-voice' approach to sports communications is undermining the job we've set out to do.
We'll keep on doing our best to inform and entertain; but for the reader, it won't be as good as it used to be.