Recently, I started reading "Why Spy?: On the Art of Intelligence (Intelligence and Security)" by Brian Stewart and Samantha Newbery.
In the book's introduction, the authors list the "ten commandments of good intelligence work". I thought many of the lessons had interesting parallels to the experience of being a professional wrestling writer/reporter/researched.
Here is their list (in bold) with my commentary (in italics):
1. Report nothing but the unvarnished and, as far as possible, the whole truth. Understand, but do not pander to, the prejudices and perceptions of the customer.
This is one of the hardest things to do - present unvarnished information without pandering to the reader. Here we can see the difference between a wrestling pundit and a wrestling analyst. Oftentimes, wrestling writers are expected to present their opinion - was the match good or bad? Was it a good quarter or poor quarter for financial results? Is it reasonable that the WWE Network will hit 3 million paid subscribers in the near future or is that hogwash?
I think there's a productive balance that you can reach. State facts as fact. State opinions and analysis clearly. Writers are often pressured by editors or social media managers to invent provocative headliners (i.e. clickbait) which can be reflective of the "prejudices and perceptions of the customer". Analysts need to be wary of falling into these traps.
2. The future: remind customers that intelligence officers cannot see in to the future; they can only make educated guesses about what it might consist of.
This is the simplest reminder that any analyst can give. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. There's no crystal ball. We making educated guesses, but these are not prognostications.
3. Assessment of intelligence material: beware of intellectual laziness, mirror imaging, prejudice, racial or professional arrogance, bias, groupthink, and the sin of assuming that the future will develop, broadly speaking, along the same lines as the past.
When I write about WWE financial results, I try hard not to read analysis from others before I finish my first draft of the article. It's easy to fall into bias based on the attitude how information was presented, the cynicism of other live-commentators, and the groupthink of merely reinforcing my overall narrative on regardless results are actually presented.
"The sin of assuming the future will develop along the same lines as the past" is such a double-edged sword. We know that wrestling history constantly repeats itself as we've seen promotions rise and fall. Giants fall victim to the same pitfalls time and time again. That said, revolutions in technology, content delivery, consumer patterns and tastes constantly evolve. A backward looking model (or wearing rose-colored glasses) won't accurately predict what is still to come.
4. People are more important than organisations: top priority should be given to the recruitment of high quality candidates.
This can be applied many ways -- individual wrestlers (or writers) are more important than the promotional name. Changes of who is in management for a company may be more important than even the specific wrestlers or underlying business (such as ratings) trends.
5. Agents: beware of possibilities of exaggeration, deception, and a desire to please the case officer.
Again - when you get access from a company, realize that they have an agenda. A real writer should never simply be a shill or mouthpiece for a wrestling promotion. Simultaneously, you cannot simply aim to please your editor. One should be wary of just playing to their reading audience. Writing what "they" want to see isn't the goal. You need to explore and deliver information and analyst that moves the conversation forward.
6. Liaison: remember that friends, whether they be domestic or abroad, have hidden agendas.
It's easy to assume that everyone is benevolent. And I think the wrestling community as a whole has really grown in terms of sharing resources and information broadly. However, there is always going exist a strong undercurrent of "secret" information which is discretely passed from person to person. It's important to consider the motives and background of what you're getting and whether this data could benefit many others. Sometimes the hidden agenda is a desire to get paid to publish an article. Sometimes the hidden agenda is the desire to be the trusted source who people turn to for data or analysis. Sometimes the hidden agenda is the conscious & unconscious bias that we all hold as we examine our relationships with the subject we cover and people we deal with.
7. Validation: do not allow an agent's case officer to be the sole judge of the validity of the agent's reporting.
I think this can be applied to people and organizations that we read about but never directly hear from. How competent is Kevin Dunn or Vince McMahon? How do we know that? Why do we believe one perception or another? Is a single reporter, however credible in the past, really enough of a benchmark to believe a salacious story?
8. Sources: secret and official sources have no monopoly on the truth. Open, readily accessible, sources are also important.
I am consistently awed by the amount of information that can be gathered from public sources which are underutilized by reporters, analysts and researchers. Some of this is due to the poor indexing, poor oversight and provincial data-gathering that many writers do. So much data is available if you are willing to put in the time and effort. However, we should be much better with sharing our findings, datasources and discoveries in a public fashion that allows for others to build on our work.
9. Intelligence requirements: prune these vigorously as no service can cover every subject.
With the ever-changing world, and the ever-growing wrestling universe, it's easy to try to be all things to all people. Many set out to be the next Dave Meltzer and become an expert on MMA, pro-wrestling history, company financials, transforming media landscape, legal developments, investment research and so forth. Sometimes it's important to find and define an area of strength and invest heavily in that subject. And it's critical that you build relationships with others so you can investigate how to grow and learn in other subjects.
10. State of grace: ensure that you are flexible in your response to the unexpected, which by definition has not been envisaged in the list of national intelligence requirements.
Social Media, for instance, has greatly transformed how information is disseminated and how the public can interact with prominent personalities. By the same token, we've seen an enormous revolution in the content distribution space with the rise of over-the-top streaming platforms, changing consumption habits of a new generation, international competition and live event rights fee escalation. We cannot envisage the future; we need to be nimble in our ability to spot trends and investigate new pathways. Some will bear fruit and some will not. However, we cannot be lackadaisical in our cover - hook the leg.
Chris Harrington (@mookieghana)