A Question of Trust

Some random thoughts as the media relentlessly forages for the truth. Opinions expressed by this writer are strictly his own and not necessarily shared by Bernie Kosar, Jr, or other staff members of BerniesInsiders.com.

All I want to do is write that glowing and happy story after we win the Super Bowl. I want to share good times among happy friends and site visitors, and hopefully sell enough subscriptions to stay out of the poorhouse.

I want to splatter the vindication of all our waiting and faith across every page of the website and magazine. I want to laugh at our inept and frustrated AFC North rivals in the forums and on the radio.

Not this. This isn't what I want to do.

Here's how some fans on our forums responded to Mr. Collins' remarks today on the team's "flagship" radio station. They were not kind:

"John Collins is about a big a weasel as one can find."

"Collins says things without saying them. "

"This sounds like (--------) to me. There is NO WAY that things rumors / stories like this spring from thin air."

"This scare had to come from somewhere. I just hope that Collins is not the liar I think he has been."

"John Collins is a poisonous snake"

"I wouldn't trust Collins' word for nothing."

"Who else...is tired of his slimy attempts for the past few years of covering his moves?"

"Although it is our policy not to respond to rumors, in fairness to our fans, we felt it necessary to dispel them. It was unfortunate and very unfair to the organization and especially to our fans, but we are happy to put this behind us and focus on our game this Sunday and the busy offseason ahead."

This is what John Collins said via Cleveland Browns.com, the team's official web site.

It made me angry, and sad.

There is no reaction without action, no effect without cause.

Just as Friday's big story likely started with a seed of truth, Collins' problems started long before his polished shoes walked the corridors of Berea.

You remember Art Modell? He's the football team owner and face of the team who said he would never move the Browns from Cleveland, and did. The guy who said he would sell the team if Bill Belichick wasn't the last coach he ever hired. He lied to us, clumsily, and with the inelegance of a desperate man and the success of a convicted thief.

In his place, after three years, came ultra-slick Carmen Policy, a glib lawyer who made his name defending mobsters. He won the trust of a Youngstown shopping mall developer who bought a football team and danced circles around salary cap rules to build a dynasty in San Francisco. Carmen saw the truth in shades of gray, and could paint pictures which would mesmerize his audience. He was rewarded greatly for his talent, but not trusted.

John Collins reaps the harvest seeded by these two men as he steps in for them. After what we've been through, I don't think Sister Theresa would be trusted in his role.

We know it's not fair, and it's certainly not fortunate, but it's your situation, John. Good luck.

Sports teams like the Browns used and manipulated the media on the way up, encouraging fanatical coverage of the sport to help drive demand. Franchises are now valued at a billion dollars or more.

This popularity results in an intense demand for information about each franchise. That demand for information grows every month, every year.

Moreover, fans have become discriminating over time. Where the daily newspaper once ruled as the primary outlet of news, today's consumer is media-savvy and able to discern the opinions behind the stories. Many don't place a lot of faith in team-owned or co-opted media, and they understand the conflict of interest which comes from being a "flagship" radio station, or a team-owned TV show.

Therefore, we have a continuing thirst for "real" news, produced by independent and objective journalists, reporting things that approved outlets would never report.

Paradoxically, while demand grows, supply of "real news" is getting choked off.

Practices are closed to the traditional media. Doors and offices which were once open to reporters are now patrolled by security. Writers are locked into windowless rooms while the team practices, allowed out for pre-defined times where they can put together what their limited access allows them to write, foraging for news with the clock ticking, their stories forced into a sameness through lack of opportunity.

These are the journalists who do their job responsibily and with a strong focus on accuracy, but they're monitored, throttled, and kept behind the ropes.

The slack is picked up by a million web sites and blogs, who do not have the same code of conduct as the traditional media.

Information isn't like gold, it isn't like diamonds. It's not physical or tangible. Information can be created out of thin air, with no raw materials and no byproducts. All you need is a website, or a blog, and the nerve to throw something out into the digital stream.

Websites can swing and miss at rumor after rumor, but fans will still read them because, well, at least there's something different there. Chris Mortensen can hear something from somebody and have it on the Internet in minutes. He can get it wrong time and again, but it doesn't matter. The demand for information will still be there tomorrow, and he will fill it.

Maybe ESPN's sources were accurate. Maybe they weren't. Maybe Bernie's Insiders, Casey Coleman, Hanford Dixon, WBAL and others are also wrong. Maybe I'm wrong.

We don't know who to trust. We're left floundering, with some pieces to the puzzle, and with a dozen scenarios which make it all work, but no way to track down the truth.

We can't trust the team because of what happened before, and we can't learn to trust the team because we're not allowed to get close.

No one is around to take the team's side, or confirm the team's words. If the team's version of events is the truth, then they would be greatly helped if there were local, reliable, and trustworthy journalists who had enough access to confirm it. By keeping them (and us) distant, you give these rumors more power.

I've tried to help this media outlet become a trustworthy source of Browns news. We've come a long way in seven years, I hope.

I think I've seen all sides of how this new media thing plays, and this is something I've learned: When you hobble media outlets we know we can trust, you enable those we shouldn't.

It's unfortunate and very unfair, John.

The whole system is unfortunate and very unfair.

Of all people, you should know.

You helped make it.

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