By Rich Tandler WarpathInsiders Site Editor
Date: May 8, 2005
Tandler's Redskins Blog Ver. 5.8.05--There is an old adage that says that you should never pick a fight with one who buys ink by the barrel. Maybe that's changed; you might be able to get away with it if you buy bandwidth by the terabyte.
A few months ago, the Redskins picked a fight with the Washington Post over what the team perceived to be overly negative and inaccurate coverage. What was a skirmish involving the pulling of season tickets on the Redskins part and some highly critical columns by Post writers has escalated. From a May 6th article by Harry Jaffee, National Editor of the Washingtonian:
Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson says the team is ramping up its Web site and putting up news because fans couldn't see through the "filter" of DC's news outlets. Both Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and coach Joe Gibbs are behind the effort to portray the Redskins "unfiltered."
"We want people to see things for themselves, as opposed to information filtered through editors or producers," Swanson says. "Our focus is to be a news source."
(It's difficult to read this and not recall Daffy Duck spitting out, "This means war!" after having been outsmarted for the umpteenth time by Bugs Bunny.)
Can the Redskins be a legitimate news source? Sure, in some ways. Redskins.com can be a good source for finding out some raw information such as this player was released and that one was signed and for hearing and watching interviews and press conferences that the media might not carry, at least not in their entirety.
For example, when Joe Gibbs holds a press conference, that's news and Redskins.com carries those live and archives them. You can hear every one of Gibbs' official press conferences since the day he was introduced as the returning head coach. The other media will carry selected quotes and clips and that's the "filter" that Swanson is referring to.
They've taken it one step further now with videos of interviews that involve same-day happenings. For example, they webcast an interview with Santana Moss' agent the day that Moss agreed to his new deal. Nothing earth-shattering was said and this is evidence that the Skins are moving into manufacturing news as well as making it.
The notion that this "news" is "unfiltered" is, obviously, utter nonsense. The interviews are by Larry Michael, the former Clear Channel executive who began moonlighting as the play-by-play announcer for the Redskins last year. The team enticed him to quit his day job and become a communications director for them. Hard-hitting, these interviews are not. The information is indeed filtered, it's just a different filter, a burgundy and gold colored one.
Relying on Redskins.com for your Redskins news is no different relying on the Republican National Committee for your news on the administration in the White House. Of course, given the adversarial relationship that has developed between the Post and the Skins, relying on the Post exclusively for Skins news may be like sticking to, well, the Washington Post for your political coverage. I trust that most of us have become educated consumers of news and will take in information from a number of sources.
What's ironic here is that the Redskins are attempting to establish the idea of a website as a source for legitimate news. What's odd about that is that the team refuses to grant media credentials to any news organization that has a presence only on the Internet (most other teams in the league follow the same policy). So, in my position as the editor of WarpathInsiders.com, I can't get media credentials based solely on the fact that it's a web-based news and information source. The message that the press pass policy sends is that no Internet-based news sources are really legitimate--except, apparently, for the one that resides at Redskins.com.
The Redskins' efforts to manage the news actually started a few months ago when Joe Gibbs stopped his regular interviews with WTEM because the hosts were being too adversarial. Instead, Gibbs started doing radio interviews with Mr. Tenacious himself, Michael. Fortunately, the news takeover attempt is quite transparent and, again, most consumers of news will see right through it.
News Wars, Episode 2: The Readers Strike Back
By Rich Tandler Site Editor
Date: May 10, 2005
Tandler's Redskins Blog Ver. 5.10.05--Blogs about the media coverage of the Skins always draw interesting commentents from readers, and the last one about the Skins attempting to cover themselves was no exeption.
You can reach Rich Tandler by email at email@example.com
In TV news, there's a saying that goes, "If it bleeds, it leads," meaning that reports on violence grab viewers. I can't come up with a similar, Jesse Jackson-esque catch phrase for it, but I've found out that nothing grabs the interest of the readers of this blog quite like a story about media coverage of the Redskins. I get more e-mails, see more message board responses, and generate more page hits on articles about the Redskins and the press or, more accurately these days, the Redskins vs. the press, than I do about any other subject. It's not even close.
And there's a clear pattern to the tone of the comments I receive. When I'm critical of the coverage of the team, the vast majority of the messages are of the "right on, you tell 'em" variety. If I am perceived as taking the side of Big Media, I suddenly become a moron. Even somebody as dense as I can be sometimes can see that there is a high level of discontent with the state of Redskins coverage by the media.
The comments about the most recent article about the media that appeared here on Sunday fall into a few main categories.
One is the use of anonymous sources. Some find it unsettling to hear negative reports about the team based on the words of people who won't identify themselves. There's a certain slimy quality to that, to be sure. If you've got something to say, stand up like a man and say it.
Still, anonymous sources are a part of Journalism 101. In fact, they go back earlier than that. An anonymous source probably reported that it was the serpent that talked Eve into taking the bite out of the apple.
There are a lot of reasons why "sources" talk to reporters. They may have an ax to grind with a particular person, they may be trying to push an initiative that they favor along, they may do it as a personal favor to a reporter that they like. They may just want to get what they perceive to be The Truth out there. There is, however, only one reason why sources speak to reporters on the condition of anonymity--to keep their jobs. You can't go telling tales out of school and expect to remain employed.
So, regardless of motivation, the source tells the reporter something on the condition of anonymity and the paper or broadcaster has a choice--report it or not. This is where things get vague. We hear about double checking and trying to find a second source for some stories but the general public really doesn't know what the standard is for deciding whether or not the Post, for example, runs with a particular story based on anonymous sources.
If the Post--or any other reporting entity--wants to improve its credibility, it should put up a boilerplate page on its Website explaining the standard procedure it goes through before deciding to print a sports story that relies heavily on anonymous sources. Are multiple sources required or merely preferred? If the team denies the story, what is the standard for the decision to either print it and carry the team's denial or kill it? It would also be wise to give us a definition of the various levels of sources. Sometimes, for example, a source is characterized as a "team source" and at others it's a "team official. Exactly where is the line drawn?
If we had that information, we could better judge the credibility of a given story. To take it to an extreme, if a "source" could be a grounds keeper who overheard a conversation but an "official" can be only Joe Gibbs, Dan Snyder, or Vinny Cerrato, that would certainly help us figure out how much credence to put into a story.
The paper must have a policy, something in writing that defines the threshold for running a story and a standard way that anonymous sources are characterized in print. Giving full disclosure of that policy (a standard that the paper certainly would expect of another institution) would serve its readership well.
Another broad category of complaints have to do with reporters having an "agenda" to run the team down or to run some individuals down by focusing on the negative and by revealing secrets that damage the team.
Certainly, one can detect an arrogance of power on the part of the Post and the Times on occasion and it's likely that, in the short term, stories can take a slant that is intended as payback for personal slights, real or imagined. Still, I have a difficult time in swallowing the notion, as some have implied, that there is some sort of long-term agenda in place that has the purpose of making the Redskins less successful. There are too many compelling business reasons for a paper to see a team become successful. A winning team peaks interest and drives circulation and website hits. If the Redskins go to the Super Bowl, the newspaper's headline is emblazoned on t-shirts and coffee mugs, commemorative books and special editions get sold. Broadcast media’s numbers go through the roof and the announcers
And every reporter who I've heard offer an opinion has said that it's simply more enjoyable to cover a team that's winning. Who wouldn't rather spend all day talking with people who are happy and successful rather than ones who are losing? Why would any publication, in the long haul, have a vested interest in beating down the team it covers?
I'll concede that I'm perhaps being naive here and that there is some compelling reason for the Post or the Times or WTEM to see the Redskins be unsuccessful. If anyone out there could educate me on this, my email address is at the top of Part Two of this blog.
Other comments dealt with the Redskins.com "unfiltered" campaign. Some thought it was great and that it was all the Redskins news they needed. Others were more suspicious, wondering how any organization can be counted on to accurately and thoroughly report on itself.
Those who are willing to make Redskins.com their sole or primary Redskins news source need to realize that what their getting is far from unfiltered, with one exception. The audio broadcasts of news conferences are good, raw information, but content such as that constitutes only a small percentage of what goes up on Redskins.com. The canned interviews and stories written by staff members are not news, they are PR. Such material can be interesting and even informative, but it's not unfiltered, it's just a different filter, a different agenda, if you will.
Again, don't get me wrong here, the additional content and information that Redskins.com seemingly intends to provide are very welcome. And I certainly don't expect that the Redskins should release negative information about themselves. If they did, they would be among the first privately-owned company in history ever to do so. The materials should just be read, viewed, and listened to for what they are.
The future of Redskins.com was an interesting sidebar subject that other readers discussed. The speculation was that it would soon turn into a pay site, with subscribers getting access to the best clips, interviews, and "news" tidbits. My initial thought was that the Redskins couldn't do something on their own, that in the collective that is the NFL everyone would have to be on the same program.
Then I got some information that indicated that the rest of the NFL was headed in the same direction. From Doug Farrar, the editor-in-chief of Seahawks.net, the Seattle sister site of WarpathInsiders.com, on changes on that team's website:
In the last few months, the Seahawks have hired a local sports-talk host to do all the “official news”. They do breaking news via streaming video and now have a former CBS Sportsline Executive Editor on staff to run op-ed pieces a few times a week that generally forward the team view of things. An impressive improvement over what they had before, to be sure, but the Pacific Northwest's sole bastion of internet-only journalism with actual team access is no less “unfiltered” then its East Coast equivalents.
The team obviously has every right to run Seahawks.com any way they choose – but when they universally refuse access to any other internet-only news source, their own increased focus on internet news proves that position to be quite dubious.
So perhaps the league is pushing teams towards moving into the concept of being news sources on their websites.
As if the Redskins needed any pushing.
Rich Tandler is the Editor of WarpathInsiders, Scout.com’s Washington Redskins site, Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.