Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mets Once Again Rewrite the PR Playbook

GM Omar Minaya Gets Pimp-Slapped By Boss for Lying about Daily News reporter Adam Rubin

First, the New York Mets opened eyes (see below post) by sending an email to fans from General Manager Omar Minaya about why he fired VP of Player Development Tony Bernazard (basically he was an insufferable blowhard who became a walking migraine).
But what the email didn't have was what Minaya really wanted to say, namely that the articles in the Daily News that highlighted Bernazard's bloopers was part of an elaborate play by beat writer Adam Rubin to get a job in player development with the team.
Only problem: it wasn't true, and Minaya knew that. Rubin's worst offense was asking Minaya generally how one got a job in player development (a fair question, given the perilous state of the newspaper industry). But lobbying? C'mon.
After Minaya issued a non-apology, it was finally time for semi-reclusive team COO Jeff Wilpon to finally pipe up. And he isn't happy.
Wilpon said: "After some reflection, I thought it was important to come out and talk to everybody. We're very sorry about what happened (Monday). It was the wrong forum. The wrong time. The wrong situation for Omar to express himself in that way."
But he really didn't have a choice. The press corps has been pissed off big-time over this episode. And given that the Mets are a team that have excelled at underachieving, it's easy to pile on, and even easier to ignore that the Mets have gone on a rare four-game winning streak.
Despite his emergence from the woodshed, Wilpon said Minaya still has a job. But what he didn't say is for how much longer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How's This for Damage Control: Mets Fire Misbehaving VP and Then Tell Everyone Why

Why It Really Sucks to be Tony Bernazard Right Now

The New York Mets did what they had to do, and got rid of vice president for player development Tony Bernazard, after he became unhinged, not to mention shirtless.
Among his most-recent distractions: removing his shirt in front of some of the Double-A Binghamton Mets, questioning their manhood and challenging them to a fight. He also nearly came to blows with star reliever Francisco Rodriguez, and ripped a colleague a new one after it was suggested he wait to take a seat occupied by an opposing team's scout.
So, the fact that Bernazard was dumped is no big surprise. What did open my eyes, however, is opening an email the Mets send to fans, and seeing a message from General Manager Omar Minaya that succinctly yet completely explained why he fired Bernazard. Such moves are usually kept under wraps, or companies simply say "we don't comment on personnel matters."
Nothing about this incident particularly compelled Minaya to make an exception to that rule, but good of him to do so. Here's what he wrote:

I wanted for you to hear directly from me today regarding an update on the investigation of Tony Bernazard, our Vice President of Player Development. Prior to a series of articles published in the media, our Baseball Operations and Human Resources departments had begun looking into several matters involving Tony.

Once those reports became public, we accelerated our investigation. We wanted it to be thorough and complete it as quickly as possible while still being fair to Tony. That process concluded over the weekend. Yesterday, I met with Tony in person to have a frank conversation about what we had learned following interviews with numerous people. I also wanted for Tony to have the opportunity to give his side of the story. After meeting with Tony, and giving a lot of thought to the facts, I came to a decision on Tony's status which I shared with Ownership last night.

My recommendation was that we needed to part ways with Tony, as his behavior in his interaction with others was inconsistent with our organization's values. Ownership agreed with my assessment and accepted my recommendation. I spoke with Tony this morning and informed him of my decision to terminate his employment with the Mets. Personnel decisions are never easy. And one can't make them without giving it a lot of thought. It's even harder when you know someone as I do Tony.

Tony and I go back a long time. He is a dedicated baseball man who loves the game, someone I like and respect, and someone who has contributed to the Mets. In the end, however, I just told him I couldn't leave him in his position after all that had transpired. As General Manager of the Mets, I am fully accountable for our Baseball Operations department -- on and off the field -- and stand by this decision. Thank you for your ongoing support of the Mets.

Now what I'd like to really read about is Minaya making a few more trades before Friday's deadline, so I don't lose interest in the Mets before Labor Day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harvey Araton Yanked As N.Y. Times Sports Columnist

Be It Cost-Cutting or New Direction, Diminishing a Distinct Voice Still a Bad Idea

I finally caught up to an item from The Big Lead that said New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton was being booted from his perch to take on a new role writing features.'
Araton's been blessed to have that vaunted post for 15 years, and has long been a destination read. His writing, especially about tennis and basketball, is engaging, skeptical and well-reported -- a vestige from his days as a beat writer.
Araton is clever without resorting to cheap shots. And unlike other columnists who seem to relish being the first to call for a coach or manager to be fired, Araton's not one to jump on bandwagons.
So, then, why would the Times do away with such an asset? It can't be for cost-cutting reasons, if Araton is still on the payroll in another capacity.
The Big Lead said "[o]ne source claims the Times is veering off beat coverage and columns - wise move - and focusing more on offbeat features..."
You could perhaps -- just perhaps -- that veering off beat coverage is a wise move. And the Times has done just that with all college teams, the Devils, Islanders and only partially covering the Rangers. Such are the casualties of both cost-cutting and the Times' self-definition as a national newspaper.
But cutting columnists should in no way be defined as a wise move. If beat coverage is less essential in the digital age, then sports sections must justify their existence with distinctive voices and content that can't be had anywhere else. In other words, a columnist.
The Times has already thinned its columnist ranks. After Dave Anderson retired, and Selena Roberts fled to much-greener pastures in Sports Illustrated, neither were replaced.
So maybe you don't need five. But two? And one of those two, George Vecsey -- good as he still remains -- has been an ink-stained wretch for half a century. How much more does he have left in the tank? And when he decides to power down his laptop will the Times replace him?
For now, let's hope the Times doesn't have to answer those questions anytime soon. But what sports editor Tom Jolly should address is how taking away a columnist makes sense. At a time when his section is often less than six pages -- and way too much of it is taken up lately by cycling (blanket coverage of the Giro D'Italia? Really?) -- the sports department needs to make the most of its precious allotted space, not less.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Happens When You Outsource Your Writing to Bangalore

Providing Basic Facts a Casualty of Cost-Cutting at Reuters

The short Reuters item about the sale by Cox of three newspapers had a few cracks showing in its inverted pyramid.
It said the company would sell the Waco Tribune-Herald, along with the Daily Sentinel and the Nickel.
Do you want to know where the latter two newspapers are located? So do I, but the story never tells us, which is what happens when Reuters outsources some of its business writing to India, but then doesn't spend some of the money it's saved on fact-checking.
A click on Romenesko revealed the Daily Sentinel is the daily newspaper in Grand Junction, Colo.; the Nickel is a shopper in that city.
But why was that so difficult to add to the Reuters story? The A.P. had no such problem.
I thought maybe Cox had left it off the press release, and they were too busy or lazy in Bangalore to look it up. However, Grand Junction is mentioned in the lead, so no excuse.
You get what you pay for, and that's not much.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Couldn't Someone Have Saved the Eagle Times?

Demise of Small New Hampshire Daily Could Be an Anomaly. Or it Could be the Harbinger of Things to Come

Many of the newspapers that have either closed, or are in danger of closing, have been battered by competition or the declining need or desire for a second read who often don't have the time or inclination nowadays to read even one paper, e.g. Denver, Seattle, Tucson.
But the conventional wisdom has been that one-newspaper towns, while not immune to the meltdown in the industry, were better insulated, especially in small towns where there were few other sources for news or better vehicles for advertising.
So much for conventional wisdom, with word last week that the Eagle Times in Claremont, N.H. abruptly shut down after Friday's edition.
Maybe it's not a big deal to you, but it is to folks who live in the communities served by the Eagle Times.
What's troubling is not so much that the paper was losing money, although you'd think that'd be harder to do when you don't have much competition for ads -- even in a down market -- from traditional media.
Rather, it's disconcerting that no other company stepped up to buy the paper at any price in the year it was on the market. Not a single entity viewed a daily paper as a viable medium worth saving. The die was cast. Now the Eagle Times withers, similar to the factories and commercial activity that long ago vanished from this hardscrabble corner of New Hampshire.
The Eagle Times was family-owned, but that means squat in this current environment. All the big newspaper chains are on the ropes or in bankruptcy, so it's not a question of resources. The real question is how many more papers like the Eagle Times are out there?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gannett Blog Jumps In the Lifeboat While the Dance Band on the Titanic Warms Up

Jim Hopkins Bids Farewell Just as Gannett Finishes Getting Rid of Another 1,300 Newspaper Employees

First things first. A thanks to Jim Hopkins, who started the popular, incendiary Gannett Blog, which dutifully -- and sometimes stridently -- covered the disintegration of a once-mighty media company by executives who somehow manage to be both greedy and clueless at the same time.
For various reasons -- money most among them -- Hopkins decided to put a -30- on new blog posts as of last night. But he went out with a bang, no thanks to Gannett, which laid off another 1,300 employees from its newspaper division.
Just when you thought there was anything left for Gannett to cut, the beancounters worked their magic. Now there are even fewer reasons to buy the company's mostly mediocre papers. Of course, that won't stop them from raising the cover prices again in the near future.
One property that escaped, for now, unscathed is one of my former employers, The Journal-News, the paper of record for New York's northern suburbs. Or at least the paper.
As the J-N is now absorbing the copy editing and graphics departments of the wheezing Poughkeepsie Journal, management decided to hold off on the pink slips until August so those operations could be properly integrated.
The J-N had a daily circulation of around 160,000 when I worked there 20 years ago. It's now down near 92,000 and sinking while it shrinks: pages are smaller in keepig with the desiccated reporting staff. As one anonymous scribe posted on Gannett Blog:

I am a Westchester reporter. Twice last week -- TWICE -- I was interviewing someone and they said to me:

What is The Journal News? Can you imagine this for any other semi-major daily paper?(For all you readers outside the area: The Journal News is the name the paper was given when a group of smaller local dailies was merged in late 1998. More than 10 years later, the new name hasn't really caught on.)When I joined the company, circulation was 155,000 daily and 170,000 Sunday ...

These were sources in Northern Westchester, but I find the single place with the fewest people who know about us is Scarsdale. I cannot tell you how many times over the years I've had to explain what The Journal News is to someone from Scarsdale...

The area IS weird when it comes to local versus local, local. People live in about 75 towns and don't seem to have a regional feeling at all. If you live in Yonkers, you just don't want to read about Armonk or Peekskill or Brewster or Nyack, especially if all you're reading is the local municipal stuff or a feature about a tiny community festival.

However, the people here are sophisticated and appreciate a good story that's newsy about anywhere in the area, whether it's a scam or corruption revealed or a compelling personality featured or a new innovation explained....

We have lost A LOT of reporting staff. There is no question that readers today are getting FEWER stories than they did six months ago -- and A TON less than they did three years ago. There is news that goes uncovered and features that go unwritten.Is there any mystery why there are fewer readers? Why pay the same -- or more -- for a thinner paper?

Sad, but oh so typical, for Gannett.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Wall Street Journal Needs to Spend More Time On The Couch

Let's Keep Jason Gay's Butt Planted in Front of the TV More Than One Day a Week

It's all too rare in newspapers nowadays to have destination reading, especially in the sports section. Columnists quit or get fired. Beat writing is, well, beat writing, assuming the paper is even covering the team anymore.
That state of affairs is why going to the back of the Marketplace section to read Jason Gay's "The Couch" column in Monday's Wall Street Journal is a must.
Sure, you get insights without the bombast. But what you mostly get are laughs, and plenty of them. From yesterday's column:

Well, at least it wasn't a boring Wimbledon final, like last year's.

What can you say about Sunday's All England Club epic match between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick? Here's what we can say: We started, as usual, with breakfast at Wimbledon. Then we had brunch at Wimbledon. Then we had lunch -- a cold chicken sandwich at Wimbledon. Our house guests had cocktails at Wimbledon. Then more cocktails at Wimbledon. We debated marinating a steak at Wimbledon. Then we grew terrified: was this all-time classic sporting event going to preempt NBC's "Merlin"?

Or this gem about the U.S. collapse to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final:

It was cruel and mesmerizing to watch. The yellow-and-green soccer juggernaut scored early in the second half and relentlessly pounded U.S. goalie Tim Howard until they finally prevailed 3-2. When it was over the American players were crestfallen. They'd come within one half of a Wheaties box. Now they had to watch Brazil celebrate a title, which is like watching Derek Jeter celebrate getting a phone number.
"It's one thing to see the Promised Land," intoned ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas, whose hair we vastly preferred in its mangy, Big Lebowski form, as opposed to its current Dead Poets Society clean look. "It's another thing to get there."

Since Gay's column often features an item on TV the day before, it's clear he doesn't need much turnaround to turn in A-level work. The Journal should give him the chance to let a few more missives loose during the week, so we don't have to wait a whole week to once again sit on The Couch.

Federer's Epic Win Also a Victory for The New York Times

Nothing Like Some Color Full-Page Ads to Soothe A Publisher's Soul

The five-set thriller at Wimbledon was entertainment on a grand scale, enough to make you not get too hot and bothered about missing out on some high-quality outside time on one of the primo weather days of the year.
Almost as happy as Federer was the ad department at The New York Times, which played host in yesterday's sports section to a full-page color ad featuring Federer from Gillette. And on the back page was a full-pager from Lacoste, which congratulated runner-up Andy Roddick, dour but stoic after his five-set defeat. You can bet your alligator there was another version of the ad ready to run had a few shots gone the other way.
Not to be outdone, Federer was on the back page of today's Business Day section, which contained the sports pages. This time it was Rolex shelling out the bucks so we could get a close look at Federer planting a big wet one on the Wimbledon trophy.
And, yes, there's a big shiny Rolex on his left wrist.