Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

January 23rd, 2016 | by mike (in boston)
Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition
business of sports
38

photo credit: VERONICA HENRI/Toronto Sun/$1.76 million dollars per year

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by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail

 

Good morning sports media watchers. Dark days in the industry. I tried to find some good news stories to write about this weekend but came up mostly empty. As always, if you spot an error, inaccuracy, or issue, you can DM me (even if we’re not following each other) or email. I always respond. Once more into the fray …

 

This is the End, Part I

 

As everybody now knows, Postmedia undertook what looks like a death throe by merging various newsrooms, cutting various papers altogether, and slashing a number of departments including the sports section of the National Post. If this doesn’t turn things around the most reasonable next step is to sell off assets and declare bankruptcy. So there is more pain yet to come.

 

On some other day we will discuss how the newspaper industry ended up where it is, and whose fault all of this is. Simon Houpt in the Globe has a nice analysis of the broader social impact of these cuts. Gawker published a very compelling argument by Hamilton Nolan for why quality journalism depends on a fundamentally fragile business model. Given how many people are waking up on a Saturday with no job and a rough road ahead in finding another one, my focus will be on the human side of things rather to begin.

 

The first person I’d like to focus on is David Alter. He was let go by the FAN when they axed the full-time radio Leafs beat reporter position a few years ago (more on that below). From there he managed to land on his feet at MapleLeafs.com doing game recaps and other stories. Presumably he was happy to have another gig in the industry. Then he was offered a job at the National Post. The job was cut just 4 months after he was hired. You can read Alter’s reflections here.

 

Here is what I’d like to point out: it strains credulity to suggest that the plan to cut the Post’s sports section was not being considered when Alter was hired away from his existing job. I am not suggesting that whoever hired him maliciously withheld any information. Rather, the people at the very top allowed the paper to fill vacant positions without giving any direction that priority be given to applicants who are not currently employed.

 

Put yourself in Alter’s shoes: you would never have left your old job for a 4 month contract at the Post. But now your old job has been filled (by Adam Proteau) and you’re back to square one. The human cost here is pretty high, and there is no indication that anyone at Postmedia gave it any thought. This strikes me as vile.

 

3x11_Family_Ties_(13)

 

Case 2: John Lott. Per this tweet, he was told to file his work as usual on Tuesday only to find out late that evening that he was indeed part of the cuts. (This is how I’m interpreting things, since the Lott firing was not announced when the others were.) This isn’t quite as bad as George Sr. having the staff load all the office computers into a truck and then announcing they are all fired, but again here there is a more humane option that was neglected. Why not tell Lott to stop working until all the cuts are announced? Why not call him back to the office as soon as the news started breaking?

 

Here’s the bind in which we find ourselves. Suppose like me you want to express your displeasure at Postmedia’s treatment of their employees. How do you do that? Well, I can refuse to click on any of the stories written by people at the Sun. How does that help, other than to precipitate the inevitable slashing of the Sun’s sports department? That’s the opposite of what I want to see happen. I considered throwing eggs at the Post building on Bloor on my way home the other day. If anyone has any better ideas, let me know.

 

Where do we go from here? Here are some suggestions, many of which strike me as no-brainers.

 

  • The Globe should hire John Lott yesterday. They would instantly become a destination for baseball coverage — you know, the sport where a Toronto team will generate a lot of interest in 2016. This is so obvious that if it doesn’t happen I will worry that Globe Sports is about to fold too.

 

  • Popular basketball writer Eric Koreen is a free agent. Among the regular Raptors scribes he has the most personality both in his writing and on Twitter. The Globe has Rachel Brady, the Star has Doug Smith, and the Sun has Ryan Wolstat and Mike Ganter. So I’m not sure where Eric goes in the short term. TSN and SN both have plenty of people on staff who cover basketball, but one of those networks would be an obvious place for him to land and be a multi-platform guy. He is too good a writer not to have a platform. (He did a 5 questions with me last year.)

 

  • David Alter should be hired by TSN1050 to fill their vacant Leafs radio reporter spot. He’s obviously qualified for the job, and he doesn’t have the locker room baggage that Jonas Siegel does. (Alter did a 5 questions with me shortly after being hired by the Post.)

 

  • While not technically unemployed, Scott Stinson should be hired by the Globe to help lighten Cathal Kelly‘s load. Cathal thrives on quirky stories and is horribly miscast in his current role. No one other than Stephen Brunt can pull off being the sports conscience of the nation. Adding the talented Stinson would probably make Cathal’s value as a columnist easier to see. Right now he is set up to fail.

 

 

Over to you: those are my suggestions, what are yours?  Who have I missed who should be snapped up?

 

This is the End, Part II

 

When the dust settled this week two things were clear: 1) this is the end of one era in sports journalism in Toronto, and 2) the full time radio beat reporter job is officially an artifact of history.

 

On the first point, let’s look at the facts. The Globe is a shell of its former self. Remember this is the same paper that once employed Brunt, Michael Grange, Dave Naylor, and Jeff Blair. We can debate the merits of these folks as radio personalities but few would question their abilities as writers. This was not that long ago. After establishing itself as a great training ground and platform for young writers, The National Post’s sports section is dead. The Star seems fine but there are dark clouds on the horizon if Star Touch (still awesome, by the way) doesn’t stop the financial bleeding. And the Sun’s parent company is drowning in debt at a time when the Sun’s sports section is huge. You do the math.

 

There will be a lot more cuts, buyouts, and consolidation. There won’t be 4 daily sports sections ever again. The ones that survive will be a lot smaller. As mentioned above, there are lots of opportunities for smart hires and for departments to become more focused rather than spread too thin.

 

But things will be very different in at least the following respect: newspapers are the last place where Bell and Rogers don’t have their filthy paws. Every newspaper job that disappears is one less independent* voice. That’s not great for the market and it is not great for the industry. (*Note: all I mean by independent here is independent from the big two. I’m not naive enough to think newspapers don’t have corporate owners and their own agendas.)

 

Second point: I have written a lot about the value of the every day radio beat reporter. Every time I do someone asks the very reasonable question “why can’t the TV guy do it? why do you need two?”

 

Here’s my reasoning: the TV guy is concerned about getting something that works for TV. That means standing at someone’s locker or in the scrum with a mic in his face. The radio guy can sit with the guy at his locker when all the other microphones have left. The radio guy is also there every day, grinding out the season alongside the player. It’s a relationship, and it sometimes leads to something great. So that’s why I think there is value added with a full time radio beat reporter.

 

Admittedly, when you put that one side of the scale and the tens of thousands of additional dollars in flights, hotels, and per diems on the other side … well, it’s harder to justify the expenditure. And this appears to be the conclusion TSN radio has now reached. So Leafs fans who listen to the radio now have no one in the Howard Berger role to give them the daily report from inside the locker room.

 

This does not look good for Scott MacArthur and his prospects of going on the road with the Jays in 2016. This is pennywise pound foolish thinking by TSN in my opinion. This was the one point of differentiation they had with the FAN. (I’m not totally sure what happens on the basketball side. Does Josh Lewenburg go on the road?)

 

My question for you: with so much content available between papers, blogs, and sports networks, should we care that some jobs are being lost?

 

Quick Hits

 

James Mirtle follows up on Rick Westhead‘s story last week about escrow and the Canadian dollar. There has been labour peace in the NHL for a little while now, relatively speaking. This issue poses a significant threat to the current harmony.

 

ESPN and Apple are talking. A future without a cable box is getting closer and closer.

 

Kevin McGran has a good Q&A with Scott Moore. Tough questions and non-evasive answers. Good job all around.

 

The topic of Rogers’ hockey ratings will continue to dominate for the rest of the season. The prospect of no Canadian teams in the playoffs would be devastating, as Chris Zelkovich reports for Yahoo!Canada. Maybe Rogers can reach out to its partner in the NHL for a solution. If they are powerful enough to force trades, then maybe they can solve this problem too.

 

PPP contributor Species1967 writes about the state of the ratings war between Bell and Rogers. The two companies are currently trying to seduce you with 4K broadcasts. Is anyone interested in this?

 

Lastly, on the one year anniversary of th NFL’s complete embarrassment over the size of Tom Brady’s balls, a wonderful new chapter was written. Will Roger Goodell displace Bud Selig as the most incompetent commissioner to lead his league to massive profits?

 

Seen & Heard Mailbag

 

New section! Most weeks I get a few questions on Twitter or via email or in the comments about the column or some other sports media topic. I’ll occasionally answer one or more here

 

Q: why do you put people’s names in bold?

 

A: … because many people in the media only read to see if their name is mentioned. I’m making it easier for them to scan and move on. No reason they should have to sift through all these words just to see if the internet is being mean again.

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • TSN Drive has occasionally been keeping Bryan Hayes around for the first hour with Naylor. This is a good idea. I’m not a huge fan of Bryan’s, but gradual exposure definitely helps. He’s obviously a talented guy and a big part of the future of TSN1050.

 

  • Still with TSN Drive, I cannot for the life of me understand why Tim Graham is a regular co-host. I have nothing against him, but are there no other local options? Between Arthur, Feschuk, Mirtle, and Simmons there’s really no need to bring in someone with no connection to the marketplace on a regular basis. He’s fine as an occasional guest.

 

  • Still with TSN Radio, it occurs to me that we spend so much time wondering why 1050 is failing so badly. But they have 6 other stations. How are they doing? I’ll look in to that this week.

 

  • If you were one of the almost 2 million people who watched the NFL playoff games you might have noticed that TSN Radio was occasionally splashed across the screen as a sponsor. In classic TSN Radio blundering fashion, they neglected to give the dial number for any of their stations. So interested viewers would have no idea where to find TSN radio the next time they get in their car. At this point it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out TSN Radio was only introduced for tax deduction purposes.

 

  • Good smart interview on the tennis match fixing scandal with Arash Madani & Bob McCown (Jan 19, 5pm). Bob asked the question I have been wondering in all of this: why do sports books take action on matches involving people no one has ever heard of, and no one is interested in watching? That seems to be a big part of the problem.

 

  • Reading the outpouring of sympathy on Twitter for the people who lost their jobs was touching. Reading highly paid employed people use the occasion to talk about themselves or comment on the state of the industry was not. Here’s a rule of thumb: if you still have a job and lots of people just got fired, less is more. There’s a time and a place for you. It’s just not this day.

 

  • Let’s end on a good note: is there anything more endearing than Dalton Pompey trying to shame Pizza Pizza on Twitter? #pizza=seriousbusiness

 

 

—–

 

thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

38 Comments

  1. Darrell says:

    I really liked Howard Berger when he was on the FAN. He asked the tough questions of the Leafs management that has done SQUAT in over 40 odd years and pushed them to justify some of the decisions they made.

    I would scoop him up for TSN Radio.

  2. Rob J says:

    Great interview on PTS Thurs with Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune on the horrendous state of newspaper websites for sports. In a list of the top 100 sports websites in the world, the most popular one from a newspaper was the LA Times ranked somewhere in the 80s. People just don’t go to newspaper sites for sports. Espn and Yahoo were ranked 1 and 2.

  3. Steve G says:

    Re: no frequencies for TSN Radio on TV – that’s normal. Bell does same thing with Virgin Radio’s TV spots. Bell also Alter’d people – hired them away from other jobs in the late summer, before eliminating those roles in their most recent bloodbath.

  4. Sam says:

    Every week I check to see if the PTS roundtable is sans Reid and/or Shannon. I wish could be not disappointed at least once a month.

  5. WouldStaley93 says:

    Good read Mike

    Bob McCown was talking about these epic cuts last night on Prime Time Sports. The industry is dying. Bob was mentioning how out of 100 sports news sites in North America only 1 is from a newspaper. The LA Times he said ranked at 99 out of 100. More and more of society gets news and opinion from blogs and various online sites.

    Its interesting how high priced columnists like Steve Simmons of Post Media and David Shoalts of Bell Media and BCE Media still have jobs. It must cost a fortune you would think to continue to employ so called opinion columnists.

    Always enjoyed John Lott and his reporting and commentary on MLB and the Blue Jays. Eric Koreen was also a great writer and a excellent NBA reporter. Hope they both get jobs soon. So much talent available that were let go or resigned due to cuts

    Mark Hebscher
    David Alter
    Eric Koreen
    John Lott
    Jim Lang

    And unfortunately I think more cuts are coming.

  6. Sam says:

    Good little column by Cox in the star this week about the Hillman (?) curse.

  7. DJ says:

    Question I have had for awhile now,

    Not that these cuts were not coming, along with the inevitable decline of traditional print media, but with the state of the current NA economy has the crumbling been sped up to a point where companies cannot adapt? Or were they never going to be able to adapt to being with?

    Also, we have all these discussions about monetizing the internet content. I am a big podcast and sports radio streamer. I have never understood why sports podcasts (or even the podcasts that are just recordings of live shows) never put advertising breaks in them. For example the PTS roundtable I always listen to Saturday mornings at work. Sure, I could fast forward through the commercials if I felt like it, but I am never just listening to a podcast with a sole focus on it. Does anyone consume audio media this way? It is part of my environment as I work. If 3 or 4 minutes of ads are mixed in I would listen to them. Seems to me to be a missed revenue opportunity.

    Is there some sort of media based study showing advertisements in podcasts minimize the amount of people listening?

    Or, in their advertising contracts is it decreed they cannot advertise on the same product in multiple streams?

    Seems odd to me.

  8. Rob J says:

    @DJ
    Why even suggest ads in podcasts? Being commercia-free is their main benefit. Besides, the PTS pods already have an ad for getting rid of male fat build-up in the chestral area. That’s plenty. Don’t give the boobs at Rogers any ideas

  9. DJ says:

    @Rob
    I would argue their convenience and ease is their main selling feature. Any episode any time. Just as netflix has done over traditional tv. You aren’t stuck to a schedule.

  10. Drumanchor says:

    Last week a Strombo picture. This week – Paul Godfrey? Sweetbabyjesus, please stop!

    (Often wondered if TSN1050 enacted a very large media blitz, would their numbers reflect it. Billboards, TV, big contests, etc. Would it help? More importantly, would they spend the money?)

  11. mario says:

    Thanks for another great read MIB.. This has truly been a said couple of months in the media business in both print ,and tv. Not sure with the digital age growing as fast as it is and no one knows were the end game is. Now with Rogers in its $5.2 billion deal with the NHL and them buying all the digital rights and in other areas is it not such a bad deal after all? I guess on one really knows the true answer yet with the rating not as they projected so far .

  12. Mickey b says:

    Great read. Thnx for this. A bit surprised you didnt mention the cox on twitter controversy. If he made any kind of step forward, he just set himself back a hundred steps yesterday. Completely bizarre

  13. Kamlesh says:

    A few weeks ago I recall Bob saying that the SN and TSN websites don’t make money. They were there to support the live broadcasts. Now he’s blaming newspapers for not starting sites such as SN and TSN sooner?

    As for the profiles on Jays players on SN, I’m reminded that Truman Capote called the celebrity profile “…well worn platitudes, quasi confessions, and feigned intimacy – the lowest form of journalism.”

  14. Pete says:

    I’ve often wondered if the newspapers simply cannibalized themselves by shifting their focus mainly towards the online medium. By putting everything I can read in the papers online 12 hours earlier, the newspapers essentially dealt themselves their own death blow. Now of course I get the shift, but they’ve all done this to themselves.

    With that, that’s why I found Ed Sherman’s interview with McCown this week to be fascinating. He was bang on to suggest that even with the focus online, the majority of these companies have failed to succeed because they haven’t been able to make it a quality, must-read product. He also nailed it on the head with the ridiculous paywalls set in place — seriously, which sucker pays to read online content? Besides being able to circumvent the paywall through incognito mode or deleting my cookies, if I’ve used up my 10 articles on the National Post, what’s there that I won’t be able to find on the Globe and Mail website?

    Heck, with today’s impatient society wanting everything now and having a limited attention span, even articles on newspaper websites may become a thing of the past. Not many want to sit through a 3000-word diatribe when they can get the gist in two 140-character tweets.

  15. alfie says:

    Something odd that I’ve noticed is that TSN 1150 in Hamilton will broadcast the FAN’s Maple Leafs broadcasts. Anyone have an idea why this is the case? Does the station still have a broadcast license for the area?

    McCowan made an off-handed on air comment this week that made it sound like the end was near. Something along the lines of he won’t have to worry about complaints about his show next year. Someone will have a pretty big seat to fill soon I suppose.

    Leafs Lunch, when I get a chance to listen, always seems to be entertaining. Hayes could probably do mornings if TSN were to ever reshuffle the deck, but I would hate to see that team break up.

    Naylor’s cringe moment of the week was, for me, his argument that basketball is too “urban” to sell to people in Alberta or the Maritimes. If you want to say it’s a race issue, then say it. Don’t skirt around race by using the term “urban” or an entire genre of music. It would have been more poignant and honest.

  16. Rob J says:

    Biggest cringe of the week by far was Cox on Friday asking Arash if Sanchez was skinny since Arash had seen him naked.

  17. Phil says:

    DJ

    I just listened to Richard Deitsch’s podcast with Troy Aikman. He mixed in a couple promos – probably 1 minute long or so. The promos were just him talking up Fanduel and something else – similar to the way Rome does it.

  18. Tighthead says:

    What did Damien do on Twitter? I saw Mitch Melnick made a joke about it.

    I did see Damien rip Palin for her Trump speech and then throw I a gratuitous “and the years have not been kind” comment which is a really tone deaf comment to make. Christine Simpson was less than impressed.

    Late to the game but Mike Richards on Toronto Mike was great.

  19. Mike V says:

    Assuming they all mean this. http://calgaryherald.com/storyline/watch-former-calgary-flames-tough-guy-brian-mcgrattan-goes-down-hard-in-ahl-fight

    Damien apologized for the way he casually used suicidal in regard to McGrattan and other than that I can’t see that much to get worked up over. With respect to his central point, many people have said similar things about boxers continuing to get in the ring. Just fretting over another molehill from the OOTD (outrage not outfit) Twitter crowd.

  20. Mark R says:

    @Stevie G

    I believe their division games last week were on all of their networks since there are no two games at once. TSN could do a better job reminding people with details as they don’t have the crown jewel of broadcast contracts inz Canada.

  21. Alex says:

    All of the SI podcasts i listen to have ads at beginning and in the middle. Most of Podcast one shows have them two or three times a show.

  22. BradMcLean says:

    Needs to be pointed put that John Lott was not fired. He was a freelance writer. I believe he was told he could submit his last story if he chose. Wasn’t nearly the callous treatment portrayed above.

  23. Art says:

    What about David Bastl for Jonas Seigel’s role. He did the job for sportsnet in the past and did a great job. TSN made a huge mistake letting him go, this is a waybthe can fix it. Obviously I’d rather have him back doing the Richards show but either way he is too talented to keep off the air.

    The idea of TSN taking Scotty Mac off the road makes me sick. He is doing a great job and I actually like his coverage of the team more than those of the home of the Jays the fan 590. Scotty is all TSN 1050 really has when it comes to the Jays. Take that away and you might as well give up.

    If TSN 1050 is going to survive it needs to stop cheaping out and invest in talent. Bastl & MacArthur are two of the very best stop screwing it up TSN.

  24. Mullah_Kintyre says:

    “I considered throwing eggs at the Post building on Bloor on my way home the other day.”
    Oh FFS, grow up already. You know most businesses fail, right? Enough with the pseudo sympathy and mock outrage over a few media people who may now have to get real jobs like everyone else.

  25. Rob J says:

    @Mullah
    But haven’t you been on social media the last week or so? Media employees are the most important facet of society and when bad things happen to them we all have to stop for a moment and tweet at them saying how totally awesome they are and predicting the fall of democracy and even western civilization cause now we may not know who the Leafs’ 3rd-string goalie might be. I can’t imagine another profession with such a high opinion of itself.

    • mike (in boston) says:

      I agree Rob J … some of the rhetoric was over the top. This press release from Unifor was a little tone deaf. This part especially: “”With each quieted voice, our democracy suffers.”

      I realize they are speaking about the industry as a whole, not just the sports section, but I don’t see how merging newsrooms for papers in the same city threatens our democracy.

  26. mike (in boston) says:

    In other hilarious press release news:

    “In a sea of online content, trusted and credible news sources like Postmedia are becoming more and more important to all consumers.”

  27. Rob J says:

    @MIB
    Wow, that press release is straight out of The Onion’s playbook. Claiming the Tor Sun as a trusted news source doesn’t pass the laugh test. Journalists and their bosses do themselves zero favours when they elevate themselves to mythical status. At some point public opinion will turn from sympathy to their plight to
    apathy. The irony is that despite newspapers collapsing, there are considerably more media available now than 10 yrs ago

  28. Omar says:

    Mullah_Kintyre wrote “Oh FFS, grow up already. You know most businesses fail, right? Enough with the pseudo sympathy and mock outrage over a few media people who may now have to get real jobs like everyone else.”

    GOLD JERRY! GOLD!

  29. William D says:

    Toronto Star reporting as many as 200 job cuts in it’s media division.

    http://www.thestar.com/business/2016/01/25/rogers-to-cut-200-media-and-admin-jobs.html

  30. William D says:

    Correction Rogers Media division

  31. Marcus says:

    @Mullah Kintyre @Rob J, you two nailed it, as the subsequent comments bore out. If people want real heartbreak, they can read some of the stories of the laid-off Goodwill employees.

    @mib, lots of good talking points. The one I really agree with was Hayes with Naylor. Both are true multi-sports fans, and they had a really good back and forth banter. They both have a couple of cringe-worthy PC moments on their own (it’s not the intent, that’s noble enough, but the clunky delivery), but together, I feel that they both get closer to the truth. They would be good for a weekly sports review show (TV + radio) that wouldn’t rely on wackiness (a la Tim and Sid) or “seriousness” (a la Brunt or Arthur).

  32. Kamlesh says:

    Even though I prefer Brady/Walker, I’m liking Dean Blundell more over time. There was a great interview with Bruce Hooley on LeBron/Blatt this morning (at the end of the 7am hour). Hooley should be a regular guest on other shows on 590.

  33. Mike S says:

    Naylor is away on vacation again this week……….his show has only been on 1050 for about three years but it seems like he gets more time off than just about anyone (other than McCown of course)

    I think there was a stretch last summer where Naylor was away from his show for 6 out of 8 weeks, although one of those weeks might have been him on assignment doing one of his CFL stories for TSN……..I realize he has been with TSN for more than 3 years but it’s not like he been there over 25 years like McCown has with 1430/590

    I agree with mike in boston about Tim Graham……….he is a solid journalist but not very entertaining on radio……….not sure why he is a co-host once a week…………it must be because he is an FON (Friend Of Naylor)……..there are plenty of other local options that would be just as good and probably better

  34. Rob in Aurora says:

    Naylor can’t carry a show off as a host. He is socially awkward and comes across as nervous. He tries way too hard and makes me cringe too often. It’s not an easy listen….but the guests are great and the cihosta work (I can’t stand Feschuk. His opinions are usually way off and his speech impediment is annoying on the radio)…the one real problem I have is employing an American on Toronto radio. We have lots of local people who would love the spot being taken up by a no name Buffalo reporter who really is like listening to paint dry (see what I did there?). American are protectionist, we need to be too. There aren’tany women on that station, give a Canadian woman sports journalist of personality. Where is Mary Ormsby these days?

  35. Rob J says:

    @rob in aurora
    The most popular host in Toronto sports radio history is American so you’re in the minority in not wanting them here. Americans are definitely not protectionist in sports media as there is a long list of Canadians working very successfully down there

  36. Sam In Scarb says:

    Wondering if Bob McCown stepped away (retired) from a certain company,would that = the saving of 200 media jobs for a certain company?

  37. MattK says:

    @Sam in: I doubt it

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