photo credit: CBS
Good morning sports media watchers. I'm working on a few bigger stories and special features so if you're a person in sports media expect email (check your junk mail!) or messages from me. If I've never reached out to you, please make the first move. This is a small community but if you're reading this then we're part of the same community.
As a consequence, things have been piling up in the Seen & Heard closet. I'm using this column to clear out all of that clutter. Forgive me if some of these items are a tad out of date. As always, if you see or hear something you want covered in this space, DM me on Twitter or send an email. If I got something massively wrong, please let me know that too.
Suggested Soundtrack: PJ Harvey – A Line in the Sand
Programming note: Jonah will be holding down the pillow-fort until the stuff I'm working on comes together. If you want to partially ghost write my next column, send me something. I'm thinking of doing a crowd-sourced Seen & Heard one of these days.
Since I last wrote there have been two major industry developments. First, the Globe & Mail announced they were offering voluntary buyouts. Second, Sean Fitz-Gerald of the Star was laid off.
On the first, let's be clear about what a voluntary buyout is. The paper feels it is paying too much in total salary and wants to reduce that number. Step 1 is, of course, not to hire new people and try to get by with a leaner workforce. Any recent grads looking for work in media can attest to this fact. Step 2 is to pay the people you do hire much less than the people who used to hold those jobs.
If Steps 1 & 2 don't get you to the dollar figure you want then Step 3 is to say that you will pay people to leave. This will be targeted to some early or mid career people, as a way of saying "there's no future here". However, more often buyouts are aimed at well paid senior employees. Of course many of them will want to keep their jobs because a) there is not a lot of other work out there in media, b) they are close to 65 and want to retire with their full pension, c) they like their job, or d) they are not really qualified to work outside the newspaper business. If Step 3 doesn't get you down to profitability then Step 4 is in-voluntary buyouts, otherwise known as severance.
Circling back to the Globe & Mail, it is unclear how many positions they are trying to cut and so it is hard to predict how this round of cuts will affect the sports section, if at all. As it is, Globe Sports is pretty anorexic especially when compared to the Star and Sun. This is not to say they don't do good work. They do: James Mirtle is reliably worth reading, Cathal Kelly can be quite good if properly constrained, Dave Shoalts has successfully transitioned to being a (much needed) sports media writer. In addition the paper pumps out great business of sports content — mostly on Rogers and Bell — from the likes of James Bradshaw, Christine Dobby, and Andrew Willis.
The big question is: who is a plausible candidate to take a voluntary buyout. Among the more senior group would be: Roy MacGregor, Eric Duhatschek, and David Shoalts. It is not exactly clear what the contractual status of these writers is, as the Globe's website doesn't make it easy to find a list of people in the sports department or what their titles are. But all three have been writing for the Globe for a while.
Speaking for myself, losing Shoalts would be a real setback. We try to cover sports media as well as we can here but the real work is being done (as it should be) by real journalists. For many years the Star, the Sun, and the Globe all ran regular sports media columns. Over the last decade all of them have disappeared. Shoalts' rebranding as a sports media critic was a welcome development. If he decides to take his talents to Yuk-Yuks then something of real value in the marketplace would be lost.
The outlook is not good in the newspaper industry. This is no longer a storm cloud on the horizon. Rather, the industry is caught in a downpour and there is no sense of when the raining will stop. As Jonah discussed last week, there is a generational gap when it comes to newspapers. Papers were slow to adopt digital. They chose hard website paywalls instead of soft ones for a long time. They were slow to figure out that free can still be profitable. It is unsurprising that some younger readers (as well as some traditional ones) moved elsewhere.
Here's the thought I have been exploring this week: given that few people buy the Globe for its sport section, what should the paper do with Globe Sports?
One option is to shut it down. That would be a small tragedy. This is the section that at one time or another employed talented writers Stephen Brunt, Michael Grange, Dave Naylor, and Jeff Blair. To see it go out with a whimper would be a shame.
A better option is the following: outsource as much as possible to Canadian/American Press, hire several more columnists, and focus on being on the forefront of sports opinion each and every day. It's a buyer's market right now for talented writers. Find the best ones and put them to work.
This would be a radical departure from the traditional sports section model of trying to do a little opinion, a little beat reporting, and a little bit of profiling. Throw that out — it doesn't work in 2016. Find the big stories and make sure that your writers are at least part of the discussion, if not leading the discussion.
Here's some more unsolicited free advice:
1) Everyone does 3 columns a week. I want to be able to open the paper every day and read the same cluster of writers on a variety of meaningful sports topics.
2) Everyone writes on Saturdays. Make that edition a must-read for casual and hardcore sports fans alike. If the Sun and Star already own the weekend, focus on Monday as your big edition.
3) Promote Cathal to a Rosie DiManno type role where in addition to writing about the Jays he can write about fishing or his European travels but don't run those in the sports section. The credibility of GlobeSports suffers. Make sure that the sports section is about sports.
4) Keep hammering away at the business of sports stories. As mentioned, this is a real strength of the Globe (and a real weakness of the competition). The Bay street types will read about the sports side of their investments (e.g. this excellent read on whether Rogers should get out of sports), and some may stick around for Mirtle on the World Cup.
Over to you: would you read a paper that eschewed game recaps in favour of commentary and opinion? Is it too late for GlobeSports? Am I being naive in thinking that the model I'm proposing is financially feasible?
New feature! In an effort to make Twitter better, Seen & Heard will occasionally run a section on what to do and what not to do with your 140 characters or fewer. For the record, I would fire Twitter into the sun if I had the power to do so, but it's become a part of our lives and it seems reasonable to assume that something like it will continue to exist going forward.
Scenario: someone in the media loses his or her job. What do you tweet?
Here's some examples of what works:
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) September 12, 2016
This is perfect: complimentary, hopeful, sincere.
Looking for a journalist who will walk apart from the pack & find stories others miss? @SeanFitz_Gerald among the best & is on the market.
— Rick Westhead (@rwesthead) September 13, 2016
This is also great: high praise in a nice package.
Here is what NOT to do:
@SeanFitz_Gerald Very sorry to hear that, Sean. It seems like the industry is broken. So many good people, like yourself, pay the price.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) September 12, 2016
Like all Canadians I have nothing but the deepest respect for the Godfather of hockey insiders. He's a national treasure. That said, here's what is wrong with this tweet. The industry is not broken for you Bob! You're one of the best paid people in all of Canadian media, not just sports. The star system is part of the problem: certain people get all the money while others who are also doing good work are let go.
Go back to the papers: "named" columnists earn way more than their colleagues, based on the old assumption that people will subscribe because, like her or loathe her, you have to read what Margaret Wente wrote! The same tired idea has traction in the radio world, based on the 1990s apocryphal tale that people who hate Howard Stern listen longer than anyone else.
Again here, there is a huge generational gap. The old wisdom might still be true for some people, but for those of us brought up in the digital era there is just too much content available all the time. The idea that you need to pay big name people double or triple the conventional rate is 20th century thinking. Maybe that works if the system is flush with cash and jobs. But in today's tough media world it makes more sense to spread the dollars out more evenly and keep good people employed.
Back to Bob. He is the undisputed #1 voice in the world on hockey contracts. He has earned every penny he makes. He also started in the newspaper business so he's more than qualified to comment on the industry. Further, he's not wrong when he says the industry is broken. That is not my point. My point is that this kind of sentiment is best sent over DM or email, and not publicly broadcast. Less is more.
So, in an effort to make Twitter better for all of us, here are two quick rules of thumb that might provide guidance:
1) If someone gets fired, don't make it about you. Talk about how talented the victim is and leave it there.
2) If you still have a job in the industry, especially if your job is one of the 1% jobs, don't talk about how unfair the system is.
Back to the item that prompted all of this, there is something rotten in the newspaper industry. As I wrote about when David Alter was fired along with the entire National Post sports department, it is unconscionable to hire someone away from a gig if you know (or have reason to believe) that cuts are coming. (Note: not everyone at the Post is currently out of work. Scott Stinson stayed on due to having a contract with the Postmedia chain. Some people moved over to the Sun.)
If the people at Star knew that Sean would be exposed they had a responsibility to warn him before hiring him. Perhaps they did and he gambled on evading the axe. Perhaps Sean would have lost his job at the Post anyway so this was just delaying the inevitable. From the content of Sean's tweets, this looks like it came as a nasty shock.
All the best to Mr. Fitz-Gerald. The flood of praise from the biggest names in sports was swift and univocal. It is clear that his peers think very very highly of his work. If you're at the Globe and you want to rebuild your sports section, a huge gift just landed in your lap. Don't waste it.
Over to you: Is it sacrilegious to criticize the Godfather? Anything to add to the above rules?
The Kaepernick story has bled into other sports, with focus now falling on baseball and its issues surrounding race. Two excellent reads: Ken Rosenthal of FOX and Howard Bryant of ESPN. For a more general history of protest in sports, Cathal has a good write-up.
Rick Westhead is once again traveling around the world on Bell's dime … and visiting some of the most dangerous places to bring us great stories. Here's his feature on the disappearance of Venezuelan baseball. Glad to see Bell spending money chasing down unconventional and meaningful sports stories. It's also nice that TSN is letting Rick do baseball stories when it arguably builds interest in a competitor's product.
The wet dream of grass in the Dome that Beeston planted in all of our minds seems to be drying up under the Shapiro era. The hope for a new modern baseball stadium is also being reshaped by new management.
#BlueJays in process of picking a design parter for Rogers Centre to help "re-envision the building for next 30 years” per Mark Shapiro.
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) September 13, 2016
Several people have taken a crack at the topic of Meaningful Jays Games in September (™Bob McCown) and none did it better than Bruce Arthur. This is a great read.
If you’re not following hockey agent Allan Walsh on Twitter you’re missing out. While I disagree with a lot of what he says, he’s very sharp and very entertaining.
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) September 24, 2016
Friend of TSM Don Kollins is making big changes at his new radio station 95.7 The Game. He fired the current mid-morning host in order to bring in national host "JT the Brick" to do a local show in San Francisco. Mr. Brick will be doing the show remotely from Las Vegas. Bold move. Let's see if it pays off. How do people feel about the idea of hosting a local show from outside the market?
Ratings are down in the NFL. "Through two weeks, ten of the first 13 NFL telecast windows have posted declines in ratings and viewership. That includes nine windows that have hit multi-year lows." Something to watch.
There's enough of a harvest here to make preserves. Enjoy.
Interested in what you think about re-tweeting compliments. Big value for media types bec. bosses see it. Downside: Self-aggrandizing city.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) September 15, 2016
— Mike Richards (@MikeRichards01) September 11, 2016
As part of a conversation about Graham James being granted parole, Overdrive co-host Bryan Hayes said that if you're attracted to kids you should be locked up for life. That's a pretty strong take but it's also pretty simplistic. If you’re interested in thinking a little more deeply about this complex issue than B Hayes, read this.
— JD Bunkis (@JDBunkis) September 21, 2016
Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn't put my finger on it.
— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) September 21, 2016
Hey Dave. Good read. Just wondering: did you contact Phil for comment on this piece? https://t.co/isE44HdfWV
— mike_in_boston (@mikeinboston) September 23, 2016
Why would I care? https://t.co/b3tX8QIcxy
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) September 21, 2016
TSN’s podcast feed is currently functioning as a virus on my computer. Twice this week every Blue Lunch + Leafs lunch + Overdrive + some random Argos podcasts going back to 2013 showed up in my iTunes feed and tried to auto-download.
They're backkkkk pic.twitter.com/x2hoKnKb3R
— Nick Kypreos (@RealKyper) September 20, 2016
Well if anyone would know about being a failure in Toronto it'd be Stellick https://t.co/7mUm1Mjvdk
— Error Free in 2015 (@mlse) September 21, 2016
Tx for all the kind words & tweets! Focusing on school going forward. Officially signing off @TSN1050Radio. Tx for all of the memories 🙂
— Candace Amber Devai (@CandaceADevai) September 23, 2016
thanks for reading and commenting
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)