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