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SmootSmack 01-07-2006 10:01 AM

Redskins Trying to Become the Messenger
Interesting article in the NY Times about Redskins media coverage:

Redskins Try to Become the Messenger

ASHBURN, Va., Jan. 4 — Tuesday was a joyous day for the denizens of Redskins Nation. Fresh off making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the Washington Redskins removed one of the most attractive head-coaching candidates from a torrid market by re-signing Gregg Williams, the team’s defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, to a lavish three-year extension.

But the good cheer did not spread to everyone. The Redskins informed the news media that Williams, with a playoff game against Tampa Bay looming Saturday, did not want to do any interviews. Yet later that afternoon, Williams sat for a video chat with Redskins.com TV, which streamed it live on the team’s Web site. Immediately after, the NBC affiliate in Washington landed the only other Williams interview. The station’s sports director is George Michael, who also serves as host of the “The Redskins Report” and “The Joe Gibbs Show” and as the executive producer of “Redskins Game Plan.”

Competing reporters complained about the seeming snub, a reaction that team executives said took them by surprise. They considered their efforts perfectly benign, even helpful. After all, Williams had said he did not want to talk to the news media, and everyone could use the footage from the Redskins.com TV interview. As for the interview with the NBC affiliate, team executives said they had no involvement in setting it up; Michael’s long-standing relationship with Williams and reporting hustle helped secure the conversation.

Tensions between news organizations and the sports teams they cover are nothing new. But journalists who deal with and observe the Redskins see Tuesday’s events as a piece of a media strategy that, more than other teams, seeks to control the message and harness technology to speak directly to fans, while freezing out or even publicly chastising news organizations they believe have strayed from fairly reporting the news.

The Redskins have run at least four strongly worded articles on their Web site attacking The Washington Post for faulty journalism and bad intentions. And last August it bought a fan Web site, one that had kept a running tally of alleged errors made by one of the Post’s beat reporters. The first Redskins executive to appear on the site after the acquisition was the team’s owner, Daniel M. Snyder, who used some of his time to bash the news media for possessing personal agendas and overusing anonymous sources.

“The fact that the Web site and George Michael’s station were the only ones to have a shot at Williams is terribly telling,” said Erik Wemple, editor of Washington City Paper, which has written regularly about the Redskins’ relations with the news media. “If you’re sitting in Ashburn in one of the executive chairs, you can be perfectly comfortable that not a disparaging word about Redskins Inc. will be uttered.”

Michael disputed that he received any favoritism from the Redskins, adding that he had been the recipient of their wrath in the past. “If the Redskins had their way, ‘The Redskins Report’ would never be on the air,” he said.

Michael said both the news media and the Redskins deserved blame for a dysfunctional relationship — “There is just a distrust I’ve never experienced” in his nearly 35 years in the business — but he did add that he thought some of the coverage of the team was “unwarranted, even malicious.” And he said he thought much of it stemmed from a hostility to the team’s young, brash owner.

Snyder, a devoted Redskins fan from childhood who made his fortune in the advertising and marketing business, bought the team and its stadium in 1999 for an astounding $800 million, when he was 34. And he quickly set out to make a valuable franchise even more so, to wring more income out of everything from seating to concessions and to burrow Redskins mania deep into the psyches of as many fans as possible.

The financial payoff has been impressive. Since Snyder took over the team, annual revenue has soared to $300 million from $162 million, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission document filed last August as part of his attempt to wrest control of Six Flags Inc. The annual sponsorship income has risen 12-fold, to $48 million from $4 million. And a new automated concession system has boosted the amount of money fans spend each game by 67 percent, while slashing their waiting time for munchies and drinks.

Along the way, however, Snyder’s regime has ruffled some feathers. Whether it was the addition of some seats with obstructed views or an abortive attempt to make season-ticket holders wishing to pay by credit card use a Redskins MasterCard, complaints soon made their way into the news media, usually in The Post.

“This was a guy who was enormously successful at a young age doing what he thought was right,” said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a sports business consultancy based in Chicago.

And following the conventional niceties of established businesses rarely if ever overruled his instincts. The old boy’s club of professional football has been no different. If the contracts Snyder bestows on coaches throw the league’s salary structure out of whack, so be it. All that matters is winning.

And if his media moves trouble the locals, that is their problem, not his.

In conversations here at Redskins Park, Snyder, his top communications officer, Karl Swanson, and the recently hired executive producer of media, Larry Michael, returned repeatedly to the term “unfiltered” to explain their media strategy. Their desire, they said, is not to bypass or punish the news media; it’s merely to harness new technology to deliver as much information as possible about the team and its players — in real-time — to fans.

“The world is changing,” Snyder said. “Let’s be more modern thinking. Let’s give them more of an à la carte menu of information so that they can get what they want.”

Since Michael, a Westwood One executive for 20 years and the radio play-by-play announcer of the Redskins (but no relation to George), joined the organization last year, the team has ramped up its multimedia capabilities and staffing. This past season, the team produced two 17-week series of its own — “Redskins Late Night,” a comedy show, and “Redskins Generation,” a youth-oriented show.

But what enthuses Snyder, Michael and Swanson the most is the Web site, redskins.com, and its growing video capabilities. Every news conference is carried live and in its entirety; features about players’ on-field activities and off-field pursuits abound; and behind-the-scenes footage is proudly displayed.

While plenty of sports teams produce their own content, what separates the Redskins’ media efforts is the attempt to break some news first and the accusatory tone that has crept into various articles on the site and other public comments about the news media. Namely The Post.

One article, which did not carry a byline but which Swanson said he wrote, began: “The Washington Post, apparently more interested in stirring false controversy where there is none than in reporting fact …”

Another brought in Vinny Cerrato, the team’s vice president of football operations, to pose a question about journalistic ethics: “I wonder sometimes whether they stop to think that they are playing with people’s lives and careers.”

Snyder, Swanson and others in the Redskins organization said frustration with what they considered misrepresentations and opinion injected into news articles pushed them to respond in such a public fashion.

“Columnists, that’s their jobs, that’s their opinions,” Snyder said. “But when a reporter becomes a columnist, that’s not right. And that happens a lot.”

Nunyo Demasio, a Redskins beat writer from 2002 until he left for Sports Illustrated in October, found himself on the receiving end of several of these public spankings. In previous jobs, he had occasionally angered owners, general managers and others with his reporting, but he said they would express their displeasure privately or call his boss. “This was taking it to a whole new level,” he said.

Demasio does acknowledge mistakenly reporting that a defensive back, Ryan Clark, had been cut, which prompted the quote from Cerrato. But The Post was not the only outlet to run the news. “Ryan Clark told me when I apologized to him that he didn’t understand why they were blaming the Washington Post article because he learned about it on television the night before,” he said. “The incident told me that the organization was not pleased with the tone of my coverage.”

The tempestuous relationship between the Redskins and The Post has taken some other unconventional turns. After the newspaper published a front-page article reporting that some of the newly built seats at FedEx Field had obstructed views, the team accused the paper of “having secretly garnered” season tickets in a town where the waiting list stretches toward infinity. The team then moved to rescinded a number of tickets owned by The Post amid accusations that some of those tickets and valuable parking passes were being scalped.

Soon after the Redskins bought the fan site, ExtremeSkins.com, last summer, a stern letter arrived from The Post’s interactive division, demanding that full-text postings of Post articles be stripped from the site. The Post had never bothered with ExtremeSkins.com’s poaching before the sale. The Redskins decided to have a little legal fun, and found numerous examples of The Post’s message board reproducing without permission original articles from redskins.com.

Amid the various spats, a sit-down took place at Snyder’s home last June with the paper’s publisher, Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., and managing editor, Philip Bennett, to discuss the fraught relationship.

Snyder declined to elaborate on the get-together. “We have nothing against them,” Snyder said. “We just want them to be accurate.”

The Redskins argue that what they put up on their site is “unfiltered” and accurate, but Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the sports editor of The Post, finds that view to be nonsense. “Of course their message is not unfiltered,” he said. “It’s from the point of view of the team. It’s going to be good news. They’re not going to put up negative stories. It’s simply an attempt to control the message.”

But he and others understand a wired present and future will see only more of this approach, if not necessarily as vitriolic. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and an Internet billionaire, uses his blog to convey his unhappiness if he thinks he has been misrepresented in the news media. And in recent months, other teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and the Portland Trail Blazers have had articles on their Web sites or press releases stating their discontent over coverage.

“That leap — that direct communication between teams and their fans — is going to increase,” said Ganis, the sports business consultant. “Teams will increasingly go over the heads of traditional media to get their spin or their slant on events out there.”

FRPLG 01-07-2006 10:19 AM

George Michaels think the media is slanted against the Skins
Check this out. George is pretty much a homer but I don't think he sugar coars everything. I think it is interesting that he would actually say he thinks the media is "malicious".


SmootSmack 01-07-2006 10:20 AM

Re: George Michales think the media is slanted against the Skins
[QUOTE=FRPLG]Check this out. George is pretty much a homer but I don't think he sugar coars everything. I think it is interesting that he would actually say he thinks the media is "malicious".


FRPLG, I'm going to merge this with a similar thread I started.

70Chip 01-07-2006 11:09 AM

Re: Redskins Trying to Become the Messenger
The problem that the Post has with its Redskins beat writers is that they use that position as a stepping stone to a more prominent gig. The Wilbons and Boswell's are in Washington for the long term so they use common sense discretion when writing about the Redskins. They have a vested interest in cultivating successful relationships with team personnel and to some extent in the success of the team itself. The Post writer who earned such contempt from the organization, had other priorities. He now works for Sports Illustrated where his acrimony with Snyder is no doubt viewed as a feather in his cap.
It seemed to me that Steve Spurrier disliked the Washington Post as well. The only reporter he ever acknowledged by name was Jody Foldesy, the beat writer for The Washington Times. And that includes George Micheal with whom the ball coach taped a (painful to watch) television show every week for two years. It appeared to the viewer that Spurrier had a real contempt for George.
To me its a case of 'Back to the Future". The old time sports owners were quick to freeze out any writer who didn't go along with the company line, especially when the team was winning. Criticism is inevitable in losing times and usually comes from organizational leaks.
I know thgis is a bit serious but I am trying to keep my mind occupied until kickoff and I just quit smoking last week so bear w i me.

BrudLee 01-07-2006 11:19 AM

Re: Redskins Trying to Become the Messenger
70Chip - Good luck with the smokes.

There isn't a team in the league that doesn't have a website that gets out "its side" of the story. The Redskins are using their considerable marketing muscle to take that theory to the next logical level.

As for not parading Williams around to every outlet after extending his contract, I'm more upset that he was interviewed at all. It's playoff week; every minute he spent hamhanding it with Larry Michael was one he didn't spend gameplanning.

I'm not an organization apologist, but these complaints stink of the same nonsense that mainstream media folk spew about bloggers and message boards. "There isn't an editor - it's one-sided - there's no control." The listener, the reader - the [u]customer[/u] - doesn't seem to want those things, nor do they guarantee accuracy or the complete story.

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