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News Wars–The Readers Strike Back

May 9, 2005, 2:16 PM EDT

Comments Off on News Wars–The Readers Strike Back

In TV news, there’s a saying that goes, “If it bleeds, it leads,” meaning that reports on violence grab viewers. I can’t come up with a similar, Jesse Jackon-esque catch phrase for it, but I’ve found out that nothing grabs the interest of the readers of this blog quite like a story about media coverage of the Redskins. I get more emails, see more message board responses, and generate more page hits on articles about the Redskins and the press or, more accurately these days, the Redskins vs. the press, than I do about any other subject. It’s not even close.

And there’s a clear pattern to the tone of the comments I receive. When I’m critical of the coverage of the team, the vast majority of the messages are of the “right on, you tell ’em” variety. If I am perceived as taking the side of Big Media, I suddenly become a moron. Even somebody as dense as I can be sometimes can see that there is a high level of discontent with the state of Redskins coverage by the media.

The comments about the most recent article about the media that appeared here on Sunday fall into a few main categories.

One is the use of anonymous sources. Some find it unsettling to hear negative reports about the team based on the words of people who won’t identify themselves. There’s a certain slimy quality to that, to be sure. If you’ve got something to say, stand up like a man and say it.

Still, anonymous sources are Journalism 101. In fact, they go back earlier than that. An anonymous source probably reported that it was the serpent that talked Eve into taking the bite out of the apple.

There are a lot of reasons why “sources” talk to reporters. They may have an ax to grind with a particular person, they may be trying to push an initiative that they favor along, they may do it as a personal favor to a reporter that they like. They may just want to get what they perceive to be The Truth out there. There is, however, only one reason why sources speak to reporters on the condition of anonymity–to keep their jobs. You can’t go telling tales out of school and expect to remain employed.

So, regardless of motivation, the source tells the reporter something on the condition of anonymity and the paper or broadcaster has a choice–report it or not. This is where things get vague. We hear about double checking and trying to find a second source for some stories but the general public really doesn’t know what the standard is for deciding whether or not the Post, for example, runs with a particular story based on anonymous sources.

If the Post–or any other reporting entity–wants to improve its credibility, it should put up a boilerplate page on its Website explaining the standard procedure it goes through before deciding to print a sports story that relies heavily on anonymous sources. Are multiple sources required or merely preferred? If the team denies the story, what is the standard for the decision to either print it and carry the team’s denial or kill it? It would also be wise to give us a definition of the various levels of sources. Sometimes, for example, a source is characterized as a “team source” and at others it’s a “team official. Exactly where is the line drawn?

If we had that information, we could better judge the credibility of a given story. To take it to an extreme, if a “source” could be a grounds keeper who overheard a conversation but an “official” can be only Gibbs, Snyder, or Cerrato, that would certainly help us figure out how much credence to put into a story.

The paper must have a policy, something in writing that defines the threshold for running a story and a standard way that anonymous sources are characterized in print. Giving full disclosure of that policy (a standard that the paper certainly would expect of another institution) would serve its readership well.

Another broad category of complaints have to do with reporters having an “agenda” to run the team down or to run some individuals down by focusing on the negative and by revealing secrets that damage the team.

Certainly, one can detect an arrogance of power on the part of the Post and the Times on occasion and it’s likely that, in the short term, stories can take a slant that is intended as payback for personal slights, real or imagined. Still, I have a difficult time in swallowing the notion, as some have implied, that there is some sort of long-term agenda in place that has the purpose of making the Redskins less successful. There are too many compelling business reasons for a paper to see a team become successful. A winning team peaks interest and drives circulation and website hits. If the Redskins go to the Super Bowl, the newspaper’s headline is emblazoned on t-shirts and coffee mugs, commemorative books and special editions get sold. Broadcast media’s numbers go through the roof and the announcers

And every reporter who I’ve heard offer an opinion has said that it’s simply more enjoyable to cover a team that’s winning. Who wouldn’t rather spend all day talking with people who are happy and successful rather than ones who are losing? Why would any publication, in the long haul, have a vested interest in beating down the team it covers?

I’ll concede that I’m perhaps being naive here and that there is some compelling reason for the Post or the Times or WTEM to see the Redskins be unsuccessful. If anyone out there could educate me on this, my email address is at the top of the page.

Other comments dealt with the “unfiltered” campaign. Some thought it was great and that it was all the Redskins news they needed. Others were more suspicious, wondering how any organization can be counted on to accurately and thoroughly report on itself.

Those who are willing to make their sole or primary Redskins news source need to realize that what their getting is far from unfiltered, with one exception. The audio broadcasts of news conferences are good, raw information, but content such as that constitutes only a small percentage of what goes up on The canned interviews and stories written by staff members are not news, they are PR. Such material can be interesting and even informative, but it’s not unfiltered, it’s just a different filter, a different agenda, if you will.

Again, don’t get me wrong here, the additional content and information that seemingly intends to provide are very welcome. And I certainly don’t expect that the Redskins should release negative information about themselves. If they did, they would be among the first privately-owned company in history ever to do so. The materials should just be read, viewed, and listened to for what they are.

The future of was an interesting sidebar subject that other readers discussed. The speculation was that it would soon turn into a pay site, with subscribers getting access to the best clips, interviews, and “news” tidbits. My initial thought was that the Redskins couldn’t do something on their own, that in the collective that is the NFL everyone would have to be on the same program.

And then I got some information that indicated that the rest of the NFL was headed in the same direction. From Doug Farrar, the editor-in-chief of, the Seattle sister site of, on changes on that team’s website:

In the last three months, they hired Mike Brown, the former sports director of KJR, our local sports-talk radio station, to do all the “official news”. They do breaking news via streaming video and also hired Mike Kahn, formerly an Executive Editor at CBS Sportsline, to run op-ed pieces three times a week that innocuously spin the team view of things.

So perhaps the league is pushing teams towards moving into the concept of being news sources on their websites.

As if the Redskins needed any pushing.

  1. mbarnes202 - May 11, 2005 at 3:37 AM

    My own take is that the ‘Skins are really tired of negative AND incorrect stories coming out of the press; to wit:

    1. Cerrato fumes that the Post reports, before any official announcement, that Ryan Clark will be cut, when in fact he is not, and in fact eventually starts for the team ;

    2. Snyder is tired of being the media whipping boy;

    3. Gibbs is tired of on-air reporters speculating and opining rather than reporting, especially if it’s negative.

    4. All three are frustrated that the Post, while it has had pretty decent success at accurately scooping the ‘Skins and exploiting obvious leak problems within the organization, has also had some notable complicity in exposing major leaks that possibly resulted in the team being forced to change its strategy (the Coles situation).

    So, the ‘Skins, in puerile fashion, “retaliate” by revoking season tickets, establishing a competing news outlet, and generally bad-mouthing the Post at every opportunity. (Maybe they should investigate where the leaks are instead.)

    The broader news media loves a fight, and, in any event, the ‘Skins in general and Cerrato/Snyder in particular, are such easy targets for criticism.

    You have to give the ‘Skins credit- they are swinging for the fences, and Snyder is opening his wallet. At least they’re trying, which is more than you could say for some teams (the Cardinals and Bengals, while currently enjoying a renaissance, are notorious skin flints).

    The media attention will continue– the ‘Skins will have to accept that. We have a huge financial investment in the team, a rabid fan base, a losing record, and plenty of intrigue and controversy (QB controversy, anyone?).

  2. Doug - May 11, 2005 at 1:17 PM

    Rich, if, as you say, the local media has a vested interest in the Redskins’ success, why is every single column about the Redskins decidedly negative? Why does the broadcast media talk only about what controversies it can think of or drum up? I don’t understand it. Lately, the phrases used in the media to describe the Redskins include “dysfunctional” and “systemic rot” and the like. Is this reporting?

    When I read the paper or listen to the news, I am hoping to learn something. I have not learned anything useful from these columns or broadcasts.

  3. Anonymous - May 11, 2005 at 4:28 PM

    Maybe if the Skins stopped losing so many games and making questionable (to be kind) front office decisions the Post would be a little more positive. I mean, it’s not like the national press has a lot of good to say about the skins these days either.

  4. Doug - May 13, 2005 at 2:17 PM

    Hey, Rich, how about doing a position by position analysis of the team? We can discuss who we think the starter will be, who the backup will be, and whether or not we think they can do the job.

    That should take us almost to training camp.

  5. Anonymous - May 13, 2005 at 3:12 PM

    who cares if someone posts anonymously? How’s that any different than making up a user name? Even if I used my real name, you still wouldn’t know who I am. If the content of a post is credible, intelligent, thoughtful, then nobody cares if it was posted anonymously. Likewise, if the content of someone’s post is crap, then it makes no difference if they use their real name rather than post anonymously. And one other thing, if the Redskins would stop being one of the WORST teams in the NFL, then they wouldn’t be criticized so much. The criticism that they get is well deserved and well earned. Please name 5 other teams in the NFL with worse records than the Redskins over the last 12-13 years. Its not possible, because the Redskins have been one of the VERY WORST teams in the NFL for a long time. I spend a large amount of money to go to Redskins games (using tickets that have been in my family since 1938) and what is my experience like? I get harrassed and heckled by drunken fans of the opposing teams who have no difficulty getting tickets to FedEx Field, because 1. there are too many seats and 2. many fans don’t want to waste an entire day watching their team get their asses kicked. I remember RFK – it was a rarity to find more than one or two enemy fans. Now, at FedEx, its pure torture and it gets worse and worse as the year goes on and it becomes apparrent that the season will be a failure like all the others in recent memory. Do you detect frustration and aggravation? You should. I’m still holding out hope that Gibbs’ genious can turn this team around, but I’m not stupid enough to bet on it.

  6. mbarnes202 - May 13, 2005 at 7:26 PM

    I will say, ANONYMOUS, that I too was extremely frustrated (I’m a season ticket holder too) attending the Ravens, Bengals, and even the end of the Cowboys games, and the large number of opposing fans, cheering louder than the ‘Skins fans (who, in the Bengals game in particular, had NOTHING to cheer about). Pitiful performances by the home team.

    On the other hand, at the beginning of the Cowboys game, and during most of the Bucs game, I think it was louder than it was at RFK (having been to many games there too). If we could just establish a winning tradition, I think Fed Ex Field could become a great home field advantage, despite the outragous prices.

  7. Anonymous - May 14, 2005 at 2:35 AM

    I’m sure everybody has their “lowest moment” as a skins fan, so while we’re on the subject, I’ll share mine. I was dumb enough to actually go to the last game of the 2003 season. It was a home game (Saturday night) against the Eagles. The Eagles were headed to the playoffs and the Redskins were concluding yet another pathetic season. It was painful enough that we got our butts kicked and were not even competitive. But what made it near intolerable is that I was literally surrounded by Eagles fans. They were in front of me, beside me and behind me. Right behind me, a large group of Eagles fans unfurled this very large green eagles banner (just behind the front section of the upper deck). You could just look out across the stadium and, NO LIE, the predominant color was green. They were getting drunk, chanting eagles fight songs, laughing hysterically at our ineptitude, and really having a lot of fun at the expense of the small number of Redskins fans at the game. I really think they were being as loud as possible so that the easily identifiable out-numbered pathetic Redskins fans would feel the pain that much more. I am an absolute die-hard Redskins fan, and I’m telling you, that was one of the worse experiences of my life as a sports fan. I left the stadium early, thinking to myself “I actually spend my hard earned money for this kind of abuse? What am I, crazy?” I go to a game, watch my team get their assess absolutely kicked, and then endure the verbal abuse and obnoxiousness of enemy fans who are seated all around me (in OUR HOUSE, no less). I found myself wishing the unthinkable, that I wished I had converted to the Ravens when I had the chance (I live between Baltimore and D.C.) This sort of thing would NEVER EVER happen at a Ravens game (based on the handful of Ravens games I’ve been to). In the ensuing days, as I wallowed in my Redskins misery, it was announced that Gibbs was hired, and this was the main reason I didn’t give up my tickets. Lets just hope things can get turned around, b/c I can’t take much more of this crap. Danny boy can go make his millions on somebody else.

  8. Rich Tandler - May 14, 2005 at 3:08 AM

    Did I ever say anything against posting anonymously? Doesn’t matter to me at all.

  9. Anonymous - May 14, 2005 at 5:50 PM

    I was at that Eagles game too and I don’t what was more embarrassing: the lack of Skins fans there, or the behavior of the Eagles fans, who lived up to their reputation and then some. Archives

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