This is likely to anger a lot of folks. Dodgers Public Relations Director Joe Jareck is down in Sydney and had this to say about how teams release news:
Jareck said this about how the team prefers to get its news out: best to publish on its own website, Dodgers.com, because then “we can spin it any way we want. You can tell the (in-house) writer, ‘Here do this’ and they’ll do it”
He has since backtracked and claimed he was talking about minor news and P.R. initiatives, but it wasn’t too strong a backtrack. He admitted he was talking about spinning trades and things too.
Can the MLB.com people be spun? Well, sometimes. As Deadspin’s handling of this notes, MLB.com reporters do work for the league, and they’re likely under the same sorts of pressures anyone is when it comes to reporting on their own company. If you want to hear about the day-to-day, the on-the-field product and feature stories about players, MLB.com is going to be good for you (assuming your team’s MLB.com person is a good one). You don’t go for them if you’re looking for some hearty “this owner is a cheapskate” rhetoric, a takedown of a player or a dismantling of the recent stadium deal.
But this is not some unique feature of MLB.com reporters. Whether it’s an access issue or business dealings or sponsorships or any number of other things, newspapers and television outlets are often just as compromised in reporting on baseball teams. They’re just compromised in other ways than MLB.com. I won’t name names here, but there are some papers where coverage of the local nine puts Pravda to shame, and you know it’s about keeping the reporter in the team’s good graces. There are newspaper editorial boards and networks who, when it comes to large team issues like ownership and stadiums and broadcasting and things, will always be in the team’s camp. And while I’m throwing stones here, allow me to throw one at myself and admit that if there was a big scandal involving NBC or one of its personalities, even if it touched on baseball, you’d not likely get the hottest, sharpest take from me, even if I did try to find a way to deliver the basic facts. That’s business. It applies to baseball writers and commentators no matter who employs them.
As for MLB.com: I have read all of its reporters and writers and have met a great many of them, and I can say that there is a pretty large disparity between the best of the MLB.com-employed reporters and the not-so-good ones. If you’re a not so good one, you’re probably likely to be a bit lazy and just regurgitate press releases and if you do that long enough you’re going to look like a house organ. In many cases, however, — maybe most cases; it just varies by city and team — the MLB.com reporter is just as good if not better than their newspaper counterparts. If I want Tigers skinny, I prefer Jason Beck. Indians: Jordan Bastian. Todd Zolecki with the Phillies is fantastic. Mark Sheldon and the Reds. For commentary Matt Leach and Richard Justice are excellent. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some of them who spring to mind.
All in all, yes, there is probably some truth there. I don’t think it applies as strongly as he thinks it does to Dodgers.com reporter Ken Gurnick who seems to be pretty straightforward when it comes to his reporting, but generally speaking, yes, teams probably do feel safer talking to MLB.com folks because they feel — erroneously or otherwise — that they have some recourse if they don’t like how the story plays. I don’t think that means they’re unreliable or malleable like Jareck says here — my observation is that the MLB.com people do their job pretty damn well and on generally the same footing as their newspaper counterparts — but no, the team isn’t going to be ripped a new one by the MLB.com guy.
I find Jareck’s second comment more interesting:
. . . “I’m of the belief we should give everything to Dodgers.com — there are more eyeballs there. Gone are the days when The Los Angeles Times ruled the city.” He continued, “Very few [media] have that kind of influence anymore. So I’m of the view of giving it to our own website which is double or triple what the readership of the Los Angeles Times is in print and online.”
I like this because (a) he has something of a point here, even if he overstates it; and (b) it’s right in line with something I’ve been saying about news coverage for a long time. Specifically, that “commodity news” — the basic facts of injuries, lineups, trades or anything that the team knows first — is becoming less important for media companies. Teams (and governments and businesses) are increasingly in-housing this stuff and, as such, those who aren’t in-house should focus on non-commodity news and reporting. Don’t tell us what the news nugget is, tell us what it means, why it’s significant or why it’s misleading. Don’t tell us what the player said after the game, tell us what makes the player tick and what he says when he’s not in some guarded environment like a press conference. Let the P.R. savvy teams control what they can control and stake your voice and reputation on the things they cannot.
I hate that Jareck said this the way he did, because it’s likely to lead to a lot of people to become skeptical or disparging with respect to some excellent MLB.com reporters and most of them don’t deserve that. No small amount of this will come from people who work for newspapers who have always, to some degree or another, resented the MLB.com people, have barred them from their professional organizations and who grouse behind MLB.com reporters’ backs about them and their enterprise (yes, I’ve heard this).
But he did say it. And that little downside notwithstanding, there are some pretty important takeaways here about how the media operates in the 21st century and, to some extent, how maybe it should operate.