Dodgers P.R. Director: we want to give news out to MLB.com because they’ll spin it the way we want

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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.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.