The idea for a sports/media/gambling column was hatched this summer and you can look for it every Wednesday. If you want to yell at me about something that appeared here – because let’s face it, on the Internet, it’s outrage or nothing: Jmcintyre at thebiglead dot com.
First, there was, “whoa, what a scoop!” and then there was some hand wringing, and then shots fired from other networks, local newspapers going on the offensive after they didn’t get the scoop, and subtle jabs from esteemed journalists on twitter.
You may have missed it while shopping Friday, but ESPN landed the first Janay Rice interview. Or should that read, “interview?” Ray Rice and his wife needed to start his public rehabilitation tour ASAP, so they hired a PR firm to engineer his comeback. His best weapon in his battle to get back on the field? His wife, Janay.
As brilliantly detailed by Richard Sandomir of the Times, Janay Rice went on a PR blitz to help get her husband back in the NFL, and needed help from some media outlets. Enter ESPN and Jemele Hill.
Her group of advisers, which included Hiltzik Strategies, a public relations firm run by Matthew Hiltzik, fielded requests from more than 15 media outlets eager for an exclusive interview with her. The advisers winnowed the group down to a handful of reporters who, in effect, auditioned with her to get an interview.
In the hyper-competitive atmosphere of a celebrity media rollout, that is standard procedure. A celebrity, even a temporary one like Ms. Rice, is a hot property to television programs, newspapers, magazines and digital outlets.
There are two ways to look at this:
(1) Hell no, I wouldn’t cooperate with a PR firm to further Rice’s agenda! I’m a journalist, dammit!
(2)Yeah, sure, let’s play ball.
Journalists are born skeptical. Why are you approaching me with this scoop? What is your agenda? After a decade in the business, your bullshit detector starts to approach the Doppler. The Rices didn’t mince words: We’re picking you, all questions are fair game, we get final approval, feel free to walk away at any time.
By the time of that initial meeting with Ms. Hill, Ms. Rice had already decided that she wanted her story told in her voice and that she wanted approval of the final product — a condition that can be a minefield if the subject is difficult. Ms. Hill emailed Ms. Rice an edited draft of the article. Ms. Rice made suggestions, asked for no major changes and did not get her way with all of them.
This is scary to a lot of journalists. Terrifying, even. Integrity has been compromised! But didn’t Sports Illustrated just do something similar with LeBron James last summer? (Different subject matter, obviously.) Lee Jenkins, a splendid writer, was given universal props (well, almost) for the scoop. LeBron’s people chose him to write the first-person essay. The slight difference here is that Jenkins had written about and interviewed LeBron previously.
Hill says Janay Rice answered every question. No major changes were made to her initial draft of the story.
But journalism is changing. Competition is fierce. Sometimes, concessions are made. If Hill and ESPN hated the suggestions Rice made, wouldn’t they have just walked away? One could even argue ESPN was in a position of power – if Rice wanted to make wholesale changes to turn it into a puff piece, ESPN could have scrapped the entire story and then leaked Janay Rice’s stunt to the media.
I find it difficult to get too outraged at ESPN over this one.
LOCK OF THE WEEK
Who said gambling was easy? In my quest to finish above .500, I took eight games last week, and like
George Costanza Jerry Seinfeld (!!) went 4-4 (now 22-25 for the season). Four of five favorites failed me, including Ohio State, which gave up a TD in the final 80 seconds. UCLA, what a joke. Can you believe I picked those clowns to make the playoff? With a light slate on the final weekend of the regular season, how about I just say that I’ll wreck bowl season?
Alabama -14 vs Missouri. I know the Tide just gave up 628 yards of total offense at home, but in two games against the SEC East, they’ve won by 21 (Florida, home) and 14 (Tennessee, road). Alabama blows it open after halftime, 37-17.
Arizona +14 vs Oregon. Is it very tough to beat a team twice in one season, or is Arizona just a nightmarish matchup for the Ducks? How’d UCLA hold the Wildcats to 7 points? Run the ball (TOP – 38:09). And the UCLA defense held Arizona to 0 points over the final 47 minutes. Wonder if the Ducks will be tight, with a playoff spot on the line; perhaps the Wildcats come in loose and Rich Rod dials up some trickery?
TCU -32 vs. Iowa State. The Cyclones are 2-9 and have lost five in a row, and it’d be the upset of the season (maybe decade) if Iowa State won and knocked the Horned Frogs out of the playoffs. The style points theory has largely failed me the last two weeks, but not this week!
Ohio State +4 vs. Wisconsin. Contain Gordon and win? Indiana rushed for 281 yards against the Buckeyes, who are only 40th against the run this year. And Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford ran for 128 yards (5.3 ypc) in last year’s Big Ten title game upset of Ohio State. Yeah, I’m not sure why I’m taking OSU.
Georgia Tech +3.5 vs. Florida State. It’s been fairly easy money picking against FSU this year (Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida, etc) and I think the Jackets can run the ball well enough to keep Winston off the field. FSU’s lines are down significantly this year. The Jackets have improved since October, when they let UNC’s Marquise Williams throw for 390 yards and four TDs in a Tar Heels win.
It’s no secret that ESPN could be in for seismic changes in 2015 if Bill Simmons departs. Another contract to keep an eye on: Stephen A. Smith. Sources say that Smith’s management asked for his negotiations to open up early – read into that what you will – and discussions about his future are taking place right now. Smith has had a controversy-filled year at the network, but he still believes he’s the driving force behind First Take and the requests in his new deal are going to be massive because Fox News loves him.
There’s a strong divide at ESPN about bringing him back. Among his supporters, the strong points include that he’s a tireless worker, popping up anywhere, anytime. NBA fans also enjoy his shtick, and he’s on one of the most profitable daytime shows at the network. The downside to signing Smith to a large deal? One is his habit of pushing the envelope too far. Equally as important on the business end, if you pay him a large amount, you set a bar for having to back up the brinks for Skip Bayless and other TV talent.
ODDS and ENDS
There’s been a shakeup at NBC Sports radio. I’ve heard that Brian Kenny, who hosted a 9 am-noon show, is out. He’ll be replaced by Newy Scruggs, who previously was in the 12-3 spot. Taking over Scruggs’ spot? Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, according to the LA Times. Kenny ran a show that was heavily baseball-centric; Florio will probably talk about football for two hours and fifty seven minutes … I write frequently about sports gambling in this column and elsewhere because it’s only a matter of time before it’s legal all over the United States … Michigan’s John Beilein blasted ESPN last week when the Wolverines’ game was pushed back 15 minutes: “This is way out of whack when we move a game 15 minutes. It’s already at the wrong time — 10 p.m. on the East Coast — and now, move it 15 more minutes? I love ESPN. They’re so good for us. They got that one wrong. You can’t do that to our student-athletes.” … former pitcher Jamie Moyer, who retired and then went to be part of the Phillies broadcast team, has left the booth after just one season … hey, I thought a college football playoff was going to destroy the regular season and make it less relevant? What’s that? It hasn’t happened? At all? Ohhhhh. Got it … Why did Tiger Woods decide to publish his scorching hot Dan Jenkins retort on Derek Jeter’s website? … these people actually slept outside all night so they could get prime spots on Gameday in Tuscaloosa last weekend … two big names took a buyout at the New York Times: the paper’s labor reporter, Steven Greenhouse, and longtime TV writer Bill Carter … Dickie V has a new book coming out, and of course, it’s called, “It’s awesome, baby!” … there’s been a push from some Frequent Emailers about running an all-blind item column. It’s being considered. I buried this at the bottom so only the eight of you who read this entire column will know it may be on the horizon.