Mike Silva's Sports Media Watchdog » Blog Archive » Cleveland Plain Dealer Wrong to Remove Grossi

Cleveland Plain Dealer Wrong to Remove Grossi

By Mike Silva ~ January 29th, 2012. Filed under: Outside the Apple.

The advent of technology has brought to light a major conflict in the delivery of our news. In sports, you have multiple conflicts of interest as leagues partner with networks that own news outlets that hire reporters that are paid to cover said league with objectivity. The length of that sentence should tell you how intertwined sports and media are on different levels. That’s why it’s humorous when a news organization fires a reporter because they feel he can’t be “objective.”

In order for media outlets to compete, they need to provide interesting content daily. This requires their reporters to connect with fans outside of the written word over various social media platforms. Some of the best reporters in the business have mastered the art of connecting with their fans through Twitter. The open source nature of the outlet makes big conglomerates uneasy since they can’t control this two-way communication. Content control is a major focus of all corporations in this country, especially the media outlets.

Twitter allows writers to show their personality in a way that can’t be conveyed in a daily column. It’s good for the writer, as it builds their profile, but it also helps the paper in terms of circulation and page views. Consumers of news often go to websites for the writer, not because of the media conglomerate. I don’t go to ESPN for Mets news, I go to read what Adam Rubin has to say.

Sometimes things go wrong and that happened this week when Cleveland Browns beat reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tony Grossi, was the victim of his own mistake when he “tweeted” an unflattering remark about the owner of the team. “He is a pathetic figure, the most irrelevant billionaire in the world,” Grossi said about Randy Lerner.  The tweet was later deleted.

The Plain Dealer responded by reassigning Grossi from the beat that he’d been a part of for two decades. I am not fully aware of Grossi’s work, but the fact he was on the beat so long and amassed 15,697 Twitter followers tells me he was very successful. He also has been receiving a good amount of support from the fans since the incident.

“If in your most private moments you feel like the leader of the institution you cover is pathetic, that raises questions about how fair you can be,” said Editor Debra Adams Simmons. “And once those opinions become public, it becomes a bigger problem. There’s the potential for readers to question the objectivity of everything you write.”

Although Grossi displayed poor judgment about how he communicated his feelings about Lerner, he should have the right to an opinion about the man that owns the team. If he tweeted that Colt McCoy was “pathetic” and “irrelevant” as a quarterback, would this even be a story? Honestly, was what he said about Lerner so bad? How many ownership figures or millionaires in this country can that statement be made about? Quite a few.

The problem is the newspaper has to fear repercussions from the team in terms of access. You can bet the Browns would go out of their way to make sure Grossi’s competition would break any news going forward. In 2008, the Browns ended a preseason partnership with WOIO-TV after the station broadcast a portion of a 911 call made by Lerner’s sister when her daughter drowned. Although there is no proof the organization asked for Grossi’s removal, there is precedent by the team in punishing media outlets that negatively report on Lerner.

Adams goes on to explain that Grossi is a reporter and this would have been different if he were a columnist. She does admit, however, they still “might cringe” in that situation as well. Why? Isn’t a columnist paid to provide an opinion? Also, why can’t a reporter give an opinion? As long as the facts are correct, can’t you trust the reader to know the difference? Many editors don’t get the concept that it’s not who gets it first, but who gets it right or provides the most interesting take on the event.

Again, the Plain Dealer is just reacting to old “rules” of journalism that are simply meant to control the message. This kind of mindset tells reporters at these news organizations that opinions are ok; just make sure they don’t offend anyone of significance. Kick around the guy that drops the touchdown pass, but don’t dare criticize the man who signs his paychecks – he could hurt us.

What the Plain Dealer and other news organizations don’t realize (or maybe they do and don’t care) is this type of behavior loses credibility. I respect Grossi for actually having an opinion. Perhaps there is a valid reason why he believes Lerner is an “irrelevant” billionaire. If so, I would like to know. I am sure Browns fans again.

Over here in New York, I have been critical of the beat reporters handling of the New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon. With obvious clues to the severity of the team’s financial situation, most of the reporters have either ignored the story or sounded like an extension of the Mets PR department.

This past week, a two-part story by Adam Rubin ran in ESPN New York outlining in great detail the severity of the situation. It took nearly a year for this type of thorough report to be published in the mainstream.

These types of stories make you wonder how far a news outlet will go to keep their relationship with the league/team intact. Clearly, opinions are scary since they have the ability to hurt feelings. As long as you can look the person you criticize in the face and stand by what you say, you should be able to express it.

This nonsense that a reporter can’t be objective if he releases an opinion is just another form of content control.

Whether someone is a reporter or columnist, they should be able to express their opinion about the situation when the need arises. If that opinion hurts some feelings, then all the better. Believe me, I am sure some of Lerner’s decisions over the years have hurt a few feelings too. I don’t see anyone taking the team away from him because of it.

I would have gained much respect for the Plain Dealer if they not only have supported Grossi, but praised him for having an opinion and owning up to the mistake. As for people who claim this was a breach of the rules of journalism; I ask them if all the corporate relationships that happen between media and leagues is part of these “rules.” It seems you choose corporate power and money over delivering the news. When that happens, and it does often in our mainstream media, you basically rot away the core of what you exist to provide.

You think the fans are stupid, but they aren’t. Technology has opened up new avenues of freedom that corporatism can’t control- no matter how hard it tries.

It sounds to me the term “rules” should be changed to “content control.”

Bad job by the Plain Dealer.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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2 Responses to Cleveland Plain Dealer Wrong to Remove Grossi

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    [...] recently, the Cleveland Browns got a long-time reporter thrown off the beat because they didn’t like an opinion he expressed on Twitter.  The lack of good reporting on the [...]

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