Great Expectations

Yesterday I did a parody of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board’s usual approach to writing about the Pirates.  To the 98% of you who understood that this was just a satire of their writing and analysis, and nothing more, thank you.  You got what I was going for.  To the 2% of you who can’t imagine anyone calling out the PPG Editorial Board without being related to or employed by Bob Nutting, there’s somebody out there who provides the shallow and borderline obsessive “analysis” you’re looking for.

Then there was this e-mail, which was similar to a comment the same person posted to the parody letter:

You got me!  I am really a shill for Ogden Newspapers.  Looks like after thousands of readers, you alone have blown the cover off this whole operation.  There’s simply no way someone can disagree with the poor analysis provided by the PPG Editorial Board unless they’re employed by Ogden Nutting.  Well, let’s just hold the Ogden presses for a moment here.

No, I’m not really a Nutting shill.  In fact, I find the whole concept of the e-mail ironic.  I’m supposed to be mocking the city of Pittsburgh with my parody of a horribly constructed open letter.  However, what about the idea that I’m a Nutting shill, and that of all the people who have visited this site, only one person was able to figure it out?  Doesn’t that kind of mock the intelligence of the city of Pittsburgh, more-so than my satire?  That’s like saying everybody in Pittsburgh is a complete moron, but you’re the only person smart enough to see the truth.  Also, a disclaimer: I see all of my traffic sources.  I have yet to see anyone come from an Ogden Newspaper.  I don’t think I’m linked from any paper other than the PBC Blog sidebar, and I don’t think that’s an Ogden Newspaper.

This post isn’t about the reaction to the parody, or that specific e-mail.  This post is about the subject of the parody, in a serious manner.

Initially I considered writing a response to the editorial.  However, Charlie at Bucs Dugout did an excellent job with that.  Rather than add to what Charlie wrote, I just decided to do a parody, because truthfully my heavily sarcastic personality/sense of humor rarely makes it on to this site.  However, the whole process got me thinking about the editorial process for newspapers, and how outdated it really is.

I never really paid attention to editorials that much, although I do remember reading them in newspapers.  Usually they’re complaints, which isn’t necessarily a reflection on the public view.  Anyone who has ever worked in a public service job knows that people don’t send in compliments, they send in complaints.  When was the last time you went to Bed, Bath & Beyond, got one of their surveys on the back of the receipt and actually filled it out?  Most likely you were thinking “The only way I’m filling this out is if this $19.99 neck massaging pillow doesn’t work.”

The process made sense for the longest time, but what about now?  Why does someone need an editorial section to serve as their soap box?  In this age we have blogs, Facebook accounts, Twitter feeds, and tons of other resources to express our opinions to a mass audience.  If I want someone to hear my opinion on the Pirates, I’m starting my own blog.  I’m not writing in to an editorial board, hoping they echo my thoughts.  I also practice the same theory on Twitter when I want to complain about people using the self-checkout lines at the grocery store, despite the fact that 80% of people using those lines having no clue what they’re doing.  Just a warning in case you’re thinking of following BUCCO Fans on Twitter.

What is the editorial board anyways?  It’s a group of people writing opinions about a topic, in this case the Pirates.  That’s a glorified blog, only in this case the author of any given post is anonymous.  I think that’s where part of the anger comes from over the constant rehashing of the same topic on the editorials.  Yes, it’s tradition for the editorials to be anonymous, but that’s not how it works anymore.  This is the era of social media networks, like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.  Anonymous doesn’t cut it anymore.  In an era where everyone can and does voice their opinion openly to their selected network, it’s just no longer viewed as acceptable to hide behind the curtain of anonymity.

In scanning the PBC Blog comments yesterday I noticed a few harsh comments which weren’t received well, but which made a lot of sense.  I can totally see how the editorials are viewed as cowardly.  In a time where everyone is open with their comments, either with their real name or a screen name, posting anonymously just seems like a cowardly act.  What do you have to hide from? Why can everyone else post their opinions openly, which is the norm now, but the editorials have to be anonymous?  As I said before, it’s an outdated process: a forum that has been replaced by social networking outlets, and has pretty much been relegated to a blog by an anonymous author, which is not the standard these days.

The bigger issue I have is with the lack of research, and the lack of support for an argument.  I don’t really consider the PPG Editorial Board to be any different than the bloggers we have covering the Pirates.  I’ve kind of made that clear by saying it’s a glorified blog.  In fact, I think the Pirates bloggers are better than the Editorial Board, because the Editorial Board seems kind of lazy.  However, the major difference is that the Editorial Board represents a major media outlet.

The e-mail I referenced above scolded me for journalistic integrity.  The whole situation reminded me of this incident:

I’m not the one here who is expected to have journalistic integrity.  This isn’t my job.  I follow the Pirates, I’m a fan, and I provide my insight to areas that I feel don’t get a lot of coverage in the major media (prospects, the draft, the minor league system).  I also have the leeway of providing a satire piece from time to time that probably wouldn’t be appropriate for major media sites.  I’m not representing a major media outlet, but the PPG Editorial Board is.  Call me old fashioned, but I would think the expectations of journalistic integrity would be on them, not me.  For example, a quote from their editorial:

That’s why you shouldn’t dismiss an offer by the Penguins’ co-owners out of hand. With their management smarts, superior finances and record of success, they could build this team into not only a sure winner but also one with staying power. Like the Pirates we remember.

In that way, by selling the team you can finally deliver on your promise of producing a winner, and probably years ahead of schedule. You would become an overnight sensation, Pittsburgh’s newest baseball hero. I

t’s worth thinking about.

I’m fine with people having different opinions on subjects.  I’ll disagree with people, and I’ll support my opinions basically with my reasoning for thinking that way.  I don’t really care when someone else doesn’t take the same approach.  However, when that someone else represents a major media outlet, and they throw out opinions as widely known facts, I feel that the journalistic integrity comes in to question.

In the quote above it’s assumed that selling to Lemieux solves all problems.  The arguments are very vague and optimistic towards Lemieux, but lack support.  That’s not major media quality in my opinion.  Tell me why Lemieux’s record of success in the NHL, a league with a salary cap, salary floor, and a fair revenue sharing plan, would translate over to Major League Baseball, where the economics are totally screwed up.  Tell me why Burkle’s money is a factor, when he obviously didn’t pour money in to the Penguins in the early part of the decade when they were spending $24 M a year and finishing in last place.

Only two small market teams in baseball have been winners with staying power: Minnesota and Oakland.  What guarantees that Lemieux and Burkle will not only build the team in to a “sure winner”, but also one with staying power?  What qualifies them to even run a Major League Baseball team over Bob Nutting?  Why would the current process speed up under Lemieux and Burkle?  Before I get the “Lemieux surrounds himself with smart people” line, I want to know how Lemieux knows who the smart baseball people are.

I realize there’s a limited amount of space for these editorials, but perhaps if we cut out the whole “17 years of losing”, “the payroll is low”, and “we’ve rebuilt before” talk, and maybe just admitted that the current management team is currently in their third year and not their 18th year, then we could create some space to give reasoning to our arguments as to why Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle are sure bets to bring success to the Pirates.

It’s not that I’m against Lemieux or Burkle.  In fact, I could actually see a scenario where that duo is better than Nutting could ever be, and the scenario involves a sports network with the Pirates and Penguins.  What I’m against is the popular argument of “Lemieux will bring guaranteed success” with nothing to back that up other than the admiration of Lemieux.  I can think of a few reasons why success won’t be the same for Lemieux with the Pirates.  The Pirates don’t have a salary cap in their league.  They aren’t blessed with two of the best players in baseball, unlike the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  Mario Lemieux knows nothing about running a baseball team, and the fact that people suggest he would have an influence scares me, as owners who meddle in their team’s operations usually end up hurting the team, mostly because they aren’t qualified to meddle in the first place.

There’s other reasons.  In the early part of the decade the Penguins lost under Lemieux.  Say what you want about the Penguins paying back creditors, but there were several things that cleared a large chunk of the debt, even before Lemieux finalized the deal to buy the team.  A deal with SMG gave the Penguins $3 M in additional revenue each year from arena income.  Lemieux converted the $26 M in debt owed to him in to assets.  Lemieux came up with private investors, and invested $5 M himself, all to buy out the previous owners.

On top of that all, doesn’t the whole “Burkle is a billionaire” angle get killed by saying the Penguins couldn’t afford the payroll because they were paying down debt?  The whole appeal with a billionaire owner is getting a guy who is willing to lose some of his own money in the short term for the long term success of the franchise.  Even with the debt, Burkle could have shelled out some money to try and keep guys like Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev, and/or Robert Lang.  If Burkle didn’t do that in the early part of the decade with the Penguins, why would he do it now or in the future with the Pirates?

That’s my problem with the editorials that come from the Post-Gazette.  They don’t provide this reasoning to support their opinions.  Most likely it’s all a product of the current newspaper industry.  This says nothing about the reporting side of the Post-Gazette.  I have all the respect in the world for Dejan Kovacevic and the rest of the reporters at the PPG.  I truly think they’re some of the best in the business, and this comes from someone who used to have to scan every newspaper every morning for injury updates, player news, transactions, and other roster moves.  No one was more on top of things than the Post-Gazette.  However, these editorials seem to be par for the course as far as the opinion columns go.  Take a cheap, controversial stance.  Provide poorly supported arguments, which is sure to get knowledgeable bloggers tearing your argument apart, thus generating traffic.  Get the angry mob pumped up with some support thrown their way, as most people are only looking for affirmation, not information.  In general, it’s shock journalism, designed to get a reaction and get people talking, and unfortunately that’s one of the trends in media these days too.

You’ll just have to forgive me if I have higher standards and expect more from a major media outlet.  It has nothing to do with Bob Nutting or Mario Lemieux.  It’s all about my general disappointment in that side of the media world, a disappointment that gets renewed every time we are presented with another weak argument about the Pirates that is 90% rehash of the same tired punch lines, and 10% opinions stated as fact with no support or analysis involved.  Maybe that’s fine for a fan’s opinion or for a blog, but when you’re representing a major media outlet, you should really set the bar higher.  Fortunately for the PPG Editorial Board, and a few of the opinion columnists, there are a lot of talented Pittsburgh bloggers who have set this bar for you.  I think we all just want you to rise to that level, above the same-old-story shock journalism we’re used to seeing.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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