Clubhouse Access Not Essential to Entertaining & Factual Reporting
Yesterday, Howard Megdal revealed over at the Journal News that he will not be credentialed by the Mets for the 2012 baseball season. According to Megdal, Sean Mayer, the sports editor at the Journal News, received a call from Jay Horwitz, the Director of Media Relations for the Mets, telling him that while the Journal News can continue to receive credentials, the Mets would not be credentialing him. When asked for a reason, Horwitz answered the Mets “don’t like Megdal’s reporting.”
You all know by now that Megdal has been following the Mets financial situation closely. He wrote a book called “Wilpon’s Folly,” which details the fallout of the team’s investments with Bernie Madoff. He’s been at the forefront of this reporting, as not until a recent article by Adam Rubin of ESPN NY, have we seen detailed discussion on the issues by the mainstream media.
Most of the reporting has been Mets and MLB sourced material; both of which have a vested interest in keeping the public in the dark and controlling the message. As a matter of fact, none of Rubin’s story discounted the facts in Megdal’s book. I will preface my comments by saying that I am friendly with Howard.
I am also very friendly with the Mets and their PR staff, as they have been great to me over the last couple of years; granting me access to conference calls, player interviews, and press releases. They even ran a half-page write-up of this website in one of the Mets magazines this past summer.
I can’t complain about my treatment, although I sometimes feel I should have some rights to clubhouse access considering I do a radio program that is aired on the oldest station on Long Island. Alas, Major League Baseball has clear rules about the media hierarchy, and the beat reporters get preferential treatment when it comes to such access. They definitely deserve to be on the top of the food chain, but I wish there was an understanding by both parties that this isn’t a competition. All I am trying to do is provide content with my personal stamp.
It’s not a “this or that” scenario, as there is enough page views to go around. Lack of clubhouse access hasn’t prevented me from conducting interviews with players; it just makes it harder to get the player in the right frame of mind where they can give me the best quotes possible since my work is done on the field during BP. I think this is a bad move for the Mets on a number of levels. It shows their sensitivity to criticism. It also validates my assertion the mainstream media has partnered with teams/leagues to the point where the news can get blurred.
If Megdal’s press pass can be pulled because of the team not agreeing with his reporting, what’s stopping them from placing a call to an editor at the NY Post, NY Times, NY Daily News, or ESPN NY when those outlets report unfavorable stories? They can’t pull a credential of a member of the BBWAA, but they can use their connections to “convince” an outlet to not run that writers’ story.
If you think this doesn’t happen across all four major sports, not just the Mets, then you are not paying attention. I am here to tell you it does happen, and some stories are squashed before they ever see the light of day. This is not speculation on my part; I have facts from people in various parts of the industry that such behavior occurs. Just 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 Wilpon financial situation gives you enough reason to believe this could be the case when it comes to the Mets.
This is not the end of the world for Megdal. Greg Prince, the author of the popular Mets blog “Faith and Fear in Flushing,” had one of the best quotes in support of Howard when he said “access can be denied. Good, honest reporting and incisive analysis cannot be derailed.” I couldn’t agree with him more. Major League Baseball, the Mets, Yankees, or any other organization can’t stop Megdal, me or anyone else from building an audience. Access is such a small part of what we do. First and foremost, modern media is about entertaining the end user; in the case of this site, it can be in web or audio format.
If the product stinks- access or not- the audience will go away. Once the audience is gone, the desire for keeping up with the “grind” of producing this kind of product goes away. Loss of that passion is the death to any independent media project. It’s important to point out the Mets are not alone in their media credentialing process. As a matter of fact, they are far more liberal than the Yankees. I have reached out to the Yankees numerous times to ask for access.
Again, my main goal isn’t investigative reporting, but to do features on various members of the 25-man roster. In 2007, when I applied for credentials with 1240 AM WGBB, the Yankees responded by saying they “do very few radio interviews (if any at all) besides ESPN or WFAN. They receive dozens of other radio requests from outlets around the country on a weekly basis.”
In other words, “get lost”. I tried again in the spring of 2009- this time explaining I just wanted to spend a couple of days doing features at spring training- but once again I was rejected. Even though this site has been mentioned by numerous mainstream newspapers and radio stations (including WFAN and ESPN), broke the Omar Minaya contract extension (without access mind you), and recently gained national recognition for an interview I conducted with John Rocker; I am not important enough to be taken seriously by the Yankees.
The Yankee dismissal of this product didn’t stop the team from reaching out to me when I transcribed Colin Cowherd’s comments about the A.J. Burnett divorce rumor. Mind you, all I did was report what Cowherd said. I never stated any of this as my information or fact. The point is that none of this has stopped me from learning about either team. I cover the minor league affiliates, have made friends in the industry, and speak to agents. I can gain a perspective on the team without ever stepping foot in Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.
Some of my best learning’s have come on obscure minor league ball fields or chance meetings on various social media sites. Technology has opened the playing field where anyone with talent can get off the ground without an ounce of cooperation from MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL. The primary purpose of this site is to provide op-ed content. Formulating an opinion with limited or no access is not impossible in the modern age of new technology. You can still cobble together facts and analysis through internet research, telephone conversations, and email.
As long as I give you entertaining content, you will return. I see plenty of people with access (some with dubious websites that aren’t nearly as popular as mine), and you are lucky if you get a couple of dozen visitors there a day. Their press pass doesn’t provide you incentive to spend your precious time on their work. Howard Megdal will survive and thrive without access to the Mets clubhouse.
His pieces might not have a direct quote from R.A. Dickey, Daniel Murphy or Ike Davis, but it certainly will contain the same analysis as before. He will watch the same game on television that he would view from the press box. None of this will stop him from talking with other writers, scouts, and front office personnel. I certainly know he won’t stop gaining access to information about the Mets financial situation. You will continue to see him report the story factually, and in a fair and balanced manner. Taking away access from Megdal is the equivalent of removing the cherry from the top of a very delicious sundae.
It doesn’t, however, stop you from making the sundae. Give the mainstream media the scoops about injuries, lineup changes, and trades. I will settle for entertaining analysis and opinion. That’s a talent that isn’t bestowed with a journalism degree or piece of paper hanging around your neck. You can’t go to school to be funny, entertaining, or engaging. No team or sports league can take it away or validate it. Entertainment is what this industry is all about.
The argument I get is I can write more freely because I don’t have to face team personnel on a daily basis. I stand by whatever I write, and always encourage feedback from readers, media members, front office personnel, and players. I won’t hide, and will gladly pick up the phone to discuss my position. As you can see, it’s very easy to find ways to contact me if you look around the site. Heck, I have given readers my phone number to call me and air grievances.
The fact that I have attempted to gain access tells you that I am not hiding from accountability. If the Mets believe they scored a victory with their decision about Megdal’s access, they should think again. All they did was hurt their already damaged brand in the eyes of thousands of people who enjoy reading his daily work. During a time when the Mets need as many people giving them the benefit of the doubt, they showed the penchant for a thin skin and pettiness.
Those are not endearing characteristics of a team that plays in the most influential sports town in the country.
For more from Mike Silva, visit NYBaseballDigest.comBy Mike Silva