The Washington Post Proves You Can’t Trust the Media

News sources today suffer from an accuracy problem. Journalists are under pressure to publish first in a dramatic buzz-worthy way to drive traffic. And there are fewer journalists. Those that remain are younger and less experienced, and they have to produce more content. The end result is an alarming amount of inaccurate stories that are tabloidesque in nature. This is true of small and large media outlets alike, as evidenced by a series of stories produced by the Washington Post‘s sports section in the past two weeks.

Last week a media debacle unfolded for the Washington Nationals, largely created by errant Washington Post articles. The news that Bud Black was hired as the Nationals Manager — a story reported by the Washington Post’s James Wagner and then echoed across every sports rag in the country — was wrong. Instead they hired Dusty Baker.

When the tsunami of reporters descended on the strange twist, they shellacked Nationals ownership for underbidding Black and being only willing to extend a two-year contract at no more than $2 million per year, plus incentives. Leading the charge was the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore (whose Twitter bio reads “Riding the line between honesty and schmucky journalist piling on”), who tarred and feathered the owners as out of touch, insulting, and cheap.

Personally, I thought the coverage was vindictive. Keep in mind Kilgore authored a series of Washington Post “expose” style articles at the end of the season detailing the Nationals horrid downward spiral. Again, ownership and management was tarnished (it’s never the players fault, is it?).

Where the Post Went Wrong

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There were two primary points the Post missed in the Bud Black/Dusty Baker story. At issue in the original story were Wagner’s nebulous sources, “according to multiple people familiar with the situation.”

Better sources were needed (says Captain Obvious after the fact). Every sports magazine and news outlet across the country that cited Wagner’s story as the definitive source should be ashamed of their blind shallow reporting.

At the Baker press conference, GM Mike Rizzo stated that he had told reporters that he wouldn’t go to print with the story, but the Post ignored him. Then on a local sports radio show, Rizzo said, “the media jumped the gun.” Dusty Baker said he hadn’t heard from the Nationals at the time the Black story came out, and felt hurt. In hindsight, maybe that was the ultimate sign that the managerial hire wasn’t finished.

An even bigger whiff was the Kilgore article slamming the Lerners’ character for not wanting to hire a manager for more than two years at a $2 million clip. The reason is simple: GM Mike Rizzo’s contract is up at the end of next year. After the horrid Matt Williams debacle, the terrible Papplebon trade, and horrific bullpen and bench moves over the past two years, the Lerners might be losing faith in Rizzo. The 2016 season is a make or break year for Mike Rizzo’s tenure with the Nationals.

Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips, a former general manager, spoke on the 106.7 show Grant and Danny on November 4 (segment 5). Phillips was quick to point out that new GMs don’t like to inherit managers. They hire their own manager as soon as possible. No GM wants to inherit a manager with an odious four or five year contract from his predecessor. So new Nationals Manager Dusty Baker really has one year to save Rizzo’s job, two to save his own.

As for the salary amount, that’s business. And in the end, Baker agreed to the $2 million a year salary plus another $3 million in potential bonuses. If the rate was too low, the position would have been unfulfilled.

Bad Reporting Is the Norm

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The past few months of the Washington Post‘s sports coverage reminded me more of the National Enquirer than a storied news outlet. Woodward and Bernstein did not write these pieces. Instead, the articles read more like ESPN gaffes. The 24 hour network has been know to incorrectly publish stories as quickly as possible and ducking responsibility for them.

Poorly researched dramatic news stories are normal now. Reporters are strapped. They have to do more with less, and the end result is increasing errors and over-the-top drama. That’s across all types of media. There are no sacred mastheads anymore. Every outlet has a bias, and most reporters are chumming the social network waters for the most shares.

Blind faith in the media is a mistake. Triangulate sources, and make sure different articles are not citing the same originating story. More than anything, question everything you read and see.

Maybe I am wrong, perhaps the Washington Post printed a retraction on the last page of the sports section at some point over the past week. That’s where such errors are usually buried unnoticed by the masses. Who knows? I don’t read a physical print paper anymore (do you?).

More importantly, are there any trustworthy news sources out there anymore?

Is the NFL Digging Its Own Grave?

A guest post by Erin Feldman

The NFL is no stranger to PR crises and controversy, but its lackluster answers to the ones it currently faces is worrisome. Fickle replies and behaviors do the brand no good; neither does a lack of response.

PR crises require answers and action. The NFL’s absence of both raises a question: just how many PR poundings can a brand take before it faces an inevitable financial hit?

Crisis One: Dosmetic Violence

Ray Rice

Original Image by Keith Allison

When the world heard that the Ravens’ Ray Rice was to be suspended for just two games because of domestic violence, the world started a firestorm. It had a valid reason; abusing another person is not something to be punished with a slap on the wrist.

That’s what seems to have occurred with Rice despite the NFL’s commissioner’s attempts to assuage the public:

You [Ray Rice] will be expected to continue to take advantage of the counseling and other professional services you identified during our meeting. […] I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career. I am now focused on your actions and expect you to demonstrate by those actions that you are prepared to fulfill those expectations.

While the commissioner, Roger Goodell, owns the nickname “The Enforcer,” his judgments of late have cast the name and subsequently the NFL in doubt. A number of reporters pronounce his judgments erratic and not in keeping with the crimes committed as evidenced by the chart below.

Goodell's Record

In addition, he has remained silent on the Rice matter since announcing the suspension. Adolpho Birch, the NFL Senior Vice President of Labor Policy, has become the public face of the NFL, a move that has raised questions and caused more misgiving and criticism.

The silence and inaction on the part of the NFL and Goodell could prove detrimental to perceptions of the brand as well as sales; the brand claims a large female audience. It even has sought to cultivate that relationship through its “Fit for You” women’s apparel. Those women may show their displeasure by boycotting NFL products and events or ceasing to support the brand altogether.

The NFL could keep those relationships intact, but it would require Goodell and Birch to change their words and actions. Howard Bloom, a reporter for Sporting News, advises the brand to do more than change its disciplinary practices.

He says, “The fallout from the Rice decision affords the NFL a unique opportunity to right a wrong and make a statement about domestic violence.” Bloom offers some recommendations; he suggests that the NFL annually donate a percentage of its “Fit for You” sales to victims of domestic abuse, which would keep current fans happy and possibly attract new ones.

Crisis Two: The Redskins and the Browns

Washington Redskins

Original Image by Keith Allison

The Washington Redskins have been repeatedly asked to change its name but to no avail. Goodell and the NFL either have been relatively silent on the subject or have tried to put a positive spin on it. The team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, has not used either tactic. His unswerving support of the Redskins name has been termed “defiant” by some sports reporters.

While the name might not be offensive to some, that doesn’t mean it’s a non-issue. James Brown, CBS newscaster, says:

If […] the name is offensive to a group of people, then do the right thing and change the name. It’s as simple as that.

I know people will engage in an argument and say, well it hasn’t been an issue all this time. Yeah, well, the civil rights issue was one where ‘that’s just the way it was’ for a long period of time, right? So that holds no basis and substance to me. Do the right thing.

The NFL’s insensitivity is problematic and pervasive; it isn’t isolated to the Washington Redskins alone. Goodell has been mysteriously silent about the Cleveland Browns’ owner, Jimmy Haslam, who faces fraud charges while the NFL has gone so far as to call Haslam a “man of integrity.”

Silence sometimes is the best and wisest course, but it is not in these two cases. An answer is needed. More than that, an honest one is needed if crises are to be averted.

Crisis Three: Concussions

Injury on the Field

Original Image by John Martinez Pavliga

The NFL is plagued with injuries, specifically head injuries, and how could it not be? It’s a violent sport in which hulks hurtle against each other. Even so, the NFL faces a potential crisis with its ongoing litigation and inconsistent implementation of new concussion protocols.

PBS’ FRONTLINE has studied the concussions in more detail only to make perturbing discoveries. Injury reports often are inaccurate because of the way they’re reported. Many athletes aren’t missing any games despite suffering a concussion.

New rules, such as moving up kickoffs by five yards and penalizing hits to the head, have had mixed results. In 2013, the number of concussions dropped, but the number is still higher than in 2010 when the rules were first introduced.

Winning a settlement might seem cause for celebration, but it’s not. The few players, current and retired, who have won say the win is “the best of several bad options.” The outcomes of those settlements often are unclear; the most recent one leaves many players wondering what exactly the NFL will cover.

To restore confidence in the brand, the NFL needs to follow through on its commitment to better concussion care. The NFL also should seek ways to care for its players and their families and, in some cases, their widows. Some of those women face large medical bills because of their husbands’ neurological conditions, many of which were caused or exacerbated by their time on the field.

PR crises can be overcome, but they have to be dealt with quickly, honestly, and openly. If they’re allowed to linger and multiply as they have with the NFL, it’s only a matter of time before they impact audience sentiment and eventually the bottom line.

What do you think?

U.S.A. and Russia: How Far We Have Come

I woke up early on Saturday morning and made my way into the city for a Russia-USA hockey game viewing hosted by the DC2024 bid. There I watched T.J. Oshie’s shootout heroics with about sixty people from the Russian embassy and local business executives.

It was a remarkable experience in every way.

The game was great, but so was this incredible scene. Here were Americans and Russians sitting side-by-side respectfully cheering for their teams.

See, I remember 1980 and why the U.S. hockey win over Russia was such a miracle. Not only did those college kids beat what was for all intents and purposes a pro Soviet team, but it happened in the midst of the cold war. We beat a bitter rival.

Things were not good between our countries. Brezhnev ruled the Soviet Union and Carter was in the midst of beating out Ted Kennedy in an unusually heated primary between an incumbent president and an intra-party rival. I was a second grader who spent the occasional emergency drill by my locker with my head between my knees, just in case a nuclear strike hit Philadelphia.

Back then they hosted the Winter and Summer games in the same year. Ironically, the 1980 version had the U.S. hosting the Winter Games in Lake Placid, and the Soviet Union hosting the Summer Games in Moscow. Jimmy Carter ordered the U.S. team to boycott the Summer Games, a protest against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (These days that move feels like a pot calling the kettle black.).

It took another decade for the Berlin Wall to come down, and for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union to occur. Until that time, the Soviet threat was very real throughout my tween and teen years. The Reagan years were full of saber rattling and fear as much as they were a time of triumph. The back and forth tension included the Soviet Union returning the boycott favor by refusing to appear at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

So you see, winning the 1980 hockey game against the Soviets was not just a trivial match. It was a testimony to America’s fortitude and eventual triumph in the cold war.

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I read a few articles preceding the Sochi match between the historical rivals, most of them suggesting that the Miracle on Ice needs to lose prominence in the overall context. After sitting in a conference room on the 11th floor of a K Street building with many Russians wearing hockey jerseys and enjoying the game together, I have to agree.

It wasn’t the end result that mattered, really. In fact, Saturday’s win won’t matter outside of medal round seeding, and an extra game for the Russian team in these Olympics.

What mattered was the clapping, the clapping of both Russians and Americans at the conclusion of the second period, the third period, and overtime. We were united. This was great hockey, and we could enjoy it together.

How far we have come since 1980.

Featured image by the NHL.

Redskins Need to Rebrand

The Washington Redskins need to rebrand. The mounting pressure makes it clear, from mainstream media to federal lawsuit, people want Dan Snyder to change the name of his team, often viewed as a racial slur against Native Americans.

To me, the issue has come to a fore. I can not buy any gear, purchase any tickets, or support this team so long as it insists on calling itself a racist name. I will not spend one dollar on Danny Snyder’s football club so long as they are called the Redskins.

This is not an issue of liberal protest. I am a Washingtonian of 20+ years, a Nationals partial season ticket holder, and a regular at many local sporting events. Even the Green Bay Packers CEO came out against the name, calling it derogatory.

The last two times I publicly critiqued brands were BP in 2010 during the oil spill, and Komen for the Cure in 2011-12. I don’t criticize brands often because done frequently as a marketing consultant it creates conflict of interest issues, including a better than thou attitude that doesn’t build a strong reputation. I also know what it’s like to be on the receiving of a post like this.

Know that my motive is personal and as a consumer in the Washington marketplace. If the Redskins were to come to me, offer me tickets or a consulting contract, I would tell then “no thank you.” That’s how strongly I feel about the matter.

Dan Snyder also feels strongly, as he told the USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”

And like so many other issues in the past, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lacks the foresight to see the conflict the name continues to cause.

That’s an unfortunate polarizing attitude. I think Danny Snyder and the NFL will have to change the name whether they like it or not. It will become increasingly apparent that the Redskins name is bad business. More and more customers will walk no matter how good the team is.

ESPN published a great story showing the negative business effects of Native American names, and how ensuing name changes create increased revenues. Done right, a name change could galvanize the franchise.

Let’s hope Dan Snyder is humble enough to change his words. Somehow I doubt it. Until then, don’t expect to see me wearing burgundy and gold.

What do you think?

Protect the Social Shield

The social media reality for pro athletes is not a comfortable one.

Young men suddenly empowered with incredible amounts of money and attention is a recipe for uncomfortable situations and overdeveloped senses of entitlement. Add in “friends” who are quick to gain a little notoriety by being the one to post a photo or a tweet about a less than pleasing situation, and you have utter chaos.

You need go no further than last month’s Riley Cooper scandal. The Philadelphia Eagle was drunk at a Kenny Chesney concert, and yelled a racial slur at a security guard. Someone caught the incident on their mobile phone and posted it to YouTube. And so ensues a national media story that involves the entire NFL, and is so big it prompted Chesney to denounce Cooper.

While an extreme situation, the social media gaffe in pro sports are pretty common. Every week some athlete embarrasses themselves on Twitter, permanently damaging their reputation, and negatively impacting their team and their larger sport.

As the NFL moves towards its 2013 season, we’ve already seen several examples from Redskin RG III (Robert Griffin) tweeting out of context on his recovery from knee surgery to Giant Victor Cruz’s violent tweet about the Travyon Martin murder case decision.

By no means are errant social updates limited to the NFL. The NBA has turned such faux bravado on Twitter into a comic art, and MLB has seen several Internet flares including Melky Cabrera’s fake website defending his innocence from HGH doping to A-Rod’s tweets in contrast with his Yankees team’s views.

Will the NFL go out of business because of social media gaffes? No. But they are losing opportunities to maximize the brand.

It’s a problem many companies contend with. Employees say what they want online. In doing so they embarrass themselves, and unwittingly can tarnish the company’s brand and its business. Like sports leagues, these types of scenarios highlight a need for pro-active training, conversations, and policies.

Proactive Approaches Create a Win-Win

The limits of the NFL social media policy extends to game days only. Instead general conversations between teammates and staff, and public discussion such as this blog are that’s available to advise players. Individual teams may or may not have policies/approaches of their own. Players are on their own for learning how to use social media and you can see the results.

Of all the professional sporting leagues in the United States, none is more image conscious than the NFL. The NFL goes to great lengths to protect its logo, known as “the shield,” and associated trademarks from false advertising and non-paying unapproved affiliations. That’s why I personally find it shocking that Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t punished Cooper for his slur, nor has he done anything substantive to train players about social media risks on a League level.

It is astounding to think that the League and its teams haven’t figured out the benefits of training players on how to use social. The same could be said about any of the Leagues. Consider the following:

  • Less player gaffes online.
  • Better community participation from players (and owners, too).
  • Players build stronger community ties for post playing career opportunities.
  • Communities develop a stronger affinity with their local teams.
  • General good will for the sports brands increases.

Clearly many players like Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick are already very savvy with social media. And some teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, New Jersey Devils and the Washington Nationals have made great strides with social media savviness. But why not intentionally raise the general bar rather than waiting for folks to figure it out?

Protect the social shield. What do you think?

A version of this post ran originally on the Vocus blog. Featured image by Brian Nagan.

Sharing and Collaboration

Businesses think they own their products and experiences. That’s why they brand them, put their personal mark on them, and make signature experiences.

The role community members play in creating and developing successful brands is a stark change. This collaborative shift is caused by technology in the form of social and  mobile, and a new “we” ethos brought on by millennials.

Last week, my friend Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group team released a major study called The Collaborative Economy that drove this point home.

Brands continue evolving from something discussed to collaborative distribution channels built on the premise of sharing products and services. In many ways, collaboration provides an opportunity for businesses to create a new sales channel, something I will discuss later this week on the Vocus Marketing blog.

Beyond the core business opportunity, the movement marks a larger economic and cultural shift towards community based models.  Socialism and its less successful offshoot communism produced global failures centered on fulfilling the ideal of community based sharing. In an ironic turnabout, the collaborative economy leverages capitalism to fulfill that  ideal through a pretty cool market based approach.
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