Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Be careful whom you call an irrelevant billionaire

I certainly didn’t start out to be a media critic, but lately it seems to be my calling.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer removed sportswriter Tony Grossi from his Browns beat last week because of an inadvertent tweet (a tweet is sent from a social media Twitter account) that went nuts on the Internet (viral) with his name attached.

The tweet said that Browns owner Randy Lerner is a “pathetic figure, the most irrelevant billionaire in the world.”

Grossi meant the tweet for one friend and instead it went to all of his followers – all 15,000 of them.


He deleted the tweet from his account feed but by that time it was too late. It’s like the inappropriate photo the teenager posts on Facebook. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.

In the aftermath of the inadvertent tweet, Grossi informed his editors and attempted to call both Lerner and Browns president Mike Holmgren but was unable to connect with either.

Subsequently, editor Debra Adams Simmons, managing editor Thom Fladung and sports editor Roy Hewett decided to remove Grossi from the beat on the grounds that Grossi had compromised his objectivity.

PD reader representative Ted Diadiun, whom I consider a friend from our days as colleagues at Horvitz Newspapers, wrote the company line in a follow-up column, which was published Jan. 28, and received more than 800 online comments. (I didn’t count to see how many of those comments agreed, or disagreed, with the PD’s decision. There were plenty on both sides.)

The Plain Dealer, Diadiun explained, apologized to the Browns organization for Grossi’s tweet.

“But Fladung was still left with a problem: His Browns reporter had revealed to the world his utter disdain for the owner of the team he was covering,” Diadiun wrote. “How would the paper's readers be able to have faith in the objectivity in his reports following that?”

Diadiun quoted Fladung as saying, “In another area, it would be an obvious call. What if the reporter covering City Hall called the mayor pathetic and irrelevant? What if a reporter in the Columbus bureau said that about the governor? They would be removed from the beat immediately. It’s the same with this situation.”

Well, let’s dissect all that. A lot of reporters have disdain for the people they have to cover. And usually they don’t keep that fact well hidden – colleagues know it, friends know it and, in the case of the mayor or governor, political opponents know it. And so do editors. (If they don’t, they’re not paying attention.)

Did Lerner already sense that Grossi had little use for him? Probably. Did he care? Probably not.

Up until this season, Grossi appeared during the fall on a Channel 3 program that focused on the previous weekend’s Browns game. The show also featured former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano and former Browns guard Doug Dieken and was hosted by anchor Jim Donovan. Dieken and Donovan are the radio voices of the Browns and are employed by the team.

Rutigliano and Grossi offered the most honest criticism because, perhaps, they were not bound by the limits of biting the hand that fed them. Dieken and Donovan, meanwhile, seemed like apologists at times.
I’m not sure fans benefit from apologists.

In addition, it is the media outlets, such as the Plain Dealer, that are encouraging their reporters to become social media users and for new hires it’s a requirement. Twitter is fraught with danger, yet reporters – especially sports writers – are not only supposed to write their stories, they’re supposed to tweet, post to Facebook, shoot their own videos, appear on podcasts and so on.

The dullest story on the sports page is the “gamer” – the quarter-by-quarter, objective regurgitation of yesterday’s game. In the era of DVRs and You Tube, “gamers” are the dinosaur on the sports page. But, what the heck, they’re primarily objective.

I’m certain the PD isn’t paying Grossi to write such pabulum or tweet that quarterback Colt McCoy had a good statistical performance on Sunday. That kind of stuff doesn’t sell newspapers. Fans want the inside story. They want the opinions of the writers who cover their teams.

So, Grossi screws up and tweets to the world that the Browns owner, who ultimately is responsible for the team on the field and who charges fans millions of dollars every year to watch mediocrity in action, is a “pathetic figure” and “irrelevant billionaire” and it gets him a reassignment.

Lerner, meanwhile, gets to charge the city of Cleveland for millions of dollars worth of improvements to Cleveland Browns Stadium.

I think that’s pathetic.

OK, Plain Dealer, if you want to reassign Grossi, maybe you do it when it becomes apparent that he is unable to cover the team because no one – the owner, the management, the coaches, the players, the support staff – will talk to him and therefore his reporting abilities are rendered useless.

But I’ve got a feeling that Grossi could have repaired the damage the tweet caused. He didn’t, after all, say anything about Lerner’s mother.

I’m just trying to be objective here.

Also see Sports Illustrated's Peter King's take on the issue here (item No. 4).

Also see Jim Donovan's interview with PD managing editor Thom Faldung here.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover). This commentary also is scheduled to appear in the Feb. 3 edition of the Bargain Hunter.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Media helped Newt win in South Carolina

I'm not sure why ABC News and CNN would allow their reporters to inject themselves into a domestic situation such as the angry-ex-wife-vs.-Newt-Gingrich episode that aired on our televisions last week and which eventually led to a Gingrich victory in South Carolina.

It was not uncommon for one side or another in a divorce to ask my newspaper to write a story, reporting how unfair the system or estranged spouse was to the aggrieved party.

Uh, that's a no-win situation. My advice was to let the courts decide and we'll report the decision. Whew.

In fact, even the simplest stories could result in phone calls from angry exes to the paper -- kid wins award, fails to mention that he/she is a son/daughter of angry ex-spouse. (Angry ex-spouse blames newspaper for the omission, goes nuts.)

So, what did ABC and CNN expect when the angry ex-spouse said Newt was a jerk? And who cares anyway? For goodness sakes, we're looking for someone to lead us out of the mess that one side or the other perceives as pervasive.

Last time I looked about half of the marriages in the U.S. fail. So, there's a good chance your favorite politician is going to be divorced and remarried.

So, Newt got the sympathy vote Saturday in South Carolina. In voters' minds, the media crossed the line, getting involved in a divorce when it shouldn't have. Shame on the media.

Former Times-Reporter staffer Kyle Kondik, now with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, has some immediate thoughts on the Gingrich victory. Check it out here.


I think when historians look back at the decade of 2011-2020 they will conclude that it was a decade when everything changed.

We are still early into the decade, but there are obvious signs that life as we know it won’t be as we enter the next decade.


–People who read my column in the Bargain Hunter are thankful that I’m back in a hard copy newspaper environment. Few of those people, it seems, are under the age of 40. Recently, a senior citizens group asked me to speak at their monthly luncheon meeting. While I am flattered, I’m also aware of the reality that as we all grow older, the audience will diminish until it reaches the point that it disappears altogether.

It’s a reality faced by all newspapers and it’s only a matter of time before the audience dwindles to the point that it no longer makes sense to publish an ink-on-paper product. I’ve read about all the strategies – the hyper-local, the Web-first, the pay-wall – and they all appeared to be flawed.

The new medium is not paper. It is the smartphone and the electronic tablet. The daily newspaper as you know it is toast – not tomorrow, of course, but soon. People, i.e. loyal readers, are dying.

–Days are numbered for “The Club,” the retreat for the wealthy or for those who think they are. “The Club” used to boast a perfectly manicured, 18-hole golf course where members would spend much of their free time while cavorting with other well-to-doers.

Across the nation, country clubs are folding or allowing the public to partake in the amenities at a reduced cost. In addition, the real estate developments that married golf and housing are tanking. Why?

Well, there’s the thinking that rich people didn’t get to be rich by being stupid. Unless you have a lot of time to devote to golf – rounds take up to five hours – and don’t care how much money you drop – a private membership might cost between $5,000 and $25,000 annually and beyond – more and more people, it seems, are just saying no.

It’s a prudent decision in these tough economic times.

I am not privy to the inner workings of Dover-New Philadelphia’s Union Country Club, but my guess is that there is some consternation among members who are contemplating its future. I’ll leave it at that.

–Buying a house will no longer be a can’t-miss investment. Nope, I think those days are over, at least for the foreseeable future.

Think about it for a minute. The only purchase you could ever make and be assured that you’d make money on was a house. That’s not so today. Housing prices are down 30 percent or more from their highs in 2005, according to figures from the S&P/Case-Shiller index of U.S. home prices.

This fact should give pause to people who are considering a life-changing move and for some it should mean renting rather than buying. Indeed, renting might be a better option for people who are single, who are elderly, or who have no interest in mowing grass.

There is also talk that the feds eventually will do away with the mortgage interest deduction, which might have one of those dreaded unintended consequences such as depressing home sales further.

In any event, owning a home might not be the terrific idea it was a decade ago. And if you settle on a new one, will it depreciate the minute you move in your family of four?

–By the end of the decade we will bemoan the fact that we didn’t send more kids toward some of the more traditional Ohio occupations such as truck driving or welding.

I’ll give Gov. John Kasich props on this issue. He’s aware of it and hopefully his plan to coordinate the programs offered throughout the state will give students some focus on what jobs will be needed by the time they graduate.

“We are still a manufacturing state and those skilled trades that you can get from good programs in high school or two-year trade schools, there is a real need out there,” Andy Doehrel, president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which published a story on the issue.

“Let’s face it, that isn’t as sexy to younger people today who have grown up with phones in their pockets and computers in their cars and on their desks.”

A recent check of Ohio’s jobs database revealed there are 185 welding jobs available in this part of the state. By the end of the decade, parents just might be advising their kids to try welding rather than law school. Wouldn’t that be something? Lord knows we already have enough lawyers.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Overload and underload

I’m happy for the Tuscarawas County Port Authority for finally figuring out a way to pay off its massive debt – from previous projects – by selling non-potable water to drilling-related companies that need massive amounts of water in their fracking operations.

Port Authority Director Harry Eadon announced last week that the plan is to open a well near the entity’s operation at the old Reeves Mill on Oxford St. in Dover and sell water from it.
That means, folks, it’s time to read between the lines.

The local daily newspaper paraphrased Eadon as explaining that water weighs about 8.3 pounds per gallon, “so the 5,500-gallon tankers are about the maximum normal weight of 45,000 pounds allowed on roads.”
“About” is the key word. If each tanker is full when it leaves the site, it’ll be over the load limit by 650 pounds. Here’s hoping the infrastructure can handle that. And given the slow economy around here, which oversight entity would dare make an issue out of 650 pounds? Probably none.

Eadon also said, “We’ve been told that they keep hauling until the reservoir is full at the drilling well site, so they’ll probably be hauling 24 hours per day, seven days each week.”

In other words, it’s going to be very busy at Oxford St. and N. Wooster Ave. when the fracking operations really get fired up.

What’s the overall consequence? Well, I think we’re going to be in a different environment here in the Tuscarawas Valley fairly soon. There are rumors that other large ancillary operations in Tuscarawas County are about to be announced. This is good news for the economy and people who need a job and bad news if you really enjoyed the way things were. Change is never easy and Tuscarawas Countians have always resisted it.

Politicians would be wise to start storing patience now.

I found the recent announcement that the local daily newspaper was doing away with its editorial page on Mondays and Tuesdays to be pretty sad.

It also was pretty telling for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s apparent that the size of the paper on those two days is being squeezed because of continuing dismal advertising numbers.

Secondly, it’s apparent the paper is not necessarily concerned about losing its voice – a newspaper speaks from its editorial page – amid the further fragmentation of old and new media. It does not seem to be interested in framing the debate or offering its take on important issues, opting instead to focus on feel-good, pillow-soft news.

Send us your cutest baby pictures, clip our coupons or line your bird cage.

That’s cool, I guess, but not my cup of joe.

I think you need to mix it up a bit.

I agree with a lot of the folks who posted comments on the blog of John L. Robinson, former editor of News & Record in Greensboro, on the topic of how to make daily newspapers more relevant and responsive to their communities.

One had the gall to suggest putting a real person on the switchboard.

“Unleash editorial pages to kick a-- and take names,” said another. “The institutional newspaper editorial voice is often like reading a textbook. I want people to talk about the editorial in the morning paper. Let them hate it – that’s OK. The readers you care about will respect you for saying it.”

I’ve found that to be true. I’m reminded by my readers regularly that they don’t always agree with my commentaries, but they’re happy to read them nonetheless. Heck, I don’t agree with me sometimes, and there are a few I wish I could get back.

These truly are tough times for daily newspapers, and one doesn’t need any more evidence of that fact than the smartphone that came for Christmas. All of the features you once found in your daily newspaper are now at your fingertips – from real estate listings to television listings to classified ads to national and international news.

But there’s still no app for local editorials. I think if I had a daily newspaper, I’d keep those – even on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Remembering young Tom Farrell

Well, it’s a lot easier to offer essays about stupid political tricks than it is to write about the characters who play roles in one’s own family.

I’m not sure how we lost my brother, Tom, in the scheme of things, but we did. Tom died at the end of 2011 at the age of 55, five years younger than me and a fact that gives me pause about my own mortality. Anytime you lose a sibling, you know your days are pretty much numbered as well.

Out of five, there are three of us left. I lost my oldest sister, Jean, in 1990.

With my brother gone, no longer can my mother, even in my mind, call the youngest three Farrell siblings to dinner:

“Tom, Dick and Mary! Dinner is served!”

Had a nice ring to it. 

Some 10 years ago, Tom was diagnosed with mouth cancer. To rid him of that particular scourge, surgeons removed part of his tongue and jaw.

He never really recovered from that surgery. He couldn’t speak correctly and his appearance was distracting.
Still, he was able to crack jokes, discuss politics and talk about the Beatles – his favorite, all-time rock band. I think Tom would have taken the bullet for John Lennon. I am not exaggerating.

Tom was the king of the cassette-tape era of music. In his basement man-cave in a neat little house in Norwood, a suburb sandwiched on all sides by Cincinnati, Tom would crank out music via 14 speakers hanging from the open ceiling and placed over such elements as a top-loading washer and a 40-gallon water heater.

The basement rocked.

In addition to his music, he found other joy, too, in his wife, Diane, and son, Michael. He’d remind you on a regular basis that Diane was beautiful and Michael, an up-and-coming standup comedian in Cleveland, was talented.

Diane ultimately became his full-time caregiver as his overall health deteriorated. She’d update his condition in daily e-mails to family members. My goodness, the odds were against him – pneumonia, congestive heart failure, kidney issues – always something else using up another of his nine lives.

Still he could laugh, or flirt with nurses, or tell a joke. And for some unknown reason, he became a fan of Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly. I never quite understood that, but I have to believe that fact wouldn’t keep him from entering the gates.

It became apparent early last month that Tom had met his match – too much cancer in too many places. He ran out of options.

Diane continued to send her e-mails.

“Tom had a quiet, uneventful night,” she wrote. “He responded to the nurse this morning with a couple of nods of his head. He’s sleeping now. Love, Diane.”

The last one came on New Year's Eve..

In the subject line, she wrote: “Last e-mail re: Tom (8:02 a.m.)”

And then: “Tom spent his first day in heaven. Love, Diane.”

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