Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Winderman's Side Scratch

While watching a Miami Heat game a while back, I actually took in the half-time show for some reason. And there, holding a Sunshine Network microphone in his hand, was Sentinel beat writer Ira Winderman. My first reaction was all Moe Szyslak. “Whaaaaaa?”

What is the Sentinel’s Heat writer doing moonlighting for Sun Sports, which pays the Heat millions of dollars each year for the rights to broadcast its games? It's no secret that the announcers at Sunshine work essentially at the team’s mercy and act as boosters for the team. Don’t you think that contract must loom in his mind when he’s writing about the team?

Winderman must know there’s a line he can’t cross or his gig with Sun Sports will go kaput. And that, to me, constitutes a conflict of interest.

So I called Winderman to ask him about it. He wasn’t especially pleased with the line of questioning, especially since he's been doing it for years apparently without any resistance.

"The Sentinel has a financial relationship with the Heat, too,” he said, irritation seeping into his voice. “The team advertises in the paper.” He also said so said that part of his deal is that he only does an NBA round-up at halftime and never talks specifically about the Heat. He wouldn’t disclose the terms of his contract. I asked him if any of his readers had ever questioned his Sunshine contract. “No, not until right now,” he said.

When I kept asking questions, he finally snapped, “Who do you write for again?”

I looked at Winderman’s blog and found that a couple of readers had questioned his relationship with the Heat, though no mention of Sunshine was made.

“Ira, I have defended you many a post, but now you are deteriorating into a homer not a journalist (I hope it gets you the interview you need),” wrote a Jeff H last week.

“Does Ira Windbag compromise honest reporting for access?” asked another poster in December.

Now I’ve found Winderman to be neither a terrible homer nor an especially hard-hitting reporter. He's competent and does solid work, especially his NBA roundups. But he does seem reverent to Pat Riley, the man who veritably holds Winderman's Sun Sports gig in his hand. Like most of the sportswriting corps, he was easy on Riley during the whole Van Gundy exit sham. The problem is that sports writing has gone downhill in every way. Call it the ESPN effect. Used to be the best writing in most newspapers. Today, the average sports reporter seems to have the imagination of a poodle.

I wondered what Edward Wasserman, the best media ethicist I know, would think of the situation. Wasserman used to run the Daily Business Review and is now a professor at Washington and Lee University. He’s also a contributing columnist at the Herald. Here’s the highlights of his gracious response to the Pulp:

“Interesting case. My first impression is that, sure, this guy benefits financially from helping Sun sustain a harmonious relationship with the Heat. In principle, if he annoys the team in print and Heat management raises a fuss with the network, he could find himself without what is presumably a nice supplementary income. So when he writes for the SS he's feeling that hot breath on the back of his neck. He has, in that respect, a classic conflict of interest -- a problem of divided loyalties.

“But on further reflection what's disturbing is how much does that differ from the pressure he's already under as a typical beat reporter? Even without a side-deal with Sun what incentive would he have to displease the Heat's management? How many nanoseconds would the paper keep him on that top-tier beat if the Heat people declared they couldn't stand Winderman's unfair, negative, carping coverage, and wouldn't let him in the locker room or cooperate with him on stories in the future? The relationship, in short, is already corrupted.”

Wasserman’s point about the problem with beat reporting is on the money. At New Times, we don’t have that problem, so we can call it as we truly see it and then move on to another village that needs burning. (Pardon the awful Vietnam metaphor – good God, what have I become?). Wasserman concludes:

“Getting back to the Winderman case -- I'd suggest that anything that deepens the dependence of reporter on the people who are central to his/her beat is a bad thing, so I'd have grave concerns about the situation you've described.”

Agreed. Be interested to know what y’all think about it and also wonder if sports writers in other cities have similar deals.

More on Herald Web Duty

Here's an anonymous comment just received. Thought it was the best and, seemingly, most informed thing written on the matter so far:

"Traffic jams, water main breaks and cop press releases make for bad journalism, even at 7 a.m. The Herald used to put out six editions a day, and had the staff to do it. No longer. Now Knight Ridder has ordered them to make the web site more current -- a minimum story quota by 9 a.m. -- without spending a cent. If a reporter gets tapped for web duty it just means more work for them -- they've still got to cover their beats and real news, after spending a wasted morning trying to imitate the breathless irrelevance of live TV. Don't criticize the reporters for whining. Criticize management which puts cost containment ahead of readership."

You Have the Right to Remain Totally Hot

The Story of the Day comes from the Palm Beach Post and is pure Pulp. Written with a deft hand by reporter Jill Taylor, it's about a Martin County deputy who was fired for using his vehicle's camera to zoom in on girls at the beach.

Investigators wrote about the deputy: "It is clear that you intentionally manipulated your camera so as to capture an inappropriate view of this female. "

Yeah, and that wasn't all he manipulatin'. Ba-da-bop. (How sad. I'm actually writing rim shots.) This, by the way, is the second good creepy cop story in the past ten days. Writing with a winking eye to detail, Taylor gives us a lot of material to work with here, but alas, I don't have the time to spiel. Read the story, instead.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention Mike Mayo's column this morning, which the Sentinel smartly ran as a banner across the top of the Local section. It's about a mysterious death at the Broward jail and the sheriff's office despicable silence on the matter. Mayo's onto something -- and it's called good journalism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

At New Times, we don’t have that problem, so we can call it as we truly see it and then move on to another village that needs burning.

The flip side to that coin is that New Times reporters (like most at weeklies) aren't able to develop sources or expertise in any particular area. For every time a New Times paper beats the local daily on a hard-hitting story (and there are many) there are times that New Times stories have deeply flawed logic or show a significant misunderstanding of basic concepts - the kinds of mistakes good beat reporters don't generally make.

Do beat reporters have to pay attention to how their stories (and, much more often, their professionalism in reporting such stories) will impact access? Of course. But does that lead to softer or slower news coverage? Not with the kinds of pros who cover most of the Metro beats at the Herald and Sentinal and Post.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Florida Pulp said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Florida Pulp said...

... but what i really want are examples of the "deeply flawed logic" or "misunderstanding of basic concepts." c'mon now, you know better than to claim something is false and then fail to back it up with at least one specific instance.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Kathy Matusiak said...

Well, there is the bit about publishing police affidavits without seeking any evidence to determine if they're true or not. It's the sort of reckless practice that could lead to the suicide of an elected official in a public place.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Florida Pulp said...

that's not flawed logic or misunderstanding the material. it's poor judgement. there's a big difference.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Eddie Jones said...

You can't write objective sports articles and work for a booster TV network at the same time without something giving. It's a conflict and it shows up in his work. But this has been going on so long that Winderman probably should be grandfathered in.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, I wouldn't pass judgment on Ira Winderman's ability as a writer, or anyone else's a ability, when you throw out lines such as "the imagination of a poodle."

What the hell does that mean?

Let me know when your Pulitzer arrives.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Florida Pulp said...

please stop with the fixation on the Pulitzer. It's just an award given out by the biggest and oldest blowhards in the business. Thomas L. Friedman has won TWO, for chrissakes.
And odd choice for your example of my bad writing. Nothing wrong with that line. You could have picked some real duds, too.
If you really want to know what it means, use your imagination, but then again you're probably a sportswriter ...
finally, I'll concede that there are a few very good sports writers down here. One of these days I'm going to name them in this here thing.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winderman shouldn't be working for Sun Sports. Why does the S-S allow it?

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

/"Bob Norman" on Winderman - While watching a Miami Heat game a while back, I actually took in the half-time show for some reason. And there, holding a Sunshine Network microphone in his hand, was Sentinel beat writer Ira Winderman. My first reaction was all Moe Szyslak. “Whaaaaaa?” ... [Winderman's] deal is that he only does an NBA round-up at halftime and never talks specifically about the Heat./

Winderman is literate. Winderman is coherent. Winderman covers the NBA. Winderman does a halftime show on the NBA and "never talks specifically about the Heat."


Here's where: "Bob Norman is a columnist for New Times Broward*Palm Beach in Fort Lauderdale."

Also nice of Norman to cherrypick comments from Ira's blog which conveniently fit his grassy knoll tinfoil theory that Winderman is a "homer"; likewise "reverent" and too "easy on Riley."

HA. So where was Norman's head when he miraculously missed all the comments, past or present, calling Ira a "Heat hater?" "Riley hater?" a) Toilet. b) Paper bag. c) Stuck between two cheeks licking the sh_tstain of his own, dissembling hypocrisy.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous sam eifling said...

Let's assume that New Times stories sometimes do misunderstand basic elements of their subjects. Is that any higher a crime than when daily reporters publish known fibs? The windbaggery of sports and political figures, just to pick two obvious sources, coupled with writers' deadline pressures ensure that readers every morning have to sift through a fair amount of utter poppycock, whether it's, "We're a young team and I'm optimistic that we'll turn a corner this season," or, we're "on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009."

New Times is birdcage liner as surely as any daily. But I expect readers look to it to filter the filter, even if its reporters aren't as versed in the inside baseball of the dailies' beat coverage, because a New Times story is more likely to call bullshit on the bullshitters, bridges a'burning all the while.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Florida Pulp said...

I was done posting today, but when I saw that thing about the "shitstain of ... dissembling hypocrisy" I had to respond. Bravo! If whoever wrote that -- and I'm sure it was a Sentinel person -- would use half that passion in whatever it is they do at the newspaper, it would be a whole lot better pub. Seriously.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Forrest Norman said...

It's really hard to watch Winderman, hair plugs and all, trying to transform himself from a sportswriter into a "sports personality." I'm an NBA freak but I can't really watch the TV commentary -- I tend to turn the sound down and put on some music.

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's my question: Is everything just perfect at the Palm Beach Post? Because I see a lot about the Sentinel and the Herald on here, but nothing about the Post, except for some links to some stories. I can't imagine everyone is happy and management is entirely competent and they're publishing only brilliantly crafted, sparklingly reported stories.

I thought the New Times is an equal opportunity basher of the mainstream media. But the Post seems to get a big pass, both on this blog and in the New Times Broward/Allegedly Palm Beach edition.

I like that the New Times serves as a counterbalance to the dailies. Keeps everyone honest. But I would expect that the New Times, in doing that, would do a better job of taking it to the Post every once in a while.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What color is the sky in Norman's world? Green, of course, with envy. Lilac, otherwise, for lazy.

It's fairly obvious Norman, a Sentinel competitor, did not neutrally or objectively sample the comments on Winderman's blog. As one who regularly visits the Heat blogs at the Herald (Gutierrez), Post (Perkins), and Sun-Sentinel (Winderman), we can attest to comparable if not more comments at Winderman's blog that regularly accuse Winderman of anti-Riley anti-Heat, anti-insert-Heat-player-here bias.

Furthermore, we'll assume Norman is incontinent -- just as Norman assumed Winderman reported on nothing else but the Heat for the Sun-Sentinel else Norman would've spent more than 3 minutes examining Winderman's complete oeuvre, including Winderman's weekly column (on Sundays) covering the entire NBA.

In this context, Winderman is no different than the ubiquitous Pete Vescey, who covers the Knicks plus the NBA for the New York Post in conjunctions with several, regular television spots as a commentator/analyst. Ditto Stephen A. Smith with the Inquirer and ESPN. Who else? Mitch Albom (Detroit Free Press), Michael Wilbon (Washington Post), Sam Smith (Chicago Tribue), Bill Plaschke (Los Angeles Times), too many others to name -- who all write columns covering local teams for their papers mixed with regular or occasional tv commentary on the same -- again, unlike Winderman's spot on Sunshine analyzing NBA news, not just the Heat.

If Norman wants to prosecute identity theft up close and personal -- read T.J. Simers pretending to be a journalist for the LA Times, or watch Simers' expert commentary on Fox Sports in re the Los Angeles Lakers. Then tell us why a Sun-Sentinel competitor is wasting our time and his smearing a well-regarded NBA columnist who regularly comments on the NBA.

N.B. We neither work for the Sentinel nor do we know or correspond with Winderman -- comment criticism of his blog opinions non o obst. Also, we can confidently assert that any objective, comprehensive analysis of Heat beat coverage by the Sun-Sentinel, Herald or Palm Beach Post would reveal less than deference by Heat beatwriters covering performance issues related to the Heat, including Riley's performance as Heat president and returning coach.

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless Norman's standard for non-deference demands mindless repetition of every spurious, reckless, unsubstantiated, unproven crticism or rumor dutifully regurgitated from Norman's presumed source of record: sports talk radio.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Trevor Aaronson said...

I'm a New Times writer whose stories could have "deeply flawed logic or show a significant misunderstanding of basic concepts," as the first anonymous commentator claims above. While it might be difficult to play on the same level as "good beat reporters" at our local dailies -- like, uh, what's this CAFR thingy, Mr. City Hall Reporter? -- I vehemently deny the charge that New Times writers aren't "able to develop sources or expertise in any particular area." If that were that the case, then how is that my paper ever "beats the local daily on a hard-hitting story" -- something you admit has happened "many" times?

Me, I'm under the naive impression that investigative journalism requires sources and expertise in a subject. But, please, prove me wrong, Anonymous. If there is a magic hat where we New Times journalists can find a "hard-hitting story" without having to develop sources or expertise, then damn, partner, spread the wealth and pass around that five-gallon!

Bob Norman is absolutely right: One of the benefits we have as New Times reporters is that we don't need the mayor to comment about the city's unveiling of, say, a street beautification program. We're not the paper of record; we don't have to report the weekly goings-on at City Hall. For that reason, we don't have to worry about losing access to elected officials if we write something unflattering but dead-on accurate. You do.

I'm reminded of a meeting at Hollywood's City Hall in late 2005. The City Commission, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, was discussing a controversial project that required the city to advertise in a daily newspaper for additional bidders. Mayor Mara Giulianti looked at City Attorney Dan Abbott. "I suggest that you check out how [the story] is written up by our two reporters and then decide which newspaper you want to put [the advertisement] in," Mayor Giulianti said from the dais, referring to reporters from the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald.

But I'm sure the pros you know are quite good.

8:54 PM  
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