Jays From the Couch spoke with Toronto Blue Jays president, Mark Shapiro, and he had some interesting things to say about media coverage
Famously, the Toronto Blue Jays recently let a host of people go from their positions, specifically in the media department. The move has been met with heaps of criticism because good people lost their jobs, which is never a good thing. The organization says (through Sebastian Gatica, now in charge of media as well as PR, social media, etc) that the moves come because “…our business has become more focused on engaging fans through compelling experiences, unique content and personalized service. Today’s changes reflect that evolving nature of our business as we shift to meet these needs through a new structure and resources aimed at delivering memorable experiences to our passionate fan base.”
The comments were later clarified by Ross Atkins himself when he spoke about the moves. He used terms like “simply changing with the times” and “doing everything that’s best for this organization and the people in it”. These two comments stand out because of comments from team President and CEO, Mark Shapiro. I sat down with him on the latest episode of Jays From the Couch Radio (it is a listen well worth your time!) and asked him a pointed question:
SD: I’d like to ask your take on the changing landscape in sports media. Is there a shift across the industry? Or, is there one in the way you operate. Here you are talking to Jays From the Couch and I know that other outlets like us have reached out to other organizations and have had trouble getting past the front gate, so to speak. Can you explain your stance on today’s media and Blue Jays coverage?
I wanted to find out if, perhaps, the firings had something to do with an overall change in attitude across sports whereby traditional media is being hampered (?) by the blogosphere and other such coverage outlets. I had a theory, but wanted to gain some insight directly from the proverbial horse’s mouth.
The theory goes a little something like this: Since Shapiro and Atkins took over the Toronto Blue Jays, there appears to be a growing tension between ‘mainstream’ media and the club. Obviously, we may never know exactly what is behind that, but it is there. I think it happened because the newly created rabid fan base did not want any change. They’d just witnessed euphoria under Alex Anthopoulos and it was being ruined by these…outsiders. In a world where even mainstream media has to compete for eyeballs, it is increasingly difficult to maintain (or grow) a readership. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine writers possibly trying to give the people what they want in the form of criticism of the new regime.
I am NOT accusing anyone of bias, or shoddy reporting/writing. Let’s make that clear. I have a lot of respect for those who have been living the dream of sports writing. What may have been developing is a slow rolling snowball of contradiction between media and the organization. The club doesn’t want countless columns written slagging on this player, or questioning the heart and effort of the front office. Why would they? Take the example Andrew Stoeten recently described for Blue Jays Nation.
Stoeten uses the Buffery piece from The Sun and digs into the Atkins comments about the firings and does a great job of really analyzing what is behind the commentary from the spurned journalist. Buffery uses inflammatory language and borders on insulting the Blue Jays executives – at least that’s my reading of what he wrote. Without repeating what Stoeten said – you REALLY should read his excellent thoughts – I want to echo, and build upon, some things he says.
He points out that a lot of what is written is actually just a veil for certain writers feeling slighted in one way or another. And, it certainly feels like that when you have Buffery flat out sulking about how Marcus Stroman treated him one day. There have been other cases of reporters chasing players after a bad outing and yelling at them for a comment. It’s these kinds of relationships that lead to sour feelings between the two entities and add to that slow snowball. Seriously, I haven’t found myself agreeing with something Stoeten has written so vehemently as I did with this. Go read it!
But, there is more to the conversation. Shapiro’s answer to my questions was very telling:
MS: I tend to lean towards any media outlet, any writer, that is taking the time to understand and wants to understand. Criticism is part of it, so that doesn’t bother me at all, so it’s not who doesn’t criticize and who does. To me, it’s who takes the time to be accountable enough to understand what happened in a decision in the past and what goes into a decision moving forward instead of knee jerk reaction and commentary without any accountability from comment to comment. To me, it doesn’t matter. Traditional media, new media electronic media, digital media, I’m looking for writers that do two things: 1) Want the good story. In other words, want to find something positively about players and teams and people because I love that. 2) Those that want to take the time to understand. You and I had an email exchange based around you asking questions that I thought were thoughtful, not necessarily that you were looking to agree with me, you were looking to understand. I’ve always got time for people who want to understand the process because it’s not always the way it seems.
This seemed like a very pointed statement about how media has been handling stories around the Toronto Blue Jays. Again, it comes across like a very honest answer to why some writers may have earned themselves a reputation. Whether that has anything to do with those who were fired, who may have enabled or allowed the opportunity for these types of stories to be written, is up for debate, I suppose.
Obviously, as the founder of an outlet that would be considered this “new media” (?), this answer really stood out to me. Shapiro clearly has a vision of what he wants Blue Jays coverage to look like (not to say he would try and manipulate it. His response showed he was open to criticism). Assuming we can take Shapiro’s response to imply an organizational philosophy, things start to make sense. We know he is an analytical junkie. This front office loves that approach. As well, they don’t appreciate the stories that pander to the masses and push stories based on low hanging narratives. Instead, it appears they prefer fostering relationships with the outlets that provide the content that matches this philosophy.
If you were to do a quick comparison between the major news outlets and outlets like Jays From the Couch, you would find far more analytical, logical, thoughtful pieces from the latter. Places like Blue Jays Nation, Blue Jay Hunter, Blue Jays From Away and several others are more likely to provide an approach aimed at understanding than simply trashing a player because he has a ‘bad attitude’. Outlets like Jays From the Couch are also more likely to take the time to explore what goes on behind any move, etc. It is for that reason that “blog” isn’t such a 4-letter word anymore. In fact, in many circles, a blog is preferable.
Call us “new media”, if you like, but JFtC can fit this category because, as founder, I don’t answer to anyone. I don’t have someone breathing down my neck, watching and waiting for my next piece. As an independent outlet, we can write what we want. The trick is building a collection of people who are like minded, which is something we’ve done here. This helps build the “brand”, as it were. The only incentive for outlets like this is to create content that is intelligent and of decent quality. In order to do that, we have to dig deeper, which time allows us to do because we are independent and do this because we love it, not because it is our livelihood. This is not to suggest that JFtC is better than any outlet, traditional, or otherwise. Not at all. Instead, we are but one outlet in a sea of evolving Blue Jays coverage. A sea we are happy to contribute to.
More and more people are turning to these outlets for their Blue Jays coverage. But, it isn’t just Toronto. It is all over professional sports. Heck, look at The Athletic, an outlet whose founder has stated a clear mission: “We will suck [traditional media outlets] dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.” And, it is working. Recently Ken Rosenthal, one of the premier writers in baseball, joined The Athletic after Fox Sports shifted their content strategy because they felt viewership really wanted videos.
But, that’s not it. People will read good writing. They will find it, wherever it is. The Toronto Blue Jays seem to be steering toward the changing landscape that sees good writing found in less traditional avenues. Their recent firings would indicate that the way business operated before was not how they want to do it from now on. Combining PR and media is a very
telling interesting move. This front office is not happy with how things have been working and it appears that the club’s image has a lot to do with media coverage. Perhaps, we are witnessing the beginning of a concept shift in media coverage of the Blue Jays. Or, maybe this was just a long winded way for me to jump on a hot topic…
*Featured Image Credit: Open Grid Scheduler UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.