Monday, December 19, 2005

Monday, Monday.... Blazers vs. The Oregonian-Part Deux

This is a story about an ongoing battle, with another strange and unorthodox response, followed by some misconceptions, and finally a refershing twist in which a company strongly stands behind it's employees. I have been in sports media since 1988, worked on both sides of the "fence" (team employee and media member) and have never, ever seen anything like the battle between the Oregonian and Portland Trail Blazers.

The Battle Resumes
Once again the only major league professional sports franchise and the newspaper of record, the only daily paper in Portland and by far the most important media outlet in Oregon and Southwest Washington, are at odds. At the core of the issue is a story written by Blazers lead beat writer Jason Quick last week in which Nate McMillan was critical of his team in a variety of ways. Here is part of the article:
McMillan said the team's "attitude" -- not pressing roster concerns or the team's 6-14 record -- was the most relevant topic. Certain players on the team are too selfish, not committed to the professional game, and don't play hard enough during games, he said.
"You've got to have the attitude that you want to be here, and if you don't, then when you are here, you work while you are here to make this club a better team," McMillan said. "So, do the things you are supposed to. Be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there. And when you are out on the floor, give 100 percent, and when things aren't going right, look at yourself first."


Then Quick took the next step, the obvious assumption by ANYONE who follows, covers, or yes even works for the team:

The topics point directly at (Zach) Randolph, who at least three times this season has been tardy to team functions, at times gone through the motions on the court, and recently, expressed indifference -- at best -- about his desire to play in Portland any longer.

One Center Court Responds by Pushing "the red button"
The story ran on Wednesday. By noon on that day, the following came from One Center Court:

STATEMENT FROM TRAIL BLAZERS HEAD COACH NATE McMILLAN
CLARIFYING OREGONIAN ARTICLE
“I need to clarify some recent remarks that I made to the Oregonian’s Jason Quick that appeared in today’s newspaper.
The vast majority of the comments I made were in reference to the entire team and the their need to step up their attitude and provide leadership.
I did not single out any particular player. It is unfortunate that the Oregonian twisted my remarks to single out Zach Randolph. That was never my intent.”


While it may not have been Nate's "intent" it was obvious to everyone who he was referring to.
By calling out the writer by name, along with the newspaper, the Blazers took the unheard of public relations move of responding to a negative story. Poor move, bad decision, and not the "norm" you would find elsewhere in the country or from other organizations. But this is one of those things that make the Blazers......well the Blazers.

Of course, the story doesn't end there.

Quick and Canzano Anti-Blazers? Come on, how paranoid can we be?
This animosity between the team and the newspaper (specifically Jason Quick and Columnist John Canzano) continues to fester. But the strange thing is, knowing both sides, it was an acrimonious relationship on one side only: the Blazers. Contrary to what many fans and employees at One Center Court may think, neither Quick nor Canzano has an anti-Blazers agenda or are "anti-Blazers." In fact, truth be told, most of us in the local media would rather cover a winner, a playoff team that the town fully supports and is a part of the community that brings with it a sense of pride. You know, the way the team WAS years ago. It is good for everyone if the team does well.

The Oregonian takes a stand
If you have not read this story from Sunday's Oregonian sports section, do so now.
http://www.oregonlive.com/sports/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/sports/1134887104265280.xml&coll=7
The fact that the newspaper's management stood up and backed Quick in a such a public way is refreshing in today's corporate climate. The Blazers spend money on advertising and do have a lot of "juice" in this city, and many media outlets would have caved to whatever pressure was put on by the Blazers. Not the Oregonian. I applaud and admire Sports Editor Mark Hester for coming out and being so open in discussing the meeting and the paper's stance on the subject.

Some final thoughts on this issue.....at least until the NEXT battle commences.
First, the way it has been handled from the Blazers standpoint could not have been worse. To issue a statement from Nate McMillan, on the day of a game, and go on the offensive against the writer and newspaper was a move that makes no sense.
What good does a statement like that do? The old saying, something along the lines of "don't pick a fight with he who buys ink by the barrel" would have been a better path. Unlike the Darius Miles document fiasco from last year, one story that portrayed the new coach being unhappy with the star player would be read, digested, and go away the next day. This is not the kind of story that would fester. But when the decision to issue a statement was made, the story grew. It was also a gross error in judgement by the team to attack the writer personally. The main issue Nate McMillan had with the story was the headline, which the writer does not write. Why would they not just let Nate deal with it personally with Jason Quick? There is one media member who travels on a regular basis with the team, Jason Quick, and it would have been a simple solution for the two to iron things out like adults on their own. It appears that the team made the decision not to allow that to happen.
For my money, Jason Quick is one of the better beat writers I have been around in the NBA. His contacts, relationships, and knowledge along with the fact he has the stones to go after the story make him better than most.
I also believe that the Executive Director of Communications for the team, who is in his fourth season here, does a good job. He knows the market, the media, the climate, and how to deal with the issues that arise here. That only comes as a result of years of experience with yellow hummers, dog fighting, and trading cards being used for id. But I also know the people above him, and the large turnover of people on the communications staff below him, may hinder the process of effective media relations, and that must be what happened here.

As I look at it, the only agenda seems to be from upper management who would love nothing more than to see Jason Quick removed from the beat. In their world, life would be much easier, accountability next to nothing, and they could continue down the path of destroying this once proud franchise with only the little old PM Drive show on Portland's only all-sports station
there to hold them accountable. If Quick were not there, and the Oregonian put a lesser writer on that beat, then people would begin to buy tickets again, the corporate advertising dollars would be better than ever, and the town would love the team again-even with a 20-62 season staring them in the face.

Your thoughts welcome in the comments below.... otherwise, a week off, a little vacation time coming, and don't forget to join us for our two special shows live from the Holiday Bowl in San Diego next week.

Thank you and goodbye
Ian