On Thursday night, I did what most football fans did, I tuned in for the Jets-Browns game. The first half was sloppy, boring, and uneventful until Isiah Crowell wiped his ass with a football, and Tyrod Taylor left the game, paving the way for the Browns to introduce Baker Mayfield to a national audience.
As I sat there asking myself “why am I still watching this garbage” before Mayfield entered the game, I had a chance to catch up on some reading. I scrolled thru Twitter, and discovered a story from Wednesday written by Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy. The headline of the article read “It’s Come to My Attention That Some Nobody Robert Silverman of The Daily Beast is Writing a Hit Piece on Me 5 Years in the Making.”
I admit, I wasn’t familiar with The Daily Beast, but Portnoy’s headline made me curious. As I started to read the article, which showcases Portnoy’s brash style which some will love, and others won’t, I began to think about a bigger issue – how brands decide on assigning reporters to specific stories.
If you read Portnoy’s piece, you’ll discover that Silverman is not a fan of Barstool Sports. His feelings about the company’ and its cast of characters are visible on social media, and that barrage of negativity calls into question his ability to report on the brand in a fair way. Silverman may have legitimate examples to share about Barstool conducting themselves poorly, but the problem is his biased opinions on the brand make it difficult to convince anyone who’s in the middle or Pro-Barstool that he’s presenting facts from a neutral position.
The distrust towards reporters and media outlets has grown because we now have greater access to these kind of details. Last week you may recall the video of the weatherman showing how powerful the winds of Hurricane Florence were, only to look silly a few seconds later when two local people calmly walked in the background. You also likely heard about the back and forth between Anderson Cooper of CNN and Donald Trump Jr., and the list goes on and on, especially when it comes to political coverage where both sides often fuel their base without reaching anyone new.
On the other hand, social media has become a battlefield by which media members fight back. After learning of Silverman’s quest to paint Barstool in a poor light, Portnoy went on offense. Not only did he fire back with some choice words in his blog, but he also posted the reporter’s phone number (later taking it down), giving his fan base the opportunity to harass Silverman.
I don’t think that’s right either. It goes against what many media executives tell their people “steer clear of getting personal.” Portnoy has a right to respond to Silverman thru video, audio, and his blog. He can even do what he did on Twitter, and challenge him to a publicly recorded debate. But putting someone’s private number out is a minor league move. Given that Dave has led Barstool from Single A to the major leagues, he’s better than that.
Though it’s not my cup of tea to out someone in the fashion that Portnoy did, this has been a growing trend in recent years. You may recall Clay Travis posted the phone number of former Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie after the University hired Greg Schiano. Heck, the President himself once posted Senator Lindsey Graham’s digits and told American to “give it a shot.”
One thing I’ve noticed about each of those situations is that each personality and brand has adopted this “us against them” approach. That resonates with people. It’s not how corporate media outlets operate, and that’s an advantage for guys like Portnoy, Travis, and Trump. Their approach has only strengthened their position with their fan base. On the other hand it’s fair to question why they feel the need to get personal when faced with criticism or not given the answers they want. If you’re going to be in a position of power, it comes with the territory.
As it relates to covering teams, athletes, executives, and media types, we’ve got to think long and hard about who we have reporting on specific beats and stories. Do you have a reporter covering a subject or individual that they’re familiar with? Can they foster respectful relationships with people, and tell stories objectively even if at times it creates friction? Are they so desperate to be liked and accepted that they’re easily influenced and likely to shield those they report on? Have you given someone a platform who’s goal is to advance their own agenda, and harm those who don’t subscribe to their point of view?
It may sound complicated, but these are all questions that have to be answered by a brand manager before deciding who to assign to report on a story. If a reporter’s bias influences the coverage, their credibility is compromised. You can’t put someone on a beat who’s intentions are doubted by the audience. Eventually the content will be dismissed.
In this particular case, Mr. Silverman’s disgust towards Barstool and Mr. Portnoy, raises concerns about his ability to be fair and accurate when reporting on the company. Agenda driven reporting doesn’t changes minds, it just fuels those who already feel a certain way. It’d be like Richard Deitsch doing a story on Skip Bayless, Sean Hannity reporting on Barack Obama, or Keith Olbermann providing a piece on Donald Trump. They’re all talented and capable of doing great reporting, but it’s unlikely they’d separate their personal dislike, and convince an audience of their objectivity towards the individuals in question.
If The Daily Beast wanted to tell a story about Barstool, and open eyes to the company having legitimate issues, they should’ve assigned someone to the story who wasn’t emotionally attached to it. It doesn’t help that Silverman has contributed to Deadspin, a brand known for publicly feuding with Barstool.
This doesn’t mean Barstool hasn’t done something foul. For all we know, Silverman could have uncovered something powerful. However, if the information gathered by a brand is delivered by someone who’s connection to the story raises doubts about their ability to present it fairly, then the quality of that work is not going to produce the result that it should. And that will leave most brand managers feeling like they missed their shot on a wide open net.