Media Power Rankings for May
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger brings his own style to Twitter
The Courting of LeBron James has become ridiculous
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and ESPN's Michael Wilbon battle it out in public
1. Buzz Bissinger: It's probably safe to say Bissinger is the only Pulitzer Prize winner on Twitter who uses the term "douche juice" on a regular basis. He also curses. A lot. And he makes no bleeping apologies for it. "That's the way I talk," Bissinger said. "I use the f-bomb more than anyone I know except my deceased father. I use the word f*** a lot. A lot of people have called me angry in my life, including my wives and Steve Wynn. I get really, really heated about things very easily." That makes him a perfect candidate to follow on Twitter.
Over the past few weeks Bissinger, a longtime contributor for Vanity Fair magazine and the author of Friday Night Lights, has significantly ratcheted up his Twitter use, and it's getting attention. He re-emerged on the service a couple of weeks ago when he read an unfavorable Tweet critique of his most recent book, which he co-wrote with LeBron James. Bissinger decided he needed a forum to respond to such charges and now tweets frequently on James and his hometown Phillies, among other subjects. His tweet-taunting the city of Cleveland (as seen here and here) have caused some, well, buzz in the sports blogosphere.
"It's irresistible to make fun of Cleveland," Bissinger said. "They do lead the league in defensiveness. I'm sorry, it is irresistible to make fun of them. I don't mean to be a provocateur on LeBron, but I have had some experience, not only with him but with the people he knows. I think he is looking for a reason to stay in Cleveland. I don't think he should stay in Cleveland, but I think he really wants to stay there if he can figure out a way, and obviously that way is for them to do something. I don't think he wants to go to New York. Some people want him to go. I talk about LeBron because I feel I have some basis of knowledge."
Bissinger tweets on his iPad, in the morning and evening. He said he likes the challenge of saying something in 140 characters, though he admits he sometimes gets "too punchy" after too many tweets. As for his lexicon choices, Bissinger says, "someone on Twitter used the term 'douche juice' and I began to use it and people liked it. I realize people probably say, 'Jesus, he is pathetic as a blogger.' I guess that's true. I guess if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I mean, this is the wave of the future. I can rail at it, fight against it, and I love print, but if this is where it's going to be, you might as well participate. Some people hate it and think it's ridiculous, and some people think it's funny and like the fact that I am willing to express opinions."
Most of the people Bissinger follows are sports-related and so are his tweets, with some local politics occasionally thrown in. "I found an outlet to say things about sports I believe in, and I don't have a regular outlet to do that," he said. "The 140 characters is difficult. If you want to say something, you have to say it very quickly and brief. You have to be pithy or profane to make your point. But for someone who writes books and 10,000-word pieces for Vanity Fair, to have a hard count of 140 is delightful."
Bissinger said he is looking for as many followers as possible. "How many does Bill Simmons have, 1.9 million? That's my goal in life. At the rate I'm going, I should be about 684 years old when it happens."
2. Brian Windhorst, The Cleveland Plain Dealer: As the nerve center in Cleveland for all things LeBron, Windhorst recently has been the subject of a CBS Marketwatch story, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, got name-dropped on CNBC, and was the subject of this column by yours truly. If James stays in Cleveland, the bet is that Windhorst will be the one to get the news. If James leaves Cleveland, I suggest the winning city's newspaper make a sign-and-trade deal for the sports writer.
3. Chris Broussard, ESPN: While Windhorst works the phones from Ohio, Broussard has spent much of last month talking about James on various ESPN platforms. At one point he appeared so often on ESPN and the ESPN Radio outlet in New York that I was hearing him in my sleep. Broussard said he happened to be in Bristol on May 13, the night the Cavaliers lost to the Celtics. "I think one day after that I was on 11 or 12 shows," said Broussard, who is from Cleveland and now lives in New York City. "I was there literally from 7 in the morning to 1:30 a.m. I have a lot of good sources on the issue and I feel like I've been offering informed speculation. But no one can say with any certainty what LeBron is going to do. I really don't think he knows exactly what he is going to do."
Broussard said James will become his full-time job once the NBA Draft concludes. He'll be part of an elite group of NBA writers, including Windhorst, who will try to get the story of the year. "As a journalist, you want to break stories, and this is the biggest story in who knows how long," Broussard said. "It's big. Everybody wants to break big stories, and it doesn't get any bigger than this."
4. Hubie Brown, ESPN Radio: Brown's work has grown on me over the years, and I admire him because he steadfastly refuses to talk down to his audience. Yes, he's very heavy on "coach-speak" in his analysis, but those who listen to him with a careful ear often learn something about the idiosyncrasies of the game. "My approach has always been one of teaching," Brown said. "When you watch basketball, if you are not a person who has played it at a high level or coached it at any level, you have a tendency to just watch the guy with the ball, the defender, and maybe two other people. What you are trying to get the fan to do is to see all 10 people on the court, and that's difficult. When I got into broadcasting, I said to myself that I would like to educate people like I do when I do clinics for coaches.... You never underestimate the IQ and the thirst for knowledge of the fan."
Brown isn't for everyone, as Brian Lowry points out here in a column for Fox Sports.com. He's long been accused of being too wordy and forming his own coach-happy lexicon. But Brown has now worked successfully in broadcasting for three decades, part of a small group of coaches who have seamlessly bounced between coaching and broadcasting gigs. He said he no longer has an interest in a full-time coaching job but still holds clinics for coaches at all levels. "I consider myself a broadcaster and I love what I am doing," Brown said. "At this time in my life, broadcasting and television is where it's at for me."
5. Leah Siegel, Dallas-based bureau producer ESPN: Over the past few weeks a number of ESPN employees have been working to aid Siegel, a producer based in Dallas who is fighting stage-four breast cancer. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy at the Baylor Medical Center, and she keeps a blog that chronicles her fight. A couple of months ago, Dallas-based ESPN reporter Ed Werder initiated a campaign among a small group of employees to solicit contributions for the Siegel family's increasing expenses. Werder worked with Siegel for years, often on the Texas-sized drama that is the Dallas Cowboys beat. "Leah has a great personality and a great sense of humor," Werder said. "She came from a family of journalists. Her mother and her father were both writers at The Washington Post. Leah asked me a lot of questions, and she wasn't afraid to tell me when she believed I was wrong, even when I wasn't."
"My goals were modest," Werder said. "I just wanted to raise enough money to get her a chef, help with the kids or to get somebody to mow the grass. Plenty of employees have contributed, including some high-profile former ESPN staffers. ESPN executive producer Mike Leber recently auctioned off a behind-the-scenes NFL Sunday in Bristol; the winning bid provided $5,000 to the Leah Fund. For those interested in making a donation to the Leah Fund, Werder said he is accepting checks at: Leah Fund, c/o Barbara Hoffman, American National Bank,1201 Cross Timbers, Flower Mound, TX, 75028.
6. The "I Scored A Goal In The FIFA World Cup Final" videos: Four years ago, the London-based photographer Michael Donald walked into film producer John Battsek's office pitching a splendid idea: He wanted to shoot portraits of every living player who had scored a goal in a World Cup final. That idea ultimately forged into one of the best things ESPN has ever produced, a must-watch series of videos featuring the men talking about the greatest moment of their sporting lives.
Battsek said that he and his filmmakers (full marks to director Dan Gordon and lead editor Nicholas Packer for the remarkable direction and editing of the vignettes) landed every goal scorer except France great Zinedine Zidane and those too frail to film. ("But I am confident we will get Zidane," Battsek said.) Most notably, Pele will appear in two of the pieces (his vignettes and others will be added to the website above during the tournament) for his goals in 1958 and 1970 World Cup finals.
Those players were paid what Battsek called a "nominal fee" for their cooperation. "I hope for an American audience, they get a sense of just how momentous what these guys did was," said Battsek. "What I love about this is you get a sense of the grace of the game, the respect of the game, and the reverence these men have of the game. We recorded a testimony from a unique group of men, and all of them have had enough time to reflect on what they did and talk about it in a way that is deeply sensitive. It's just not a way we are used to hearing footballers speak."
7. NHL Public Relations: Over the past month, reporters have been bombarded with releases and e-mails from Bettman Land (and the Versus network) about the increase in television ratings. The campaign has paid off nicely, with plenty of positive stories on the subject, including a big one in The New York Times. The league has some momentum, no question (last Wednesday's Game 3 of the Finals was the most-viewed telecast in the 15-year history of Versus, posting a 2.0 rating and 3.6 million viewers, according to the Sports Business Daily), but keep in mind that Chicago and Philadelphia are two of the Top 5 television markets in the U.S. by households. Time will tell if the momentum will carry into the fall, but one thing is certain: There's someone at the NHL or Versus composing an e-mail for me right now.
8. The NFL Network: In a first for the network, the NFLN provided live coverage of the 2014 Super Bowl vote, a big success as a ratings play. The coverage drew 66,000 viewers, up 50 percent from the same period a week earlier. While there's no doubt the net overhyped the drama of the vote, it was compelling programming, an inside look at the sausage factory. Because I live and work in New York City, I took particular interest in the fight, but alas, my SI.com colleague Dom Bonvissuto, the editor for our NFL coverage, had a different take. I cede the rest of this item to him so he can get the angst out of his system:
"My beef with the NFL Network showing the Super Bowl vote live is how breathless they were about it. It was a 90-minute production. That's half a football game! They had a play-by-play guy and two analysts breaking down the 'action.' They had war-room cameras for each of the host city committees. They showed live shots ... of old white guys turning in their ballots. All this to announce the site of a game that's going to be played in four years? Give me a break. Showing the vote live was a waste of time -- but you don't need me to tell you that. Simply check back in late May 2011 and see if the NFL Network falls all over itself televising whether Tampa, Houston, San Diego or some other city earns the right to host the 2015 Super Bowl. New York's involvement in the 2010 process drove NFLN's decision to show it live. Once the Big Apple is not involved, the Super Bowl vote will go back to being the small story it used to be."
9. Stan Van Gundy vs. Michael Wilbon: This column has a special fondness for media-on-media crime, but the battle of words between the Magic coach and the ESPN analyst provided plenty of theater. Upset that Wilbon suggested to Miami radio host Dan LeBatard that Van Gundy would be fired if the Magic lost to the Celtics, Van Gundy went off on both Wilbon and sports broadcasting as a whole.
"He's just ... a talking head," Van Gundy told NBA Fanhouse. "I have refused to be on PTI for years, for five years. I follow that stuff. If you go on guys' shows, they don't criticize you. If you won't go on their show, they do. That stuff is never known. There's a lack of integrity in that business.''
Wilbon countered Van Gundy's charges on PTI here and there's a nice breakdown of all this silliness here. Wilbon has a long track record in the business, especially in the days before he became a talking head, and he's certainly criticized those who have appeared his show. But there's no doubt that Wilbonistas such as Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson get the Larry King treatment compared to other guests. What this story does most is make me long for the days of March, when Wilbon was fighting with John Feinstein. Now that was a sweet media war.
10. LeBron James Courting: It's one thing for municipalities to put out embarrassing videos ( i.e.."We Are LeBron") or to create websites such as this (featuring an epically hokey NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg begging James to come to New York City). I expect politicians to pander and for fans and teams to create cool websites and campaigns to lure James. But it's disturbing to see respected media outlets that will cover James actively engaging in over-the-top advocacy to bring him to their city. It reinforces an ugly stereotype among some readers that the journalists covering a team are merely auxiliary members of that organization. Good sports journalism is hard enough to produce without such nonsense. Let's hope we never see anything like this again.