Many believe football fans have little interest in reading inside-baseball media stories. Our traffic numbers suggest otherwise.
The item, based on a Washington Post profile, regarding Adam Schefter’s incredible (as in not credible) claim that his rake-stepping tweets regarding players like Deshaun Watson and Dalvin Cook aren’t part of a broader quid pro quo aimed at keeping him at the front of the line for a five-minute head start on news that a team, the league, a player, whoever would otherwise announce on their own, generated more views than any other story we posted on Tuesday.
In lieu of milking the cow with five or six different posts from a very thorough and detailed item by Ben Strauss, here’s a list of the things that stood out from the Schefter profile.
First, some are suggesting that Schefter agreed to be interviewed as part of what he believed would be a puff piece aimed at rehabilitating his image following a bizarre stream of social-media misfires. As we understand it, the article began as something that focused on his foibles. The two-hour interview of Schefter, who was personally accompanied for the sit-down by his agent, David Koonin of CAA, likely arose from an effort by Schefter and Koonin to ensure that the profile would be balanced and not just a hit piece.
This would help explain Schefter’s strange resistance to being photographed, along with Strauss’s decision to chide Schefter for it. When a media outlet approaches someone for something that is pitched as positive, there’s a subtle understanding that it ultimately will make the subject look good. When a media outlet embarks on a profile from a not-positive perspective, it makes sense for the subject to be concerned that the photo selected for the publication will be somewhat unflattering. And his instincts were serving him well; the photo used at the top of the profile (the same one used in this item) was edited to highlight the observation that “Schefter is shorter than he appears on TV.” (He should have just offered to submit a current photo.)
Second, there’s a little revisionist history in the profile as to the full complement of news he has broken. (For example, he didn’t break the news in 2006 that the Texans would draft Mario Williams over Reggie Bush, even though the article claims that he did.) And the reality is that, while he currently has the largest social-media megaphone for preannouncing transactions, plenty of others are holding their own.
Schefter does not break everything. However, he wants to create the impression that he does, as does ESPN. For example, the article claims that he broke the news of Aaron Donald‘s recent contract. Even if he didn’t (and, frankly, I don’t think he did), ESPN would have acted like he did. That’s the new game for ESPN. They pretend that their news is the only news that matters. So, if someone else has it first, Schefter sends a few texts, confirms it (which isn’t hard to do once the news is out), and ESPN can put Schefter’s name on the crawl at the bottom of the screen. (Frankly, this is the most likely explanation for the note from Strauss that ESPN producer Seth Markman stopped using a free-agency news-breaker point system in order to challenge/inspire Schefter. The very existence of that list directly undermines ESPN’s ability to pretend that Schefter has broken everything.)
Third, Strauss nailed down something that had been long believed by news-chasers in the media who don’t have the built-in advantage of working directly for the league and teams they cover. “Jerry Jones once stood up at a league meeting and told teams they should give their news to NFL Network, which usually meant Schefter [who worked for NFL Network at the time], to build its credibility and popularity,” Strauss writes.
This definitely happens. The fans don’t care; they just want the news. When it comes to getting the news, it’s very helpful to work directly for the league and indirectly for the teams. That makes it so much easier for a reporter to create and maintain relationships necessary to get information before others. The next time, then, that an NFL Network employee reports on, for example, an NFL internal memo regarding a topic of interest, remind yourself that employment by the entity a reporter covers has its privileges.
Fourth, the profile serves as a reminder for many — and as fresh news to most — of the acrimony surrounding Schefter’s departure from NFL Network. Once the talks broke down on a new deal in 2009, NFL Network sent him into media purgatory. “It kept him off the air for six months, locked him out of his office and, worst of all, wiped all of his contacts from his phone,” Strauss wrote. “Before he could break any news in his new job, he had to rebuild his contacts.”
That behavior is embarrassing for the league. And Schefter surely didn’t expect it. Otherwise, he would have backed up his contacts on a personal device. (Pro tip for any other reporters out there. Back up your contacts on a personal device.)
Fifth, some eyebrows were raised regarding the news that Schefter would send news to his rebuilt contacts while also submitting it to the ESPN news desk. So, basically, his contacts were getting a preview of the news that ESPN had yet to officially report on his behalf. (As a former recipient of such information, particularly on in-season Sunday mornings during the ESPN pregame show, I can confirm this practice.)
Sixth, an unnamed former ESPN executive suggested that ESPN should be using its massive platform to create even more Schefters. That’s far easier said than done. Ultimately, you need to have someone who is so maniacal about getting something first — so tormented by being scooped — that he or she will work relentless to make full use of the built-in advantage, causing it to blossom into an I Love Lucy conveyor belt of news — and/or the ability to confirm others’ news so quickly that ESPN can claim their reporter broke it. Even if their reporter didn’t. Yes, ESPN has the platform. To make it work, it needs a reporter who will voluntarily remain plugged into the matrix every hour of every day of every week of every month of the year.
Seventh, Schefter’s obsession with creating the relationship that will put him and keep him at the front of the line for news includes lavish holiday spending. “He has a list of 150 recipients who receive, depending on the year, Vineyard Vines ties or Scotch or chocolate or ice cream,” Strauss writes. “They go mostly to sources but also to some ESPN co-workers and others. One year he spent $16,000 on chocolate.”
There’s nothing wrong with doing this. But he’s doing it not as some sort of sports-media St. Nick. He’s watering the lawn. He’s doing what he thinks he needs to do to keep people giving him the information he so fervently covets. The information that so thoroughly torments him when it goes to someone else.
Some chafed at the idea that Schefter said he writes off the cost of these gifts on his taxes. It should be no surprise. The vast majority of American businesses send holiday gifts to clients and other key contacts. And those gifts always constitute business expenses, justifying a write off. The fact, however, that Schefter volunteered a piece of information that triggered more criticism underscores a more fundamental issue. Schefter’s brain often moves too quickly to permit responsible strategic thinking. He tweets, all too often, without thinking at all. Or he’s not capable of understanding the way his tweets will be received.
That may seem a little harsh, I know. It’s far more charitable than the observation made by Robert Klemko of the Washington Post after Schefter included gratuitous commentary regarding the football struggles of Dwayne Haskins in the tweet announcing that he had been struck by a car and killed in early April.
“In all my criticism of Schefter,” Klemko said,”I never stopped to consider the possibility he might just be a stupid person.”