Where do we go now? (To your local newsstand.)

August 28th, 2006 → 10:33 am @

One holdover from the days when I was a media reporter is the overwhelming amount of magazines I receive: Wired, Men’s Health, Shape, Vibe. (If a marketer ever tried to craft a profile based on my mail, he’d think I was schizophrenic or leading a double life. Or both.) Most of the time, said magazines sit around my apartment until the piles become overwhelming. Then I recycle them.

But every now and then (read: in the middle of an epic losing streak during which I can’t sleep), I end up reading through a whole slew of said magazines. So it was last night. And let me say: GQ confuses the hell out of me. A recommendation for a lamp begins, “That black halogen floor lamp your mom bought you freshman year isn’t going to cut it anymore.” The advice column features this question: “I just graduated and I have a bunch of job interviews coming up at various magazines in New York City. I’m confused by the whole business casual thing.” And then there’s an article on $500 hand-made shirts made in Paris and a photo spread of Zach Braff wearing $4000 suits. I understand aspirational, but that’s a serious disconnect.

By the time I got to page 384 and John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “The Final Comeback of Axl Rose,” I was experiencing a pretty intense case of vertigo and basically just flipping through the remaining 25 pages so I could move on to last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. But Sullivan — whom I hadn’t heard of but later discovered is the author of Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter’s Son — pulled off an increasingly rare feat: a glossy magazine article that had me laughing out loud and nodding my head at the same time. (It’s not as difficult as making circles on your stomach with one hand while tapping the top of your head with the other, but it’s close.)

The story was written in the first person and done without the benefit of an actual interview with Rose, which is probably a good thing; celebrity interviews, as it were, are usually carefully scripted events meant to convey a sense that said star of the moment and said writer are longtime friends instead of two people who just met each other and will never speak again. (“When I first saw John, he was sitting next to the pool at the Chateau Marmont. I walked over to our table, and he looked up. ‘You hungry?’ he said, eyeing me from beneath his vintage Wayfarers. ‘Let’s grab a bite.'”) Sullivan’s piece gleefully dispensed with this kind of formulaic tripe in favor of passages like:

“When he first came onto the scene, he often looked, in photographs, like a beautiful, slender, redheaded 20-year-old girl. I hope the magazine will run a picture of him from about 1988 so the foregoing will seem a slightly less creepy observation and the fundamental spade-called-spade exactitude of it will be laid bare. But if not, I stand by it. Now he has thickened through the middle — muscly thickness, not the lardass thickness of some years back. He grabs his package tightly, and his package is huge. Only reporting. Now he plants his feet apart, ‘You know where you are?’ he asks, and we bellow that we do, we do know, but he tells us anyway. ‘You’re in the jungle, baby,’ he says, and then he tells us that we are going to die.”

or laconically pithy observations, such as:

“He was nervous, but nervous in the way that any decent person is when you sit down in front of him with a notebook and are like, ‘I have to make a two-thirty flight. Can you tell me about the heaviest things in your life? And order more spinach-‘n’-artichoke dip. I can expense it.'”


I know I’m supposed to come up with a epigrammatic ending here, but I’m tired, late for an appointment, and still reeling from a 3-11 record over the last 14 games (to say nothing of a starting lineup that would have been more appropriate for a spring training game than a late-August match). If you’re looking for a diversion, spend the $3.99 and grab the September GQ. Lord knows you could use something that makes you laugh out loud.

Post Categories: Axl Rose & GQ & John Jeremiah Sullivan & Media reporting

That’s just Manny and his hammies (And it’s just Manny being omnisciently sourced)

August 23rd, 2006 → 11:50 am @

Imagine you’re married to a smoking hot chick. (I say chick only because, judging from the comments and names of people who’ve registered on the site, it seems as if most of the blog’s readers are men. But for the ladies in the house, imagine you’re married to a smoking hot hunk, and substitute in as you wish.) She’s a hellcat in the sack. I mean mind-bendingly, jaw-droppingly good, the kind of sex that leaves you weak-kneed for a day or two afterwards. She also likes football, baseball, and the Three Stooges. She’s funny. She’s smart. She’s interesting. She’s exciting. In the history of wifedom, it’s hard to imagine more than a handful of women who’d ever be able to compete. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her drawbacks: she refuses — flat out refuses — to visit your parents. She hates your friends. And she stubbornly chews with her mouth open. But you can deal with all of this. You happily deal with all of this.

The one thing that’s harder to deal with is those times, once or twice a year, when she up and disappears. Literally just checks out. Oftentimes, these moments come when you need her most: your boss just tore you a new one, or your dog just died, or you’re going in to get that weird lump checked out…and suddenly, she’s gone. Usually she’s back in a couple of days, but sometimes it’s a week. Or longer. The weird thing is, these moments often come immediately after she’s once again blown you away with how amazing she is. She’ll insist on staying at the game in the middle of a thunderstorm, or will surprise you with a pre-paid trip to Vegas…and then, bam, she’s gone. No matter how amazing things were a couple of days (or hours) earlier, that hurts. It hurts bad. And it’s almost impossible to understand.

Ladies and gentlemen, you’re the Boston Red Sox. And that smoking hot wife is Manny Ramirez.


Buried amidst all the carnage of the Boston Massacre, 2006 edition, is how freakishly good Manny has been as of late. During the five games against the Yankees, Manny had 20 plate appearances. He reached base 19 times. Think about that: in five games over four days, Manny made exactly one out. (It’s likely true that, as ESPN’s David Schoenfield argued last week, Manny is among the most unsung superstars in the game, although that’s due more to his silence than anything else.) He had two four-baggers. He had seven RBIs. The pitching might have come up short. The bullpen might have leaked runs like a flimsy piñata. David Ortiz might have had a frustratingly human series. But Manny? Manny really was (as the Fenway PA system reminded us on July 31, 2005) like Superman.

Except all was not right in Manny-world. Friday night, a couple of hours after the first gut punch of a loss and a couple of hours before the second one, Manny hit a sharp ball into the hole. It glanced off Derek Jeter’s glove, and he was given an error. Manny certainly didn’t need the single to improve his average (.329, 4th in the AL), his OBP (.445, 1st in the AL), his SLG (.625, 2nd in the AL), or his OPS (1.080, second (by .008) in the AL). Lord knows he wasn’t looking for that elusive base hit that’d help him snap out of a slump.

But to repeat what’s already become a hackneyed phrase, Manny, being Manny, threw a hissy fit. According to teammates (or according to people in the clubhouse who attributed this to teammates) and club officials, Manny had to be talked into suiting up on Saturday. On Sunday, according to several people privy to the situation, Manny tried to convince an MLB official to give him a hit on the play. And on Monday, according to everyone who was watching the game, Manny, because of his suddenly tightening hamstrings, didn’t play after the fourth inning. He also didn’t start last night’s game (although he did pinch-hit for Dustin Pedroia to lead off the top of ninth with the Sox down a run).

For years, Manny has had tight hamstrings. Manny’s also incredibly limber; the next time you go to a game, watch him warm up. And for years, Manny’s hammies have been the excuse cited by the team whenever Manny’s needed to take a couple of personal days. This is infuriating, regardless of what Manny did in the previous four innings or the previous four days or the previous four days or the previous 12 years. Yesterday, Terry Francona told the media, “He’s just sore. So rather than turn this into a week, try to let him get worked on and get him back as quick as possible.” Was he talking about Manny’s hamstrings? Or his head? Or a bit of both?


Sportswriting is a unique beast. It’s the only type of journalism in which someone’s called on to be a critic, an investigative reporter, and a gossip columnist…all at the same time. (Can you imagine if movie critics were also asked to report on the business side of Hollywood? How do you a pan a movie when the next day you need the exec who greenlighted the project to tell you about an upcoming merger?) It’s also the last place reporters and columnists regular elide from one role to the other (you’re not about to see Maureen Dowd writing news stories from Crawford), and just about the last place omniscient sourcing is permitted. If you can’t think of the last time you read a sentence that began, “According to teammates who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of clubhouse interactions,” that’s because you’ve never read a sentence that began that way.

I’ve never covered football, basketball, or hockey, but I have covered politics, business, and crime, and baseball is the only arena I know of in which everyone — from the players to the agents to the coaches to the managers to the front offices — is fully expected to lie. After he signed with the Yankees, Alan Embree never copped to telling the Red Sox he was going to sign with a team on the West Coast before ending up playing for the Yankees, the Red Sox never called him out, and Embree’s agent kept saying how disappointed Embree was about the whole thing. A lot of the time, reporters aren’t privy to these types of prevarications. Sometimes, however, they are, and sometimes people — the front office, players, etc — tells reporters something but tells them they can’t attribute it to anyone, even anonymously. And since there’s the absence of those “requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature” clauses, viola: omniscient sourcing.

This, I assume, was the case with Sean McAdam’s column in yesterday’s Providence Journal. “Think about that,” McAdam wrote. In the middle of the Sox’ three most dispiriting losses of the season, suffered at the hands of the team’s archrival, Ramirez sulked about losing credit for a meaningless single that didn’t even involve an RBI. …
[W]ith his team’s season in the balance, Ramirez intended to sit out to protest a scorer’s call? Would Jeter do that? Would David Ortiz? Would, in fact, any other player in the game?”

For anyone who saw Ortiz making a mad dash for second, sausage-link legs akimbo and arms furiously pumping, in the botttom of the ninth on Sunday knows the answer to that question. (Ortiz’s hit, a sharp shot down the first base line, was flubbed by Jason Giambi. Unlike Jeter’s play with Manny, Giambi wasn’t charged with an error, and Ortiz was given credit for a double.) McAdam, one of the most respected (and one of the best) Red Sox writers, doesn’t cite his sources. That’s not, I’m sure, because he doesn’t have them; I was able to independently confirm the basic facts with a couple of phone calls from my apartment in Manhattan. But sportswriters aren’t supposed to use the pedantic sourcing found on the front page. And because of that, sources expect they won’t be linked to a story…even as a generic “teammate” or “club official.” Still, in many quarters, fans were outraged at McAdam for writing his column instead of at Manny for up and disappearing at another crucial moment.


Thirty-eight years ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren told Sports Illustrated the order in which he read the newspaper: “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records people’s accomplishments; the front page nothing but man’s failures.” New Englanders, with their near-religious devotion to the Sox, expect the sports section to record people’s accomplishments more than most places. New Yorker’s don’t explode in outrage when players are caught acting like morons (or horny teenagers). Bostonians do…but this outrage is directed at the messengers, not the message. I understand that, and I’m sure McAdam does, too. But it doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

Post Categories: Manny Ramirez & Media reporting & Sean McAdam & Sports Reporters

Brought to you by the same folks who sold papers on the backs of Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Jason Giambi

August 2nd, 2006 → 8:44 am @

Antidoping officials working on [Landis’s] case already have evidence that some experts say is convincing enough to show that Landis cheated to win the Tour, regardless of further testing or appeals.
— “Experts Say Case Against Landis Is Tough to Beat,” Juliet Macur and Gina Kolata, August 2,
The New York Times

“Rocked by drug allegations against Armstrong and an on-going Spanish investigation into illegal blood doping that forced their teams to send home Tour de France contenders Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, cycling has been looking for a new hero or anything positive to spin. …[Shawn] Hunter, [president of AEG sports], was able to smile Thursday and say, … ‘It was an unbelievable human performance, one of the greatest ever.'”
— “Landis Wins Stage in Huge Turnaround,” Diane Pucin, July 21, Los Angeles Times

“Many longtime devotees of professional cycling said they had never seen a performance–from Armstrong, from the legendary Eddy Merckx or from any other cyclist–like the one produced by Floyd Landis on Thursday in southeastern France. No less an expert than the longtime Tour director, Jean-Marie Leblanc, called Landis’s performance ‘the best stage I have ever followed.'”
— “Landis Climbs Back Into Contention,” Edward Wyatt, July 21, The New York Times

“He had a mischevious glint in his eye…the look of a punk kid who had made good on a ridiculous dare. That’s precisely what Landis did, turning the Tour inside out with a solo demolition of the peloton almost unheard of in recent editions of the race.
— “Pedal to the Mettle,” Bonnie DeSimone, July 21, The Boston Globe

“Like his old boss, Lance Armstrong, Landis has a seemingly superhuman ability to do the Greek pathos-mathos thing and transform physical and emotional pain into forward momentum on a bike for three weeks in July.”
— Andrew Vontz, July 21, Fox Sports

“The comeback was read by many as a master stroke, instantly enshrining Landis in cycling’s pantheon alongside greats like five-time Tour champion Eddy Merckx of Belgium for his show of both human frailty and superhuman courage in the span of 24 hours.”
— Associated Press, July 21

“The Hail Mary pass. … provided a gleaming counterweight to the doping scandal that had overshadowed this Tour since the day before it began. (Operación Puerto, as Spanish police called it, led to the expulsion of prerace favorites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, among others.) By single-handedly transforming stage 17 into a kind of velo Instant Classic, Landis ensured that this Tour will be remembered as much for the heroics of a rider who was there as it will be for the suspicion hanging over those who weren’t.”
— “The Amazing Race,” Austin Murphy, Sports Illustrated

Post Categories: Jason Giambi & Media reporting & Steroids

Clearly, this is a man seeking an intervention

July 7th, 2006 → 4:43 pm @

Apparently, this post from Wednesday hurt Jon Friedman’s feelings; it only took him two days to come back with a response, slugged “Columnists are people, too.” Here’s the money quote:

“I contend that too many bloggers hurt themselves. They come across as loudmouths looking for an argument or a way to exploit the relative celebrity of their subjects. It’s kind of pathetic when writers can’t find something original to say and have to resort to criticizing someone else just to be heard.”

There’s so much to say about these three sentences it’s hard to know where to start. (Relative celebrity? Really? And isn’t trenchant criticism better than public fawning?) So instead I’ll just point out two tiny, completely inconsequential errors in the following section:

“I was recently blasted by several bloggers who objected to my topics, angles and conclusions (Have I left anything out, folks? If so, I’m sure you’ll let me know ASAP).
A reader responded to one blog: ‘Wow — I had no idea so many people felt so strongly about Jon Friedman. Kind of makes me feel bad for the guy.’ Thank you for that, but no worries.”

1. Actually, yes, you did leave some stuff out: I was critiquing the absence of any actual reporting and the number of glaring errors in your piece about Time.

2. That quote? About kind of feeling bad? That wasn’t a reader…that was me. Here are some clues: it says “By Seth Mnookin” and the only place it appears is on my website.

Take the weekend off and get some rest. Really: it’s kind of pathetic when writers can’t find something factual to say and have to resort to making mistakes just to be heard.

EDIT: A friend (and former editor) points out a much more on-point criticism about blogging: “the problem with blogging is it’s like the village voice letters section of old–the back-and-forth goes on long after anyone other than the two participants could possibly give a shit.” Sigh. As usual, he’s right. I’m done. (And please, Jon, don’t try to tempt me back by writing about how Fortune should really consider publishing every other week.)

Post Categories: CBS Marketwatch & Jon Friedman & Media reporting

Amazingly, there are some j-school grads who don’t have jobs

July 5th, 2006 → 9:21 am @

For about six years, I’ve been mystified by the work of Jon Friedman. He writes a media column for CBS MarketWatch.com, a financial news site bought by Dow Jones a couple of years ago. Oftentimes, Friedman’s work seems to consist of glowing profiles of this or that media exec. Other times, Friedman seems to do nothing except parrot whatever it is that’s just been said. As the Columbia Journalism Review‘s website noted recently in an article titled “The Man Who Knew Too Little and Wrote Too Much,” “Friedman occupies the odd cultural space of both upholding conventional wisdom while struggling mightily to understand it himself….As with so much else, Friedman doesn’t necessarily get anything wrong, but by time he wraps things up it’s clear he hasn’t gotten anything accomplished, either.”

Which isn’t to say Friedman isn’t occasionally impressive: Every now and then, he comes up with something that’s both banal and boneheaded. Take today’s column, titled “How Time magazine can stand apart: For starters it can change its publication date.” (Now there’s a thrilling headline.) Friedman proposes Time close mid-week, enabling it to hit newsstands on Thursdays. As Friedman asks, “Does it really make a lot of sense for the final two/sevenths of a newsmagazine’s cycle to encompass Saturday and Sunday, when little of consequence happens?”

Now, various execs at Time Inc. have advocated moving Time‘s publication to mid-week for a while; hell, I know that and I haven’t done regular media reporting since 2003. Friedman, in the midst of “propos[ing]…something truly revolutionary” apparently hasn’t done the reporting to uncover what I’ve picked up in idle chatter. (The reasons for such a move wouldn’t be the two that Friedman suggests–to improve morale and encompass more of the weekly news cycle–but because there’s a good case to be made that these days, people are more likely to have time to read a newsweekly on the weekend.) What’s more, Time, like Newsweek, closes on Saturday, not Sunday; the only way it can get news that breaks on Sunday into the magazine is to rip up an issue that’s already at the printers. (Friedman uses the capture of Saddam Hussein, which occured on a Sunday, as the rare example of news which broke on the weekend. It took me about 90 seconds to find a Times article about Saddam’s capture that contains the following sentence: “The breaking news was of such magnitude that both Time and Newsweek decided to redo issues that were already being printed.”)

That’s not the only groundbreaking suggestion Friedman has; he also recommends that Time put up exclusive web content. “The American media are missing a good bet to attract greater numbers of readers” by “provid[ing] exclusive content geared only to online readers,” he says. What an awesome idea! You mean like having Joe Klein write web-only columns? Or hiring Ana Marie Cox to do the same thing? Or maybe putting Andrew Sullivan’s blog online?

Oh, wait: time.com already does all of that. To be fair, all of those columns are buried on the upper right-hand side of the magazine’s homepage.

Post Categories: CBS Marketwatch.com & Jon Friedman & Media reporting & Time Magazine