Saban likely called Estes

Gentry Estes disappearing blog has reappeared with comments from the Alabama beat writer, who attempts to explain why the post disappeared. Estes explanation raises more questions than it answers.

…After feeling compelled to respond to numerous comments from readers, the blog was threatening to become a time-consuming distraction to my work as Alabama beat writer for the Press-Register. This was a battle I began to feel would do no good for my newspaper or myself. I wish to be known for objectivity and reporting skills rather than a mere blog that made myself the story. This was heading in an opposite direction from those goals. So I deleted the post. Never at any time did anyone from the University of Alabama request or suggest that I remove the blog entry.

Read the words carefully: “Never at any time did anyone from the University of Alabama request or suggest that I remove the blog entry.

But it doesn’t deny that people from UA had conversations with the beat writer regarding the blog post.

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In fact, we know someone from media relations had a conversation with Estes following the blog entry.

Additionally, the Estes explanation does nothing to address the rumor that Nick Saban called the sportswriter about the blog post. In fact, I was told this morning by someone I immensely respect that he was almost certain Saban personally called the sportswriter.

There is nothing wrong with a coach calling to complain about coverage. In fact, it probably was the first time Saban had called this sportswriter at home. But the word parsing from the sportswriter raises questions instead of providing a definitive answer. What did Saban say to Estes?

Obviously if Saban called the sportswriter, like many now believe, he was attempting to communicate a perception the blog entry was unfair—namely the perception created by the post that Saban and his staff were being dishonest. Let’s parse Estes’ words a bit more to verify that thesis:

Never did I mean to insinuate that I had any knowledge of Alabama officials reworking statistics or being otherwise dishonest. The blog is an informal format to express thoughts and ideas in the course of covering Alabama athletics. It is not the same as a story that runs in the newspaper, which this blog did not.

Estes said he didn’t want to be part of the story, but that is what happened when he made the post. He went from beat writer to commentator; and commentators are always part of the pieces they write.

Then when he pulled the blog post without explanation, the story became much larger. What was a blog post I hadn’t read, became something everyone was talking about.

“I wish to be known for objectivity and reporting skills rather than a mere blog that made myself the story,” Estes wrote. Good luck with that.

Part of me wants to resent the condescension of a mainstream media beat writer. However, I’m filled with scorn for Estes and his ilk. You are becoming irrelevant, not through the fickleness of the public, but through the failure of journalism schools.

Newspapers today are crap compared to the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Newspaper quality is inversely proportional to the number of graduates of journalism schools working at the paper. Before journalism graduates ran newsrooms, there were good newspapers. Today, most newspapers are pathetic.

A beat writer from the past would never have written the blog entry—not because he wouldn’t be frustrated with how Nick Saban does his job, but because of common sense. Who wouldn’t think such an entry would burn a bridge with people you rely on to do your job?

But the frustration from sportswriters is somewhat understandable—things are changing fast and they must keep up. One of the state’s best sportswriters explained why beat writers at colleges are frustrated these days. According to Will Heath:

So beat reporters are trying to learn how to think differently than they have for the past 50 years, trying to figure out how to balance reporting and blogging (without talking incessantly about themselves, like Rapaport does), trying to figure out how to survive. And it’s pretty hard to do when you have the overlords of the university monitoring your every move.

Survival is the key. To survive, newspapers simply must adopt innovative strategies to shore up sagging print revenues. Sports section advertising is one area newspapers are trying to bolster, according to one report. They point to the Tuscaloosa News website and as examples of revenue sources. According to Forbes:

For instance, The Tuscaloosa News, a New York Times Co. (nyse: NYT) newspaper, has a site devoted to University of Alabama athletics that consistently generates more monthly traffic than the paper’s main news Web site. At the height of football season last November, generated 7.5 million page views, three times the traffic that went to, according to the paper’s online director Chris Rattey.

Due to sagging revenues, newspapers are doing everything they can to bolster revenue. Blogging is part of that mix. But beat writers are ill-equipped to blog. They have a wealth of extra information they can’t put into their stories, but blogging is best when done by someone with less to lose. Blogging is about bluntly sharing truth. Blunt isn’t going to get you invited to have coffee and croissants with Mal Moore.

In fact, blogging is likely to get you ridiculed.

As Estes discovered with his post. If you say something controversial, be ready to catch heat. As Heath pointed out in another post this is called accountability (btw, that’s a favorite word for Boone newspapers, where accountability is just another way to say blame). There is greater accountability for traditional media outlets—if people know your telephone number get ready for calls at midnight bitching you out.

Which gets us back to Estes and the perception, he yanked the blog after Saban called. I take Estes post at his word that nobody requested the blog be pulled. Estes most likely felt bad for throwing a hissy fit—who doesn’t feel bad when you say something bad and then get called on it. But his careful word choice is just Clintonesque. It just feels like there is more to tell.

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    I took some journalism classes in the early 90’s. Our professor said the likely first job we’d have, if not waiting tables, would be the police station, covering crime cases, sleeping in the press room due to the long hours, becoming best friends with cops and clerks, and so forth. All I could think was: sounds like a high school graduate who knows how to spell and think logically can do this job. I understand that’s how it used to be.

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