Stop reading the Birmingham News

Auburn and the state media

Auburn and the state media

Commentary by Alan
Being number 1 is rough.

Well maybe not. Sure you have to deal with the slings from rivals trying to catch you, but that is life. Also part of the life of a champion is dealing with a confrontational press.

Those pompous pimps of positivism (aka those bums that work for Newhouse or Advance or whatever the hell the state’s major newspaper ownership is calling itself these days) have decided to as a newspaper columnist once said, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

In other words the Birmingham News has declared its positive preference for Auburn.

This wasn’t an overnight thing. It has been happening for years. The newspaper has ignored journalistic standards in its sports department for a significant period of time. In fairness to the newspaper, when it hires an Alabama beat writer the newspaper has done a good job. Ian Rapoport asked Nick Saban tough questions. That was his job. Don Kausler has done a good job too. It isn’t always popular to hold coaches accountable, but that is one reason beat writers exist. (Well the main reason is to sell newspapers by covering something people care about. The bottom line is always the real motivator in the newspaper business. But you make money by following journalistic principles. Kind of.)

In contrast the Birmingham News and al.com have ignored any semblance of objectivity when it comes to Auburn. The paper loves the school. While Kevin Scarbinsky gives Gene Chizik oral in his blogs and columns, the newspaper employs Charles Goldberg to cover the beat. Has Goldberg ever written anything other than Auburn spin? If so, it hasn’t made it into the newspaper. The company loves the school too. The company employed for many years Auburn sycophant Phillip Marshall—Marshall now writes for the fan site Auburnundercover.com. (How is that working out?) He continues to cheerlead for Auburn, but at least it is in a more appropriate venue.

The Birmingham News is complicit in an Auburn media strategy to promote the school’s message. Scarbinsky’s columns are just one element of that. Today Scarbinsky wrote on al.com a column comparing Nick Saban’s recruitment of Memphis standout Keiwone Malone and Cullman’s Spencer Region. According to Scarbinsky, the commitment is the “Fort Sumter of the 2011 recruiting season.” He writes, “Go deeper, though, and these two talented football players could have one thing very much in common. Like Malone, who signed Wednesday with Alabama, Region – who committed Saturday to Auburn — may become as much of a symbol as a prospect.”

A high school kid’s hissy fit hardly qualifies as a Fort Sumter moment. It is more like a Midol moment.

The situation is so intolerable that other media members have commented on Scarbinsky’s absurd love for Gene Chizik.

But al.com has a history of such pathetic pandering and bias. When C.J. Mosley committed to the Tide a story ran on al.com under the headline: “Bama picks up Mosley, but loses shot at Dixon.” A story on Theodore linebacker C.J. Mosley included one (ONE!) paragraph on Mosley—and Mosley was one of the top recruits in the state and he lived not very far from Mobile. The remainder of the story was on a cornerback from Texas picking another school. The out-of-state guy merited three-fourths of the entire post on Alabama football recruiting.

Often such minor stylistic decisions are simply a reflection of pressing time concerns. A newspaper will compress the story about Mosley because it has covered him in the past, and it needs to present new information about a new subject that is related to the overall theme—in this case recruiting. However, can we so easily dismiss it in this case? Or is it a systemic bias? Why fail to provide more information on a good thing for Alabama, but provide significant coverage of what might be a bad thing? When you look at the history of al.com’s Auburn cheerleading, you might have an answer.

But why such negativism for Alabama and love for Auburn? Wouldn’t it hurt the bottom line? Not necessarily.

It might be in the psychology of the respective fans. Alabama fans want to feel persecuted. This gives Crimson Tide fans something to complain about—those outsiders writing negative things. The best example was how so many fans were outraged when the story of Mark Ingram is told. Some fans complain on talk radio about how often the fact that Ingram’s father, Mark Ingram Sr., is in prison gets mentioned on television. They ask, “Why does Verne Lundquist have to say that?”

Why? Because it is a story! A good story. The fact Mark Ingram overcame things like a father in prison to stay focused on football and win the highest individual award in college football and help his team win a national championship makes Ingram even more impressive as a player and individual. But all fans hear is “prison” and that makes them want to complain. This is emblematic of the Alabama mood. Fans aren’t happy unless they have something to bitch about.

In contrast, Auburn is like a cult. The obsessive talk of “family” and “faith” that infuses everything about Auburn football presents a picture of intense groupthink. Dissent is not allowed, and it is in fact punished. One member of the press told me that failure to adhere to the Auburn line leads to reduced access or no access. (I’ll point out right here that when I did a story on SEC athletic department budgets, Auburn was a refreshing experience. Terry Windle called and told me the number when other athletic departments—Alabama—failed to provide the data in a timely fashion. Auburn and certainly Alabama were not as quick or professional as Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky or Mississippi State, but Auburn was better than Alabama in my limited experience.) Another member of the press told me in his experience that Auburn fans are less likely to read something negative, even if truthful, about Auburn. Doubt that Auburn is a cult? Then why were coaches’ wives yelling out a major member of the media following the Auburn Iron Bowl loss? Dissent must be punished. Send in the harpies!

So there could be economic interests that play into the Birmingham News’ actions. Piss off Alabama fans and get increased revenue as fans read it and link it; support Auburn and reap the benefits of the family or cult mentality. However, there is a simple way to fix this imbalance.

Alabama fans should stop giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Every dime you spend on the Birmingham News, Mobile Press Register or Huntsville Times pays the salary of people like Charles Goldberg and other Auburn apologists. Why subsidize this? This amounts to a gift to Auburn recruiting.

The Birmingham News is now run by an (apparent) Auburn fan. So, every dime you spend on advertising and subscriptions pays her salary and bonus which in most newspaper companies is the key compensation element for publishers.

I canceled my subscription just before the BCS National Championship Game in response to it. I realized I don’t need the Birmingham News. I read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Is there any news in the Birmingham News that I don’t get from these other sources? The traditional spin is that newspapers provide local content; however, is there anything in the Birmingham News that isn’t available for free on local television or radio? Without investigative pieces like Brett Blackledge’s examination of the two-year college system, the newspaper is worthless. But that is news. What about sports? Is there anything from al.com or the Birmingham News that you can’t find elsewhere?

The answer is a resounding NO. The Internet has made the Tuscaloosa News available for every Alabama fan. (And with a writer like Cecil Hurt who is the most connected and informed reporter covering Alabama football, why would an Alabama fan read anything else?) In today’s environment Alabama fans don’t need the Birmingham News. The Birmingham News needs Alabama fans. So it is time for Alabama fans to stop giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Read other print publications and Internet publications instead of the Birmingham News.