In what is sure to be hailed as a brilliant public relations maneuver by absolutely no one, The Seattle Times has decided to prohibit their entire sports writing staff from appearing on local radio and television for the foreseeable future.
Beginning September 5th, Times sportswriters will be barred from the Seattle airwaves at the behest of management, preventing reporters and columnists from fulfilling previous commitments to local sports radio stations and television outlets. Once imposed, the ban will primarily have an impact on entities like Sports Radio 950 KJR and 710 ESPN Seattle, where many of the Times’ stable of writers would often appear.
Citing “competing forms of media” as the reason behind the embargo, the Times seems willing to sacrifice much-needed exposure for… ego, perhaps? Because make no mistake about it, this decree comes straight from the top and is a direct result of hurt feelings and a bruised manhood.
Though he will likely leave executive editor Don Shelton and sports editor Paul Barrett to take the bullets, the man behind this decision is publisher and CEO Frank Blethen.
Of late, Blethen has become hyperaware of backlash from the Times’ controversial stance on the Seattle Arena situation. The Times editorial staff, at Blethen’s subtle urging, has published puff piece after puff piece attempting to quash any positive press about Chris Hansen’s Sodo arena project, while simultaneously propping up a competing project on the current site of Seattle Center’s Key Arena. Such a strongly skewed viewpoint has been met by more than a few raised eyebrows and, unsurprisingly, has elicited the attention of the aforementioned “competing forms of media.”
On Sports Radio 950 KJR, primarily, talk show hosts have not withheld their opinions on Blethen or the Times. At the same time, Sports Radio 950 KJR is where many of the Times’ sportswriters have surfaced on recurring, regular segments. Seahawks reporter Bob Condotta, Mariners reporter Ryan Divish, and Washington Huskies football reporter Adam Jude all had standing segments with the radio station. Additionally, columnists Matt Calkins and Larry Stone, Washington Huskies basketball reporter Percy Allen, and enterprise and Sounders FC reporter Geoff Baker were known to make appearances on the station. The impending moratorium will silence all of these voices going forward.
There seems to be little precedent for a newspaper suspending its writers from appearing on radio and television, even when limited to the local market, as is the case here. The move is especially short-sighted given the current climate of the print journalism industry, which could use all the positive publicity it can get. Anyone with a pulse is certainly mindful of the fact that newspapers have been hemorrhaging money in recent years and have struggled to stay afloat in an increasingly digital information age. And though Blethen may not agree, many readers are drawn to print in large part due to the exposure writers receive beyond the newspaper, itself.
For sports fans who may be more inclined to get their news aurally or visually, the removal of writers from “competing forms of media” will almost certainly do nothing to endear them to a newspaper that has done more harm than good in recent years.
This is a terrible look for The Seattle Times and, more precisely, Frank Blethen.
But at least he’s got that ego to fall back on.
Holy crap, the Times actually admitted this is solely about Sports Radio 950 KJR in the below statement:
This is sure to get interesting, as the Times, in their continued effort to save Frank Blethen’s reputation, could be positioning themselves for a potential legal battle with KJR’s parent company, iHeartMedia. By singling out one entity and labeling their commentary as “off-color” and “sexist,” the newspaper could be trending into libelous territory.
Despite what the Times claims in their statement, this was initially billed as an effort to prevent writers from engaging with “competing media.” Again, that was the initial spin. With the story leaking and picking up steam, the Times has now changed their tune. While a vendetta between Frank Blethen and KJR was seemingly understood by those close to the situation, no one would have expected the paper, on Blethen’s behalf, to admit that this is more or less a personal matter.
And if the Times intends to paint KJR with the “off-color” brush, they’ll need to do so with any other competing sports radio station. The content across sports radio stations is, essentially, the same. And there is nothing to suggest that Sports Radio 950 KJR is any different morally or ethically than, say, 710 ESPN Seattle. Perhaps the only key differentiator between the two local stations is the fact that 710’s stance on the arena situation has been much more in line with that of Frank Blethen and the Times editorial board, while 950’s stance has been more contrary. That alone seems to have created this lasting rift.
Where the Times and KJR go from here remains to be seen. Grab your popcorn, though, because it’s about to get weird.