Update: The Seattle Times Bans Sportswriters from Local Radio, TV

*Updated 8/31/17

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.

*UPDATE:

Holy crap, the Times actually admitted this is solely about Sports Radio 950 KJR in the below statement:

times

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.

33 thoughts on “Update: The Seattle Times Bans Sportswriters from Local Radio, TV”

  1. Fantastic PR move by a paper that sports fans probably despise in the first place. I feel bad for Condotta, Divish, et al for being caught in the middle of a moronic decision of the publisher.

  2. The Seattle Times, Port Of Seattle and the politicians have tarnished Seattle’s image. Blathen is so angry and butthurt when radio stations like KJR criticisms them for their anti Sodo rhetoric. Shame on you Seattle Times you’re a joke!

  3. It is a shame good writers like Condotta bear the brunt of brain-dead Blethen. I continued to subscribe through countless garbage articles by Baker, but this was last straw and just called 800-542-0820 to cancel my subscription (use the toll free number so Frank pays for the call).

  4. I’ll stop following til this changes. #FreeMarket works both ways. More than anything I am annoyed at how this negatively impacts the sportswriters and their opportunities.

  5. Did the Seattle Times have a press release on this? Does anyone have a copy of their statement on this?

  6. As a long time subscriber (18 years) I find this just damn rude. I live in Vegas now, subscribe to local paper, but listen to 950 and 710 all day. Informaion is the key and these fine folks spread information. You will be missed.

  7. I’ve heard a number of people talk about their issues with the Times, and how the only reason they keep it is because they like Divish, Stone, etc. Now you’re taking these guys away from local sports stations? What an incredibly idiotic and short-sighted move this is.

  8. I suggest Blethen releases his frustration by…. hmmmm I don’t know, maybe go shoot a dog or something!

  9. Can I be that annoying optimist/bright-side guy with a sprinkle of devil’s advocate?

    I am an avid newspaper reader with subscriptions to ST, TNT, WaPo, NYT, The New Yorker, etc. I am also a sports junkie. When religion comes up in passing conversation I always answer that I am a devout, perhaps delusional follower of Husky Football. Please don’t tell my Jewish mother, grandmother, great grandmother. There are very few professions I hold in higher regard than a newspaper reporter. I especially like the “beat” guys. Up until the last 10 years these guys were only known by name, rarely by face and never by voice. With the explosion of media one time beat reporters – and it doesn’t matter whether it’s the beat for a major league baseball team or the department of health and human services or the nightclub lifestyle in Las Vegas – have garnered a massive surge of notoriety. By and large I think that is a good thing. Especially for the top of the heap guys who are terrific in print and on radio/TV. Guys like Condotta or Glenn Thrush (NYT) or McKay Coppins (Atlantic) or Ashley Parker (WaPo) or Mike Wells (formerly Indianapolis Star) have been able to show a wider audience their talents and abilities. These are great things.

    The other fantastic development, in my opinion, of our new media culture has been the advent of the podcast. For those of us who enjoy(ed) talk radio podcasts has been a revelation. Now I can listen to what is essentially talk radio on demand. When I want to listen to it. I don’t have to be in the car or online at a certain time to hear content I am interested in and if I miss it wait for however long it takes to get the podcast up on the radio stations website or on I Heart Radio or any other number of apps. The biggest detriment to talk radio, specifically sports talk radio, are the commercials and promos. My god, the commercials. They’re relentless. Full disclosure: Save for some Husky Football pregame/postgame shows (enjoy retirement Bob R, we are gonna miss you) I haven’t listened to live sports talk radio in years. 3 years? 5 years? 8 years?

    I understand podcasts have commercials. Sometimes a lot. But guess what – I have this fancy little skip button on my podcast app. I can skip in 15 second or 30 second increments. At the high end a podcast commercial break will last maybe 2 minutes.

    This might be slightly exaggerated as I don’t recall exactly, but I am fairly certain that the last time I listened to sports radio I tuned in at 28 past the hour. Over the next 32 minutes I got about 20 minutes of Softy’s voice. 6 of those minutes were about the Huskies. The other 14 were for promotions, live reads or pre-recorded ads. The other 12 minutes were taken up by 4 minutes of top and bottom of the hour updates and 8 minutes of non-Softy ads.

    That means that what I tuned in for – Softy talking about the Huskies – was less than 20% of the content I received. How can that model survive in this day and age? Are there that many people Luddites out there? Is there some enormous trove of audio advertising enthusiasts I’m unaware of that debate the finer points of Softy’s reading of the upcoming Monday Night Football extravaganza at the Emerald Queen Casino? Do those events still happen? Is Monday night still Asian music night at the casino? If these are the kinds of questions I have about what is happening on sports radio in Seattle is that a reflection about myself or commentary on the ceaseless rampage of spots that make up what used to be seemingly half of the air time?

    Here’s where I get to the bright side/optimistic/devil’s advocate part.

    I have no knowledge of the C-Suite mindset of the Times and Alex has built up enough equity (with me at least) that I trust his commentary about the decision makers over there. But maybe, just maybe, the Times is pulling their writers from the Seattle airwaves because they’re going all in on podcasts? I realize that they already have podcasts, but despite the intentions and abilities of the people speaking on the shows they seem to be an afterthought. The last one I listened to was probably back in the spring and the sound quality was terrible, the editing was lackluster and the pacing of the show was stilted at best. Virtually none of that is on the hosts or guests of the show. Unless they’re responsible for all of the technical aspects of putting the show together which in itself would be a disaster.

    Tangent: to get a degree in journalism from a university in the present day do the majority of your classes have nothing to do with writing? But rather passing knowledge of every possible communications platform that has been invented, is currently used or might be used at some point? It seems like our humble scribes are being asked to run a media company as opposed to covering a beat. I chuckle at the thought of some poor intern trying to show a 1984 Steve Kelly how to record an interview on his phone.

    Perhaps my biggest point of this diatribe is that there is a market, of at least me, that would love if there were more on demand audio shows about Seattle sports from talented and plugged in hosts. High quality, regularly scheduled shows.

    Yes, I know Softy’s show can be found in podcast form, but it’s not the same. It doesn’t matter if it is live on the radio or on a podcast when he is up against another break, even though it has literally been two and a half minutes since his last break ended, it doesn’t flow like a podcast. A conversation on sports radio ending naturally of its own volition is as rare to find as a section in Century Link that I can bring my 8 year old to a Seahawks game and not be stripped of custody upon exiting the stadium for putting him in an unsafe environment. (That was my attempt at a sports radio “hot take.” How’d I do? Brock Huard would be proud of that one. Is Brock still on the radio?)

    I might be overly optimistic (it’s kind of my new thing, optimism), but if the reason the meticulous Bob Condotta, the too handsome for a sports writer Adam Jude, the grizzled Larry Stone and the ultra talented wunderkind, Jayson Jenks (who I would be willing to make a big bet is bound for a Lee Jenkins/Howard Beck/Don Van Natta future) are being benched is because the Times is keeping them in house for their own podcast “network” I’m all for it. Then I wouldn’t have to grit my way through the 18th Burien Nissan ad of the hour to hear what they have to say.

    Short tangent 1: where has Jenks been lately? Vacation?
    Short tangent 2: If you haven’t already go through Jenks’ archives of the last year and read every one of his features. At the risk of kissing too much ass, each one of them is superb.

    And maybe, just maybe, the Times could grab Softy as the host of these podcasts about the Seattle sports scene we love so much. I would actually refrain from skipping ahead to have the pleasure to hear Softy do a live read for Life Lock, Me Undies or even a Monday Night Football event at the Emerald Queen. Just as long as at the conclusion of the ad we were back to NBA Story Time with Percy Allen and not 27 spots for attorneys who specialize in representing men.

  10. Kyle, while the Times may want to do more podcasts, management didn’t get buy-in from the reporters before making this move. As a result, it doesn’t seem very likely that the writers will be willing to go the extra mile and record more podcasts in the wake of a move they don’t necessarily agree with. A couple even mentioned they would consider ceasing their podcasts altogether and solely focus on writing. Suffice it to say, if the angle you present was even considered by Blethen, he certainly didn’t go about making it a feasible outcome by carrying out this chain of events.

    Thanks for reading, and I appreciate the detail that went into your comment.

  11. Would love for Theathletic.com or similar venture to come to Seattle. I am sure there are a few local journalists that would have interest. It is the passionate sports fan that is willing to pay for good writing. I am wondering how it would impact Times subscription numbers.
    Does this mean Danny O’Neil will need to stop talking about his wife?

  12. Sad, I was a ST paper boy in the late 60’s early 70’s I have been a subscriber for 30 plus years but the time has come to let go, their burning desire to not be positive in the Soto plan tells me I’m reading A paper with an agenda and not the real facts…

  13. This is just rotten. I live in AZ but my days are spent listening to Seattle radio; those guys really bring a lot to the shows where they appear. Condotta is a pro’s pro and Divish is radio gold no matter what show he’s on. With lol of the work he seems to put in getting the Extra Innings podcast up, I can’t imagine Divish is anxious to trade hopping on the phone for a few minutes each day for being writer/producer/host/technician/publisher of a podcast more often than he already is.
    I guess this means high demand for the TNT and SportspressNW staff now. Thiel’s a legend so I’ll gladly listen. Maybe they can even find the rotting corpse (shoutout Divish) of Dave Boling.

    (Does this mean Divish is banned from all potential future episodes of Karate Emergency? I’m still a subscriber…)

  14. I’m not saying the real reason isn’t because of arena preference. But Alex, you aren’t serious when you say KJR and 710ESPN programming is essentially the same are you? You don’t see any off-color or sexist programming on KJR? What about the Bigger Dance? It’s sexist by definition. What about interviewing strippers regularly about football, full of juvenile innuendo. That’s the definition of off-color, for your information.
    I’m sure there’s more. While I think Mitch does great interviews. He is a dirty old man at heart.

  15. Should get the story right in the first place. This is a brilliant move by Seattle Times. I’m sure 950 can still cite the source (Times, as usual) when reporting all the breaking news! LOL

  16. Remind me of a liberal. Then you support renovating the Key Arena with no parking around it and not a brand new building in Sojo.Idiots !

  17. Anonymous writes: “Remind me of a liberal. Then you support renovating the Key Arena with no parking around it and not a brand new building in Sojo.Idiots !”

    I won’t say you remind me of a conservative, because I know too many thoughtful conservatives. Rather, you remind me of the coarse element steeped in Right wing radio who believe insults actually say things worth saying. Ah, but manners, not-to-mention punctuation and spelling, always count.

  18. ”What about the Bigger Dance? It’s sexist by definition. What about interviewing strippers regularly about football, full of juvenile innuendo. That’s the definition of off-color, for your information.”

    Yes, Levy’s format was infantile and sexist.

    But the reason I quit listening to KJR roughly when Levy showed up to take the morning in that puerile direction was because it was BORING.

    A bunch of whiney-voiced younger males voting for various bimbos just didn’t do it for me, a guy more interested in Shawn Kemp’s reasons for discontent, Husky football, and basketball, etc.

    “The Greater Dance?” Snore. Click.
    ————

    That said, I don’t believe this prostitution sting should be the reason for Levy’s possible (or likely) firing. I think prostitution stings are unconstitutional and mean exercises in self-righteous, and not a little prurient, police misbehavior.

    Yes, bust the sex-trade criminals and pimps, but for the love of God leave the ladies and the johns alone to do what everyone else does naturally, for free.

  19. ”I wonder if the “Mr. Levy, I do declare” schtick was behind the ban. A fake African American accent was a little odd. Even though Matt seemed to be happy to take part.”

    Could you expand please. I’m not sure what you’re referencing.

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