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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

You could have it worse. You could be a Knicks beat writer--NY Observer

  • (What you say is monitored, recorded on Blackberry, and sent upstairs).
"What really separates the complaints of Knicks writers from those of every other browbeaten city reporter—and reporters are definitely a whiny lot—are their unironic, and apparently accurate, tales of systematic repression.

“It’s the gulag,” said Mike Vaccaro, a columnist for the New York Post.

“We all know what it’s like to cover a normal team,” said Mr. Beck, who previously reported on the Lakers for the L.A. Daily News. “Covering the Knicks is so much worse.”

“Some of the things they practice here are completely against what you’d expect a normal team to do,” said Mr. Hahn, a second-year reporter on the beat who said that he now misses his old job as a hockey reporter covering the provincial New York Islanders. “They come up with things all the time. There’s zero access to players. They would rather you don’t even write.”

  • The stories from the reporters are endless: layers of institutional paranoia; public relations officials who openly eavesdrop on private conversations with executives and players; the threat—and implementation—of cutting off reporters who are perceived to be critical of the team.

“Everyone is so worried about upsetting Jim Dolan, or getting fired, and as a result people aren’t themselves,” said Mr. Beck. “If you transplanted the same individuals and put them in another city, then they’d be far more interesting. They’d be themselves.”

To their credit, the Knicks’ press officials don’t deny Mr. Dolan’s unusually hands-on role in managing their downtrodden core of reporters.

“I think it’s fair to say that Jim [Dolan] is aware of, and a part of, the shaping of the media policy,” said Barry Watkins, the senior vice president of communications for the Garden.

The policy was instituted in the summer of 2001. (Coincidentally, one supposes, the last year the Knicks had a winning record.)

When I spoke with Mr. Isola, the News reporter, on Saturday afternoon on the Garden floor, he pointed to a media relations official watching us. “He’s taking note that I’m talking to you,” he said.

On Monday night before a game against the Jazz, six reporters were speaking with forward Malik Rose. Nick Brown, a public relations official for the Knicks, was recording the proceedings on his BlackBerry, in an e-mail prepared for the Knicks’ head of P.R., Jonathan Supranowitz.

Sometimes Mr. Supranowitz does the monitoring himself.

  • “I take notes, absolutely,” said Mr. Supranowitz. “A P.R. person must be present for every interview. That’s a Garden policy.”

(Even, apparently, for interviews with other P.R. people: Mr. Supranowitz typed into his BlackBerry while I was speaking with his boss, Mr. Watkins.)

  • Even if a reporter pitches a fluff piece on a player, it can’t be done alone.

“Once you give a one-on-one interview, they all want one-on-one interviews,” said Mr. Watkins. “Instead of being available all at once, that player or coach has to do separate interviews every day, and that’s just not something we can do. We want to make sure players and coaches and all executives can focus on the task on hand.”

This is not standard practice elsewhere.

“There are very, very successful teams out there that treat the media with dignity and respect and recognize that 90 percent of the time it’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” said David Waldstein, the former Knicks beat reporter for The Star-Ledger. “Every writer who covers the Knicks gets the impression that we are treated as the enemy.”

  • (Starting this season, The Star-Ledger eliminated the Knicks beat, opting instead to run wire copy).

For working reporters at the Garden, typical meal options include a small plastic cup of coke and a sandwich with ham, processed turkey, swiss cheese and hard white bread, all for $8. When they’re at their floor seats watching the game, they’re given small fuzzy-picture TV’s to watch replays.

  • “I guess it doesn’t matter what they do to us, the beat guys,” observed Mr. Hahn. “But you’d think they care a little more about presentation when other reporters come to town. They don’t.”

Of course, the reporters shouldn’t be there for the frills. The Knicks should be a good story, even when they’re bad. The spectacular crash-and-burn of a storied franchise, after all, doesn’t lack for narrative tension or drama.

  • But for the reporters assigned to cover them, there’s something worse about this Knicks team. They’re not so much bad as unbearable."
Via Poynter.org/Romenesko

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