(Each month SI.com highlights those in the sports media who have proved newsworthy, both for positive and negative achievements.)
1, Rob Brown, reporter, CTV British Columbia senior reporter/anchor: With anarchy swirling around him on the booze-soaked streets of downtown Vancouver, Brown provided a riveting live account of the post-Stanley Cup riots for Canadian viewers and for those of us watching from the States via streaming video. It was visceral stuff, and so close was Brown to the action that you wondered at times if he'd be engulfed by some of the hooligans. His impact on viewers was huge: Brown became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter during his reporting.
Brown told SI.com the morning after the riots he was fearful for his safety, though not during his live coverage, when he had security guards with him. Before going live, he walked the downtown Vancouver streets looking for his camera people. He was quickly recognized while shooting footage on a hand-held camera. "You get to a place where you are feeling exposed because people are really aggressive, you are newsgathering, and people are doing things where they don't want to be caught on tape," said Brown, who has worked as a reporter for CTV for 10 years.
Brown and his cameraman, Jazz Sanghera, never lost their cool, even though Sanghera suffered a broken nose from flying debris (The photojournalist went back to the station to stop the bleeding, grabbed a new battery and headed back out to his job; he went to a hospital the following day). It was only until the next morning, after Brown spoke with his wife, Rosa Marchitelli, a broadcast journalism instructor at British Columbia Institute of Technology, that he began to gain some perspective. "I took my three young boys to school and you start thinking about how these three young boys will one day be young men and what they might get caught up in," he said.
Brown said he finished his reporting after midnight and eventually fell asleep at 3:45 a.m. after making it home on a late train. He was back at work the following day. "In a word -- surreal," Marchitelli tweeted about her husband's night. "Luckily he came out without a scratch. But there were some scary moments,"
2. Jim Miller, author, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN: His oral history of ESPN has been praised, gutted and dissected but the mainstream success of the book cannot be argued: Last week Those Guys reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, a remarkable achievement. Whether the book has impacted ESPN's culture is subject to debate but there are plenty of suits unhappy that Miller unearthed some financial nuggets (such as ESPN being worth more than the NFL and a former ESPN ombudsman making millions off the company before being named its watchdog). It also caused hard feelings between staffers (though, publicly, no staffer has been punished for comments, including Bobby Knight delightfully referring to Jeremy Schaap as a chicken---- little ----sucker.).
One rivalry from the book has receded. I can report here that Bill Simmons recently called Mike Tirico to apologize for his comments about Tirico in the book. They spoke by phone for 15 minutes and also spoke in person at the NBA Finals. I called Tirico on Thursday afternoon to ask him for a reaction.
"I appreciated him doing that," Tirico said. "When I saw people say that there was feud between Bill and I, I was surprised because we had only spoken once. He was a guest on my radio show and everything was cordial. There was no feud between the two of us. I did not know how he felt about the Tony [Kornheiser] era of Monday Night Football.
"We talked. I brought up some points to him that I was surprised he said because he did not know anything about what was going on at that time because he was never around us. Nor had he ever spoken to me, nor understood a lot of the things that go into doing games. I don't know where he got his information from to become the spokesman for it, but he was kind enough to apologize and apologize publicly on his podcast. I appreciate him doing that. I still wish he didn't say what he said, but to apologize is the respectful thing to do and I appreciate that.
3. Marv Albert, CBS and TNT: The late-career renaissance of Albert -- he turned 70 last week -- has been remarkable to watch. After his successful turn calling the NCAA tournament for CBS and Turner, CBS announced earlier this month Albert had joined its roster of NFL announcers. Not only was it a smart move based on Albert's broadcasting merits, but also a savvy PR play for CBS after parting ways with Gus Johnson. Like Johnson, Albert has a big following among younger viewers.
"I understand that there are some very, very good announcers there who have been doing it for CBS for a long time," Albert told SI.com. "I've been told I will have very significant games. We have not gone much further than that at this point. I know it sounds like an athlete quote, but I'm really happy to be part of it."
4. Mark Lazarus, NBC Sports Chairman: In a delightful bit of tweaking during his network's upfront presentation to advertisers last month, ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper volunteered the difference between an ESPN Olympics and the network that has held the American broadcast rights for more than two decades. "[NBC will] hate this, but I'll say it anyway because we believe it: The way we would do it different is we would present everything live," said Skipper.
For hard-core Olympics fans, NBC's tape-delayed coverage has elicited plenty of four-letter words other than "live." Under longtime NBC Sports and Olympics chief Dick Ebersol, the corporate mantra was to protect at all costs the prime-time show, which maximized eyeballs and ad dollars. The ratings often bolstered Ebersol's argument: NBC averaged 24.4 million viewers a night for the Vancouver Games, up 21 percent from 2006. But with Ebersol exiting last month in a dispute with Comcast management and the network retaining the rights with a winning bid of $4.38 billion for the Games through 2020, Lazarus, the new chairman, announced a strategic shift for Olympic watchers. "We will make every event available, on one platform or another, live," Lazarus said.
Here's a great account by SBJ's Tripp Mickle on how NBC retained the rights. Lazarus told SI.com the network is still evaluating its production plans for the 2012 London Games and would not commit to specifics, but did say there will be more live coverage across the core platforms (national broadcast television, national cable, online, and mobile). Given that more people have access to computers than televisions during the workday, the likelihood is that the majority of live coverage will be online.
As for the criticism of tape-delayed strategy, Lazarus said, " I think the criticism spoke to a small group of very passionate sports fans but I don't think it was fair to the NBC Olympics Group in terms of what they were building for a mass audience and setting records. That being said, we are a different company today. We are a much bigger media company, we have more platforms and we reach consumers in a variety of ways. So there will be ways to take the best of what has been a tremendous historical success and continue to evolve coverage to make sure we are inclusive of everyone, including the fans, who demand real-time coverage."
Lazarus has a rich Olympic tradition of his own. His father, John, a sales executive for ABC Sports during the 1970s, took his then-16-year-old son out of school for two weeks so Mark could attend the 1980 Games in Lake Placid. Young Mark listened to the Miracle on Ice game on the radio while working as a waiter at the Placid Manor Inn.
5. John Barr and Nicole Noren, ESPN: Reporter Barr's and producer Noren's exploration into the sex industry trade won a national Investigative Reporting Edward R. Murrow Award this month from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Noren said the ESPN Enterprise Unit had been thinking about a piece on human trafficking and major sporting events since the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The reporters spent about nine months interviewing dozens of sources in South Africa and around the world, including officials in law enforcement, government agencies, research institutes and advocacy groups, as well as the pimps and prostitutes who worked the brothels and streets of South African cities that hosted World Cup matches. Prior to the World Cup, the ESPN staffers spent 10 days shooting in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The piece ran on Outside The Lines.
"Initially, one of the most difficult aspects of reporting this story was separating hype from reality," Noren said. "We had to find people on the ground who were directly dealing with trafficking victims because trusting numbers and statistics is not reliable and not a true indication if human trafficking is actually occurring. After we had proceeded with the reporting, it became clear to us the only way we were going to be able to capture evidence of trafficking would be using hidden cameras. Coordinating the undercover operation in a fashion that would keep both ourselves and the potential trafficking victims safe was a very complicated and risky endeavor. Some very scary situations arose on the shoot, particularly in Johannesburg, and we couldn't have pulled off what we did without the teamwork of our local fixer/producer Melanie Hamman, our camera crew and our security team."
"It would have been easy to only focus on the sports aspect and the stories about the athletes," Noren continued, "but it's much more difficult to dig deeper and show the human side. We really have to give our editors credit for allowing us to pursue such a non-traditional story." Bravo.
6. Scott Harves, feature producer, ESPN: Those who die young in sports leave a mark on us. Such was the case with the death of Wes Leonard, the two-sport star at Fennville (Mich.) High who collapsed and died at age 16 after scoring the game-winning layup in a basketball game on March 3.
Last month ESPN aired Harves' magnificently edited and produced 16-minute retrospective on Leonard's life, and the effects his death had on the community. With unique access to the team (and Leonard's family) for 10 days in March, Harves filmed the team through its three district playoff wins and during its loss to eventual state champ Schoolcraft High. He said he shot well over 50 hours of footage.
Shortly after Leonard's death, Harves made contact with Fennville Athletic Director Tony Petkus, who told him Leonard had always wanted to be on ESPN. "He couldn't even finish his thoughts without breaking down into tears on the phone with me," said Harves, who has worked at ESPN for 14 years. "This was roughly 40 hours since Wes passed.
"Tony was the guy who helped put everything together behind the scenes for the team," explained Harves. "We set up a meeting with Tony, head coach Ryan Klingler and with Wes' uncle Jim Leonard. Every decision they were making seemed to be based on what they thought Wes would want or how he'd react in the situation. The team decided to play because the family told them it's what Wes would have wanted, and their decision to let us follow them, according to Tony, was based on Wes, and also based on what they knew about the quality of ESPN features.
"There was a lot more to Wes than athletics, and we probably could have done an additional 16-minute piece on all the great things he did off the court. His brother, Mitchell, actually did not want to discuss anything with us, but the family invited us back to speak with Mitchell after some weeks passed. After I finished interviewing him, he actually thanked me for coming, and said it felt good to finally talk about Wes with someone else. That made my year."
7. Brian Grey, Bleacher Report.com, CEO: Few sports sites have engendered more wrath from both bloggers and the mainstream sports media, so I thought it would be interesting to interview the person at the top. In this long Q&A, Grey addresses plenty of concerns, as well as what he says is a committed effort to raise the quality of content on the site.
8. Zack Meisel and James Oldham, The Lantern. The Wall Street Journal recently captured some of the perils of covering sports for a student newspaper. "Uncovering rules violations in college athletics might seem like it should be easy for student journalists," wrote the Journal's Hannah Karp and Darren Everson. "After all, they live on campus and have unparalleled access to players and their friends and classmates. But if history is any guide, this sort of reporting takes more nerve than you might think. Student reporters who paint a school's sports teams in a negative light have faced ridicule and social isolation. Some have been fired from their posts."
It's why I have great admiration for Meisel and Oldham, the duo for Ohio State's student-run daily whose story last month on former Ohio State football player Ray Small (he confirmed some of the allegations the school was investigating) helped illuminate the out-of-control nature of the program. Meisel and Oldham also held firm after Small claimed he was misquoted. It helped that they had the audiotapes from the interview.
Last week Meisel graduated from Ohio State and is now an associate reporter covering the Cleveland Indians for MLB.com. Oldham will graduate later this summer and is interning with CBS in New York City.
"I've written my share of controversial columns about Ohio State football in the past, so contrary to what many have thought, learning how to deal with hate mail and negative feedback has not been my biggest learning experience." Meisel wrote in an email. "Instead, it's been how the media can be like a snowball rolling downhill. I expected the Small story to make headlines with local Columbus media outlets, but didn't anticipate the national attention it would receive.
"Then, after an ESPN article mentioned some of the hate mail I received, my coverage became the focus of media coverage for another day. I think reporters tend to prefer to break the news, not be the news, so I never thought that I would become the topic of conversation for just doing my job. I expected to be the co-author of a somewhat major story. Instead, I was involved in major news for about a week. I certainly learned how massive media coverage can be."
9. Woody Paige, The Denver Post and ESPN: Some have argued Sports Business Journal reporter John Ourand was wrong to publicly call out Paige for swiping an SBJ quote without attribution. I am not one of those people. Ourand is a reporter (he's also a friend) who does his due diligence, and I know for certain he did such with his sourcing before going public on Twitter. Had he not used such a public forum, I'm not convinced Paige would have ever responded. The longtime sports columnist ultimately offered an explanation to the Denver's Westword newspaper -- one that I'd define as my dog ate my homework. He did call Ourand to apologize, which the SBJ reporter appreciated.
The Sports by Brooks website has since spent the past two weeks dissecting Paige's columns like a forensic scientist, and made a bold charge that Paige plagiarized a Miami Herald story in 1995 on former NFL linebacker Ricky Jackson. Paige denied those charges to the Westword and repeated that denial after former Rocky Mountain News columnist Norm Clarke [he now works for the Las Vegas Review-Journal] backed up some of SBB's claims.
Paige has continued to appear daily on Around The Horn, playing the Inspector Clouseau role, and ESPN executives have remained quiet on him, which one can surmise as support for him. That's where things stand now -- and perhaps forever. Where Paige should worry is that Sports by Brooks appears driven to dissect his archives, and such a dissection has not proven well for Paige this month.
10. Colin Cowherd, ESPN:This pretty much sums it up. Or you can read this. Of course, there's this, too, but that's a whole other subject.