Saturday, July 22, 2006

Unraveling the Browns TV Situation

Quite a bit more light has been shed on the dispute between the NFL's Cleveland Browns and Raycom Media's WOIO/19, the local CBS affiliate.

The sunlight comes from a Tony Grossi article in this morning's Cleveland Plain Dealer, where he clears up some of the confusion about that controversial 911 call...which prompted Browns owner Randy Lerner to move to sever the team's ties with WOIO.

In his first direct comments on the matter, Lerner confirmed that the 911 call incident was the sole reason he's trying to cut loose from the last two years of the team's 3 year contract with WOIO for pre-season games and other Browns programming.

Lerner tells Grossi that first and foremost, no matter what happens, the Browns' pre-season games will air on local TV this year. That's really never been in question, as the team has at least one very eager suitor (WEWS/5 - which Grossi confirms has offered to take over the rights)...but Lerner had to say it to calm the nerves of diehard Browns fans.

He also says that if it's decided that the Browns are legally bound by their contract with Channel 19, they'll abide by the contract...and they won't go after a resolution that would deprive the team's fans of seeing the games. "If we have to do business with them, then we'll do business with them. But if we don't have to, great," Lerner tells Grossi.

Grossi indicates that the Browns could end up buying their way out of the WOIO contract, and if forced to allow WOIO to air the games, the team could still pursue ending its endorsement of the station's other Browns-related programming.

Despite saying he'll "do business" with Channel 19 if forced to do so legally, Lerner is clearly still seething at Reserve Square, nearly ten days after telling them to get lost.

"I just don't know how you do business with people that do that to you," the Browns owner tells the Plain Dealer...saying the organization is "disgusted and shocked" with WOIO's actions. And he tells Grossi that the matter is very personal to him, considering it involves his family. "This is strictly a matter of dignity and trying to do what's right by my sister and by my mom."

As for the 911 call from Lerner's sister, today's report says that a part of the call was also aired by FOX's WJW/8, though not the "gruesome" part Grossi says ran on "19 Action News".

WKYC/3 and WEWS/5, after much internal discussion, decided to not to air any part of the call. WJW's Mike Renda said they wanted to be "respectful" of Mr. Lerner and his family, and felt comfortable with the part of the call they did air.

Too busy trying to save his job, WOIO/WUAB general manager Bill Applegate was not available for comment in the newspaper...

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

What's that old saying?..."Heads will roll," or "The stink of a fish is in its head." Applegate may well be packing his bags over this debacle, but his callous, arrogant attitude permeates both WOIO and WUAB, and most observers in Cleveland are well aware of it.

Don't most contracts have a "gross misconduct" escape clause. If ever something qualified, exploiting a business client's grief and hysteria for the sake of news sensationalism fits the bill. Keep those legal eagles on the case for escape, Mr. Lerner. You've got FOUR better options in town, people who will appreciate the product and business relationship.

Jeff Gravely said...

"Appreciate the business relationship."

Great, I guess we can look forward to watered-down Browns coverage with little to no criticism about the organization.

What WOIO did was wrong...we all understand that. But if the Browns have their way - don't expect any legitimate reporting about the team by their tv suitors.

Ohio Media Watch said...

Speaking only for myself, and the vast staff of Ohio Media Watch, such as it is:

I personally have NO problem with a station's "aggressive coverage" with legitimate criticism of the team.

I haven't really taken apart how WOIO has covered the team since taking over the local TV rights, but they have every right to look into legitimate news concerns about the team, such as the occasionally bad off-field antics of some team members and how the team handles it.

We have no idea how WOIO handled, for example, Reuben Droughns' recent personal off-field problems...but we'd not at all be concerned with them making light of something that could affect the team and its fortunes. And football wise, if the wheels start falling off the Browns wagon this coming season, by all means, WOIO should report that.

And the Lerner family and the team should recognize that legitimate reporting of the team's not-so-good news should be allowed by WOIO or any other rights holder.

That's not the point in this situation.

In this case, the point is that the station chose to air sensational parts of a 911 call involving the family of the team's ownership, because that's what they do...go over the top for ratings.

They legally obtained the call, and legally played the portions in question.

But since they DO have a business relationship with the team, they are paying the consequences of their newsroom actions.

The Browns also have every right to pursue the end of their contractural relationship with the station. From the article, it appears Mr. Lerner is ready to gulp and live with it if the contract can't be broken.

If WOIO is they're willing to live with their decision, fine. You might notice you don't see Bill Applegate standing on his high horse talking about journalistic integrity, tho.

WOIO is not some High Ranking Beacon of Journalism (hah!)...it's a profit-making TV entity which could lose millions after this misstep.

There, someone else can take the soapbox.

-OMW

Anonymous said...

Well said, OMW. This story was not about the Browns' "on-the-field" play or antics, but a personal tragedy that was aired out for the sake of ratings. I don't think anyone expects any of the stations to let up in their reporting, critical or otherwise, of the product on the field. That's always fair-game.

But also, Browns fans are intelligent enought (football-wise, at least) to make their own judgement calls about the team, without some reporter (or, as in the case with 19/43, some STRIPPER) telling us how good/bad things are. And thankfully, with the straight-shooting Romeo, he doesn't mince words...so who needs the anal-ists, anyway?

To all those defending 19/43 in this matter, I wonder if you'd feel the same if the stations were sticking a mic in YOUR face after your little girl was killed!

Anonymous said...

ch 43 & 19 care only about their bottom-line, period. 43 was the only station in the area that didn't air the Katrina telethon that all other broadcasters pulled together in. The only non-participant. Aired their lame comedies instead. Nice. Same management made this call on the Browns/Lerner catastrophe, only this time they're all concerned, because it's gonna affect their $$$.

Chuck Booms said...

Ummm...Denise was at the event - know your facts.


"To all those defending 19/43 in this matter, I wonder if you'd feel the same if the stations were sticking a mic in YOUR face after your little girl was killed!:

That is horrendous logic! If the news was to use the criteria: "How would they like it if they were the subject of a particular story" then NOTHING would ever be reported.

Yes...they absolutely made a mistake in this case; they sensationalized it. But let's not act like each instance is so clear cut. It's already been said on this board; this sets a terrible precedent if WOIO gets stripped of their coverage. Don't expect any "real Browns coverage" from the station that get their rights.

Ohio Media Watch said...

First of all, Chuck, if that's indeed you...welcome aboard. Unfortunately, your weekend stint on FSR is not heard down here in Akron. Maybe it'll be on 'KNR if they decide to go that route in October...

I just wanted to make clear we should make a very important distinction here.

The coverage of the tragic event involving Mr. Lerner's niece is NOT a Browns story.

Anything that happens to Randy Lerner is a Browns-related story, because he owns the team. But the story itself has nothing to do with the team.

As I noted above, I fully expect even the Browns rightsholder to cover the team objectively in both news and sports. It's probably dreaming, because that relationship between station and team usually colors the way the station covers a team, but I'd like to see it.

This particular story and WOIO's misstep has nothing to do with how the TEAM is covered. Period. It is a personal matter, not involving Berea, and Channel 19 made its own bed.

If Randy Lerner had dumped WOIO after such things as Chuck Galeti's aggressive questioning of Kellen Winslow (so aggressive that "K2"'s father felt the need to scream about it), I'd be singing a different tune. If Mr. Lerner had decided to end the relationship due to "19 Action News" reporting Reuben Droughns' off-field problem, ditto.

Though 19 still has to answer for its reckless style, in my head, I'd have been much more concerned if this were tied to team coverage. It's not. It's a personal situation.

Back off the soapbox. And thank you for reading and showing up!

-OMW

Anonymous said...

What WOIO did was unethical in that it was wrong to exploit the tragedy of a girl who did not do any wrong for $$$ in addition to her mother who at the most exercised poor judgment. Granted Ch 8 aired a portion of the audio, but not the portion of the call that was horrific and exploitable. The public does not need to hear any call that does not have some sort of bearing on the story. Ch 19 decided the hell with what was right or wrong and said tragedy sells and lets do what we can to make a quick buck. They feel that a tragic event is best handled and treated in a way that places the terrible misfortunes of a family in a manner that is nothing more than a chance to exploit and profit from instead of respecting the family. If this would of happened to a member of the 19 action news ream, would they of treated them as if they are irresponsible, ignorant, and unable to take care of their child? Hell no. They would have respected the family and given then all the privacy they needed. This is what you get when you hire people who are told ratings first, integrity second.
Besides many of the higher ups assume that the 19 action news viewer is ignorant, stupid, and uneducated and hence they treat the viewer this way. Look at the past few years, a anchor strips for a news story, they hire Jerry Springer to do news reports during the Democrat National convention, they hire a anchor who exercised poor judgment, they ambushed one former mayor over his decisions, hounded another mayor for her conduct and as a result got banned from city hall, hired a stripper to pump up a story, went after every restaurant that had even one dead fly, and treats the news a one big joke. If you look at the flashy graphics and breaking news every 5 seconds, you realize that they are only concerned about attracting the dollar at the viewer who has either a short attention span, or who stops and stairs at a car wreck.
I think Ch 19 has the right to report what happens to the browns members, but they should respect the participants involved, be unbiased, unattached, and report the truth even if it does not sell. They have a tendency to forget about the truth and focus on how best they can make more money. Remember sex sells as does murder, rape and theft. If it did not, then they would not be placing a emphasis on it. When it comes to Ch 43 not airing the Katrina telethon, there feeling was that if Ch 19was airing why waste the extra channel. When 9/11 occurred, both Ch 19and 43 aired the telethon so they must of felt that if you had an interest or if you gave a damn then you would watch.

Anonymous said...

Remeber this is all coming from a station who has a Dirty Dining reporter on staff. Like that shows you have a creditable news organization. Besides they have the solgan honest, fair, everywhere. I don't see what is honest, and fair about ambushing people and explioting their for a higher ratings point or in this case a mother who lost their child. But then again in their own opinion they would be lying to you if they did not air the whole 9-11 call,they would not be fair if they did not tell the misfortunes of what appears to be one of the town's richer residents,and if they donot cover stories from the whole entire area then they cannot be everywhere now can they. I think that Randy Learner's personal life is not browns business but I do think that his affairs concerning the day to day operations of the team is browns business. If you look at this stations past you realize that without this garbage they pass off as being news stories then they would have nothing execpt reruns of Roseanne and Jerry Springer.

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Anonymous said...

From a human interest standpoint, NO MATTER WHO the family was, I would hope that news merit rather than sensationalism determines how a story is reported.

Tragedy is a part of life, and listeners need and have a right to be informed, but presentations which include unneccesary graphic details always cross the boundary of good taste and respect. WOIO's exclusive tabloid approach to everything is getting very old, and annoying.

From a business standpoint, it will take years to determine the impact of lost revenue WOIO may experience from this decision. There may or may not be a lawsuit, but having the team owner's disgust being reported EVERYWHERE won't help you. If Mr. Lerner is as angry as I suspect he is, his influence could very well affect ad revenue for that station for years to come.

This story is NOT about how the Browns will be covered in the future, it's about how hurt the Lerner family really is and how Randy Lerner will deal with this from his position of power.

As far as Mr. Applegate is concerned, he had a decision to make and apparently his choice has caused potential lost revenue for now and the unforseen future, untold irrepreable public relations damage, and his tabloid blueprint for success will now come under intense scrutiny both locally and nationally.

Is this someone you would keep or let go? To smooth the PR issues and stop the bleeding with regard to revenue loss, he's got to go. He may have maintained the continuity of his "down and dirty" journalism, but at what cost? It depends on how "down and dirty" Mr. Lerner can get.

Newy Scruggs said...

Wow, tons of Chuck Booms hatred mixed in with some jealousy. How about you guys post your REAL names and THEN take shots at a local guy who has done quite well for himself (outside of Cleveland I might add).

Or you can just hide behind your computers...

Ohio Media Watch said...

Welcome to OMW, Mr. Scruggs. (For those who don't remember, Newy Scruggs did sports anchoring on weekends at WEWS/5, and is now a sports anchor at KXAS/5 in Dallas.)

http://www.newdawg.com/about.asp

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