Whitlock on the Newspaper Industry: Letting "Myth" Albom Preach Was the Equivalent of the "band play


In the 4+ years of this website’s history, we’ve interviewed columnist Jason Whitlock twice. After the first one, he lost his job on the Sports Reporters. So when he announced on twitter today he felt like dropping a nuclear journalism bomb, we were more than happy to offer him a platform. Whitlock’s words are after the jump.

Dave Kindred, a giant in the sports-writing profession, authored a subtle-yet-classy criticism of APSE’s decision to bestow Mitch Albom its highest honor, The Red Smith Award.

My criticism will not be classy or subtle.

If you’re looking for clues why the newspaper industry is in credibility, relevancy and grassroots-traction free-fall, behold the level of head-in-sand denial necessary for APSE to provide Albom a grand platform to preach journalism ethics and vision.

This is so much deeper than the 2005 Michigan State/Final Four fiction that earned Albom a 2-week suspension and a white-wash investigation of his previous work by his Detroit Free Press enablers.

Myth Albom is and always has been the king of feel-good fairy tales about dead sources, make-believe dead people in heaven, Fab Five basketball players and any other source willing to keep quiet while Albom poured syrup and exaggeration on some cute anecdote.

Associated Press Sports Editors, the political, ass-kissing organization that pretends to be sports writing’s selfless guardian, built King Myth Albom’s throne, celebrating his money-quote-filled narrative schmaltz year after year with enough plaques to build an ark.

When I took a job in 1992 at the Ann Arbor News, I had a front-row seat during King Myth Albom’s glory years. My main job was covering the Fab Five. Albom’s main job seemed to be creating a Fab Five narrative that would fit neatly into a best-selling book.

Not surprisingly, most of my Michigan sports-writing peers watched the Fab Five pull up to practices and games in expensive SUVs and assumed C-Web, Jalen, Juwan and Co. weren’t exactly starving while pursuing higher education. I spent an entire day playing video games inside Webber’s beautifully furnished apartment. Years later, nothing about the Ed Martin investigation and the hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled to Webber surprised me.

Only Myth Albom, the “journalist” given the most access to the Fab Five by head coach Steve Fisher, was shocked by the good life Webber lived on UM’s campus. In his Fab Five book, Albom lamented the “fact” that Webber couldn’t afford McDonald’s while the university made millions off the sale of his jersey.

Feel-good narrative fiction bullshit was Albom’s money-maker long before he published Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

The people running APSE know this. But they’re not going to admit their mistake because then they would have to admit that their organization and annual contest are bullshit, too.

It’s called denial, a mental state newspaper leadership lives in while the industry many of us love burns.

APSE propping Albom up is one more sign that newspaper leadership is both clueless and unwilling to dismantle systems put in place to reward butt-kissing climbers.

At a time when it’s embarrassingly obvious we should’ve adopted new content approaches 15 years ago, APSE, by defiantly recognizing Albom, is stating “we did nothing wrong.”

We keep selling the copout excuse that the economy is the reason we’re failing. Or that young people are too stupid to realize how good we are. It’s all bullshit.

We refused to change. We didn’t make room for Bill Simmons. We remained beholden to an APSE contest that in no way takes into account context, impact, relevancy, traction or innovation.

That approach is fine and dandy when there’s no competition and local newspapers printed money. You can ignore your readers and put out content targeted at contest judges when there’s no place else for readers to go.

Unfortunately, it’s 2010 and not 1986. You don’t need the newspaper to find out what’s playing at the movies, or what the weather is going to be like, or what’s on TV, etc. The things that made newspapers essential can be found other places.

We now have to survive on creativity, original ideas and innovation. Television, YouTube, laptops, blogs, Twitter and cell phones have made narrative sports writing less valuable. It’s made fictional, feel-good, narrative bullshit far more risky. That’s why Myth Albom is trying to transition into steward of journalism ethics. (If nothing else, the guy has huge balls. By the time he’s done rewriting history, the public will blame the former Michigan State players for skipping the Final Four.)

APSE and its myth-building contest bait newspaper leadership to stay stagnant. Presenting Albom an award and giving him a platform to preach was the equivalent of the band playing while the Titanic took on water.

Excuse the arrogance, but the idiots running APSE should’ve invited me, Bill Simmons, Adrian Wojnarowski, Will Leitch, Dan Wetzel, Mike Florio, Dan LeBatard and TJ Simers to pontificate about the stupidity of newspapers. (I didn’t check with any of these people about writing this. They’re just a few of the many people in the business with the balls to do things differently. They might disagree with everything I’ve written here.)

Instead, the sycophants invited their bottom chick to make love one last time.

I was glad Dave Kindred mustered the courage to speak up. The newspaper industry is being driven by fear. The market place of ideas has disappeared. There are no jobs. People have mortgages to pay and kids in need of daycare or college. Everyone just tries to avoid conflict and avoid the next round of layoffs.

Fear and ass-kissing won’t save newspapers.