“New Journalism": How it Applies to the Portland Trail Blazers

| by Dwight Jaynes

Folks, it’s all about controlling the message. And it’s all about your Internet presence.

The Portland Trail Blazers introduced a new general manager Monday. And on the first wave of news, he was introduced to Portland, and Portland learned about him, almost exclusively through the team’s website.

In effect, that allowed the team to control the message and shape the story as much as it possibly could for as long as it could.

Remember what happened? Word got out that Rich Cho would become the team’s general manager and within minutes there was an interview with Cho on the Trail Blazers’ home page. It was taped Sunday night and packaged for web use. A little while later, there was an exclusive interview with team owner Paul Allen on the site — to this day the only interview with the reclusive owner available on the subject.

Mike Barrett, the team’s play-by-play man, did both the interviews.

This is the wave of the future, not only in sports but with news from any major corporation: control the message, control its distribution as much as possible. Own it! Potentially make money off it, through the web, if possible. But mostly, just make sure the message gets sent — at least initially — exactly as the company wants it spelled out.

What happens, of course, is that the story gets only one treatment. One slant. Now you can argue all day that newspapers, blogs, magazines, radio stations all have their ax to grind. That they all shape the message in whatever way they wish. Maybe. Sometimes. Of course. But at least you have the opportunity to take a look at all the points of view, consider the slant and make up your own mind.

But long term, those of us in the media aren’t real happy with the new reality and I don’t think you should be, either. I don’t think tough questions will be asked and I’m not sure truth will always be found until some form of independent media — be it blogs, newspapers, TV, whatever — gets the chance to ask questions. And I’d be plenty suspicious of the message until more people have a chance to pass it along.

As far as the Trail Blazers go, though, I’m sure they saw the whole production Monday as a very big success. They had statements up on their site from Larry Miller and Paul Allen, they had the exclusive interview with Cho and got plenty of run from all of it. They got a positive message out there for a few hours during the critical time, the breaking of their story — and I’m sure their web traffic was incredible.

In short, the team maximized the impact of the hire in two important ways — potential revenue through massive traffic increases on the site while having complete control of the content of the message.

At the same time, they kept media away from Allen, Miller and Cho until the team had its own spin on the story fully distributed and explained. Now granted, this wasn’t the most controversial story you’re going to find. But it’s an indication of how companies — and teams — will attempt to handle such stories in the future.

They want control. And through their skillful use of the web, they now have a convenient and powerful way of doing that.

But do fans win? You’re going to have to decide that. And I’m afraid you’re going to have to get used to that.

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