Journalism and the Battle for Access

We’ve seen how great access, paired with the newest analytics, can be the future of blogging. Ted Berg of SNY took the newest in catcher defense research to the park with him and talked it over with Mike Nickeas, the Mets’ backup catcher. David Laurila does this every day. The two pieces Ryan Campbell wrote about Brandon McCarthy and his pitching mix were also great examples of this.

But what happens when increased access leads to stories that are less favorable to the team in question? That describes the situation in New York right now, and it looks like the independent freelance blogger/journalist is the one that loses out when David meets Goliath.

Howard Megdal, who has put together a full-time writing career by workiing for The Journal News, Capital New York, MLBTradeRumors and others, also penned an e-book called Wilpon’s Folly. It turns out, the Mets didn’t “like” his reporting and today let The Journal News know that the team would be revoking his press credentials for the coming season.

To be fully up front about this, I have received credentials from the Mets before, and worked with them directly before breaking a story of my own about the Mets’ financial state. In my experience, their department has been gracious and kind in allowing independent journalists and bloggers limited access to the ballpark. The Mets are generally blogger-friendly.

But not in this case.

Megdal has made no reservations about the adversarial nature of his journalism. He once campaigned — although tongue-in-cheek — to be the General Manager for the Mets. He’s worked hard to uncover the true state of the finances of the Mets owners. It seems like he believes, like most Mets fans, that it’s time for change at the very top of the Mets organization.

Perhaps the Wilpons took issue with some of the claims that the advocacy journalist made in his book. Among the more upsetting claims might have been that Fred Wilpon asked Bud Selig to strike the provision requiring him to assist David Einhorn in pursuing majority ownership if the Wilpons couldn’t repay Einhorn for his stake.

The idea would be that Selig would play the bad cop. When Major League Baseball put the kibosh on Einhorn, Wilpon would have plausible deniability, and could throw up his hands and say, “What can I do? This is how MLB works.” — Howard Megdal, Wilpon’s Folly

This claim asserts a cozy view of the relationship between the Wilpons and Selig that reeks of back-room deals — instead of being upfront with Einhorn about their dealings, Megdal asserts that he went to his buddy Selig for help. It therefore also stains the Wilpons’ credibility in a time when they need financial help.

The Wilpons own the Mets. The Mets can therefore pull the credentials of an author that impugns the credibility of their owner. No-one is asserting that the Mets do not have this within their power, and of course in at least one way, their actions make sense. It wasn’t the only tool the team had in their tool-box — after all, they have 63,000+ twitter followers to Megdal’s 1,400+, and they’ve used twitter to refute stories before — but it’s a tool that they are allowed to wield.

But any public relations department understands that controlling a story is half the battle. Controlling the conversation is the ongoing objective.

By revoking Megdal’s credentials, they created a story of the blogger and gave legs to all of his assertions. Within hours of announcing the Mets’ decision, there were pieces up on most major blogs. Mainstream media members weighed in with their opinions on twitter. Many new readers discovered Howard Megdal and Wilpons’ Folly. The finances of the Mets, which had received a limited boost with the announcement that SNY would buy two minority shares, as well as the fact that the Dodgers’ sale looks to bring in whopping numbers, are now a subject of conversation again. And not in a good way.

The twitter conversation about the Mets today could have been their failure to sign a flawed Rick Ankiel. Or the chatter could have been about the fact that, if the Dodgers are worth $X billion then the Mets must be worth $X+2 billion. The talk could have been about the approach of Spring Training.

Instead, the conversation was about Mets’ PR blunders. It was about an independent journalist that angered a Major League team and had his credentials revoked. It was, once again, about the credibility of the team.

In that way, the team helped Howard Megdal’s case, even while they were negatively affecting his ability to ply his trade. In that way, today was another bad day for the Mets.

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Brandon Warne

As someone who is at times credentialed by a big league club, this just makes me sad. Reminds me of what happened to John Perrotto in Pittsburgh, too.