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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Sox media trouble?

There is a popular thread here at WSI about “Changing the Media Coverage” of the White Sox.  In addition there has been a great deal of ranting about both the local and national sports media.    While I disagree with some of the opinions posted, I do agree the Sox have a definite media problem.  It is a problem that has many sides, and part of it was clearly illustrated on the weekend of June 6-8.   

I am not a fan of WSCR or the Chicago sports media, but I did listen to the Score for a few minutes on the morning of June 7.  Steve Rosenbloom made the excellent point that the Cubs-Yankees series was hyped to the hilt, while the upcoming Sox series against defending National League champion San Francisco has been practically ignored.  This is despite the facts that Barry Bonds is on the Giants, and that the last time the Sox played the Giants in a game that counted was in 1917 when the Sox won their last World Series.   

The saturated coverage of the Cubs-New York series was nauseating.  The series was described as historical.  It was not.  It was a novelty.  Yes, all three games were entertaining but they were just three games.  And while Cub fans have a right to feel good about this series, they shouldn’t forget their favorite team was is in second place at the series’ end. 

What really stands out about this series was the overblown coverage.  It demonstrates what kind of battle the Sox face when they have to compete against a media giant that helps mold public opinion to the point that fans are giving a player accused of cheating a standing ovation. 

In addition to all of this constant myth-making about the Cubs, the Sox also face two huge and negative perceptions that are reinforced by the media in various ways: 
 

1. Jerry Reinsdorf is not committed to winning. 
2. Sox fans are nothing but fair-weather ingrates. 
 

The number one perception is far more than a media problem, and the number two perception has been hit home by the Tribune and other media outlets hard enough.  Whether these two perceptions are false, true or even partially true is no longer the point.  The White Sox have some big public relations issues and merely complaining about the injustice of it all won’t change anything. 

I have had a chance to talk to several Chicago sports reporters while I was working on my book on the Sox, and they described atmosphere around the Sox as “siege mentality” when it comes to the media.  Team access is not an easy thing, and some reporters feel the team shoots itself in the foot by stonewalling writers.  I agree since the media, whether good, bad or indifferent, has to be used to publicize the team.  If you deny access because of perceived unfair treatment, you will only have a harder time getting your message out, whatever that message may be. 

That brings me to my major point.  While the White Sox, at times, can make the case for unfair media treatment, they can also blame themselves for a negative image that they themselves have fostered.  Their angry advertisements, their obsession with proving the fans wrong, and their sitting on their hands while the local media rips their fan base has only created a bitter and negative aura around their team.  Peter Gammons has had nothing to do with this. 

I back up my opinion with two examples of the team’s relationship with WSI itself. 

In the early stages of the 2000 season when things looked rosy, I contacted the White Sox about interviewing Paul Konerko for WSI.  Konerko was still new to Chicago, appeared to be an emerging team leader, and was just plain having a good season.  But the Sox were not interested in allowing any interview, even a positive one that would directly reach their fan base. 

Sox PR man Scott Reifert eventually left me an angry voice mail.  “We don’t give press credentials to people who write books,” he screamed into my phone.  (I was writing my book at the time.)  Actually, I wasn’t asking for credentials to come to the ballpark; all I wanted was a 20 minute phone interview.  Fine, the White Sox had control of their player.  Meanwhile their fans lost a little opportunity to find out something about a rising star. 

George Bova also contacted Reifert about the possibility of getting some help in tracking down former Sox players.  Many WSI visitors have enjoyed Mark Liptak’s interviews with past Sox players.  It is a good way to stimulate interest in a team when that team has a good sense of history.  The White Sox did nothing to help in this venture, even though it could have only created good will. 

I understand the Sox have to be careful about access to their players and or personnel.  I also understand that the team probably doesn’t like the pet names Hal Vickery has given their manager and general manager and that the White Sox get criticized plenty on WSI.  However, the team’s biggest fans visit and post on the site.  The Sox should understand the fan-team relationship is a love-hate one anyway.   

Go to any Border’s or Barnes and Noble.  You will see about four Cubs books to every White Sox book.  These books recall the disaster of 1969, promote Wrigley as the world’s eighth great wonder, and in general, celebrate the lovable losers.  It does make sense that there will be more Cub books since that is perceived as a larger market.  Regardless, the Sox are buried under this avalanche of propaganda.  If anything, they should be seeking more ways to reach their fans, not less. 

I am no fan of the Chicago sports media.  It did next to nothing to give me publicity about my book.  At the same time, they were under no obligation to do so, and I just did the best I could to get my message out.  The White Sox should do the same.  No one can control the media.  We can only live with them.


Editor's Note:  Dan Helpingstine is a free lance writer living in Highland, Indiana.  In the early 80's, he worked as a stringer for The Times, then based in Hammond, Indiana, covering business-labor news.  For six years, he worked as a part-time sportswriter for the Merrillville Herald, a weekly that was a part of a chain of weeklies in Lake and Porter Counties.  He covered high school football and basketball.  In 1995, Helpingstine had a short story published in a murder mystery anthology entitled Murder Is My Business.  He also has had articles on the JFK murder published in the Post-Tribune of Gary.  His new book is titled "Through Hope and Despair."  It is the story of one fan's roller coaster ride with the luckless White Sox.

More features from Dan Helpingstine here!

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