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News Wars--The Readers Strike Back

News Wars--The Readers Strike Back

In TV news, there's a saying that goes, "If it bleeds, it leads," meaning that reports on violence grab viewers. I can't come up with a similar, Jesse Jackon-esque catch phrase for it, but I've found out that nothing grabs the interest of the readers of this blog quite like a story about media coverage of the Redskins. I get more emails, see more message board responses, and generate more page hits on articles about the Redskins and the press or, more accurately these days, the Redskins vs. the press, than I do about any other subject. It's not even close.

And there's a clear pattern to the tone of the comments I receive. When I'm critical of the coverage of the team, the vast majority of the messages are of the "right on, you tell 'em" variety. If I am perceived as taking the side of Big Media, I suddenly become a moron. Even somebody as dense as I can be sometimes can see that there is a high level of discontent with the state of Redskins coverage by the media.

The comments about the most recent article about the media that appeared here on Sunday fall into a few main categories.

One is the use of anonymous sources. Some find it unsettling to hear negative reports about the team based on the words of people who won't identify themselves. There's a certain slimy quality to that, to be sure. If you've got something to say, stand up like a man and say it.

Still, anonymous sources are Journalism 101. In fact, they go back earlier than that. An anonymous source probably reported that it was the serpent that talked Eve into taking the bite out of the apple.

There are a lot of reasons why "sources" talk to reporters. They may have an ax to grind with a particular person, they may be trying to push an initiative that they favor along, they may do it as a personal favor to a reporter that they like. They may just want to get what they perceive to be The Truth out there. There is, however, only one reason why sources speak to reporters on the condition of anonymity--to keep their jobs. You can't go telling tales out of school and expect to remain employed.

So, regardless of motivation, the source tells the reporter something on the condition of anonymity and the paper or broadcaster has a choice--report it or not. This is where things get vague. We hear about double checking and trying to find a second source for some stories but the general public really doesn't know what the standard is for deciding whether or not the Post, for example, runs with a particular story based on anonymous sources.

If the Post--or any other reporting entity--wants to improve its credibility, it should put up a boilerplate page on its Website explaining the standard procedure it goes through before deciding to print a sports story that relies heavily on anonymous sources. Are multiple sources required or merely preferred? If the team denies the story, what is the standard for the decision to either print it and carry the team's denial or kill it? It would also be wise to give us a definition of the various levels of sources. Sometimes, for example, a source is characterized as a "team source" and at others it's a "team official. Exactly where is the line drawn?

If we had that information, we could better judge the credibility of a given story. To take it to an extreme, if a "source" could be a grounds keeper who overheard a conversation but an "official" can be only Gibbs, Snyder, or Cerrato, that would certainly help us figure out how much credence to put into a story.

The paper must have a policy, something in writing that defines the threshold for running a story and a standard way that anonymous sources are characterized in print. Giving full disclosure of that policy (a standard that the paper certainly would expect of another institution) would serve its readership well.

Another broad category of complaints have to do with reporters having an "agenda" to run the team down or to run some individuals down by focusing on the negative and by revealing secrets that damage the team.

Certainly, one can detect an arrogance of power on the part of the Post and the Times on occasion and it's likely that, in the short term, stories can take a slant that is intended as payback for personal slights, real or imagined. Still, I have a difficult time in swallowing the notion, as some have implied, that there is some sort of long-term agenda in place that has the purpose of making the Redskins less successful. There are too many compelling business reasons for a paper to see a team become successful. A winning team peaks interest and drives circulation and website hits. If the Redskins go to the Super Bowl, the newspaper's headline is emblazoned on t-shirts and coffee mugs, commemorative books and special editions get sold. Broadcast media’s numbers go through the roof and the announcers

And every reporter who I've heard offer an opinion has said that it's simply more enjoyable to cover a team that's winning. Who wouldn't rather spend all day talking with people who are happy and successful rather than ones who are losing? Why would any publication, in the long haul, have a vested interest in beating down the team it covers?

I'll concede that I'm perhaps being naive here and that there is some compelling reason for the Post or the Times or WTEM to see the Redskins be unsuccessful. If anyone out there could educate me on this, my email address is at the top of the page.

Other comments dealt with the Redskins.com "unfiltered" campaign. Some thought it was great and that it was all the Redskins news they needed. Others were more suspicious, wondering how any organization can be counted on to accurately and thoroughly report on itself.

Those who are willing to make Redskins.com their sole or primary Redskins news source need to realize that what their getting is far from unfiltered, with one exception. The audio broadcasts of news conferences are good, raw information, but content such as that constitutes only a small percentage of what goes up on Redskins.com. The canned interviews and stories written by staff members are not news, they are PR. Such material can be interesting and even informative, but it's not unfiltered, it's just a different filter, a different agenda, if you will.

Again, don't get me wrong here, the additional content and information that Redskins.com seemingly intends to provide are very welcome. And I certainly don't expect that the Redskins should release negative information about themselves. If they did, they would be among the first privately-owned company in history ever to do so. The materials should just be read, viewed, and listened to for what they are.

The future of Redskins.com was an interesting sidebar subject that other readers discussed. The speculation was that it would soon turn into a pay site, with subscribers getting access to the best clips, interviews, and "news" tidbits. My initial thought was that the Redskins couldn't do something on their own, that in the collective that is the NFL everyone would have to be on the same program.

And then I got some information that indicated that the rest of the NFL was headed in the same direction. From Doug Farrar, the editor-in-chief of Seahawks.net, the Seattle sister site of WarpathInsiders.com, on changes on that team's website:
In the last three months, they hired Mike Brown, the former sports director of KJR, our local sports-talk radio station, to do all the “official news”. They do breaking news via streaming video and also hired Mike Kahn, formerly an Executive Editor at CBS Sportsline, to run op-ed pieces three times a week that innocuously spin the team view of things.So perhaps the league is pushing teams towards moving into the concept of being news sources on their websites.

As if the Redskins needed any pushing.

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Enemy Intel: Yes, Redskins fans, you need to root for the Cowboys again

Enemy Intel: Yes, Redskins fans, you need to root for the Cowboys again

Here is my weekly Redskins-centric spin around the NFL:

Before we get going, let’s line up the NFL wild card contenders by current seed and their remaining four games.

Giants (8-4): Cowboys, Lions, @Eagles, @Redskins
Bucs (7-5): Saints, @Cowboys, @Saints, Panthers
Redskins (6-5-1): @Eagles, Panthers, @Bears, Giants
Vikings (6-6): @Jaguars, Colts, @Packers, Bears
Packers (6-6): Seahawks, @Bears, Vikings, @Lions
Cardinals (5-6-1): @Dolphins, Saints, @Seahawks, @Rams
Saints (5-7): @Bucs, @Cardinals, Bucs, @Falcons
Eagles (5-7): Redskins, @Ravens, Giants, Cowboys

—The Redskins can knock the Eagles out of any practical chance of making the playoffs with a win on Sunday. An Eagles loss would mean they could finish no better than 8-8 and that is highly unlikely to get it done this year.

—For a second straight week, Redskins fans need to root for Cowboys to win. Or for their opponent to lose. Some wanted to make that distinction last week when Cowboys played the Vikings and the optimal outcome for the Redskins was a Dallas win. However you want to look at it, a Giants loss to Dallas could move the Redskins to within a half game of the No. 5 seed.

MORE REDSKINS: Assessing the four remainig opponents

—There should be no hesitation about pulling for the Saints to beat the Bucs. A Washington win and a Tampa Bay loss puts the Redskins back into playoff position with the No. 6 seed. The Bucs are 2.5-point favorites at home. They are the hot team, coming in with four straight wins while New Orleans has lost three of four. The Saints are on the fringe of contention but Redskins fans need to pull for the teams ahead of Washington in the standings.

—The Redskins can’t look for much help when it comes to the team immediately behind them in the standings. The Vikings visit the Jaguars, who are locked in to yet another season of double-digit losses. You might be tempted to look for the home underdog to put up a fight and they might. But Blake Bortles has thrown three pick sixes this year and the Vikings have returned two interceptions for TDs this year. Look for such a play to be decisive and for the Vikings to remain tight with Washington in the standings.

—The other team a half game behind the Redskins is the Packers. They host the Seahawks in what could be very snowy conditions in Green Bay. Seattle is a three-point favorite but if the weather gets crazy anything could happen. Redskins fans need to root for the Seahawks, for obvious reasons.

RELATED: Three Redskins out on Sunday, Reed questionable

—The Cardinals creeped back into contention with their win over the Redskins. That win and the fact that they have a tie on their ledger means that the Redskins do not want to finish with the same record as Arizona. This is one of the few situations where a tiebreaker would matter. It’s an easy call to pull for them to fall to the AFC Dolphins.

—I went 2-1 last week, winning with the Patriots over the Rams and the Seahawks over the Panthers. I have four NFL picks this week, all of them road favorites: the Redskins -1 on the road over the Eagles, the Cowboys -3 at the Giants, the Falcons -6 over the Rams in L.A., and the Seahawks giving three to the Packers.

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Need to Know: Assessing the Redskins' four remaining opponents

Need to Know: Assessing the Redskins' four remaining opponents

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, December 10, one day before the Washington Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles.

Timeline

Today's schedule: No media availability

Days until: Panthers @ Redskins 9; Redskins @ Bears Christmas Eve 14; Giants @ Redskins, New Year’s Day 22

Injuries of note:
Out:
G Long (concussion), S Blackmon (concussion), DE Lanier
Limited: TE Reed (shoulder), G Scherff (ankle), DE Jean Francois (knee/foot), DE Baker (ankle), G Shawn Lauvao (groin)
Final injury report

Around Redskins Park

The Redskins have four games remaining on their schedule. Three wins would give them a record of 9-6-1 and a very good shot at the playoffs. Four will almost certainly get them a ticket to keep playing; two wins or fewer will have them needing a whole lot of help to make the postseason

Let’s take a look at the Redskins’ remaining four opponents and revisit the confidence level on the Redskins’ chances of beating each one of them. (I first did this exercise a few weeks ago).

@Eagles, 5-7, weighted DVOA via Football Outsiders, 15.3% (ranked 5th)
The Eagles looked like playoff contenders for about half of the season but they have taken a tumble back to earth, losing five of their last six. Right now the Redskins are the better team, although their long injury list is an area for concern. The Eagles appear to be in some degree of disarray after their coach accused some unnamed players of giving less than full effort. Confidence that the Redskins will win: High

Panthers, 4-8, DVOA -7.5% (25th)
They won’t be able to defend their NFC championship much longer. By the time this game comes around they could be either eliminated or on the verge of being mathematically out of the playoffs. Their problems are numerous including big issues at cornerback (too bad they didn’t have a guy who could have helped franchise tagged) and an offensive line that has been injury-wracked all year. Still, Cam Newton is a scary quarterback and he still has tight end Greg Olsen and receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn Jr. If the Redskins get into a shootout they could be in trouble. Confidence: Moderately high

@Bears, 3-9, DVOA -3.0%, (24th)
Matt Barkley is the Bears’ third starting QB this season and in most statistical categories he’s the worst of the three. The Bears have been hit by injuries as hard as any NFL team with multiple starters on injured reserve. They probably would have struggled even with those players healthy; without them they are one of the five worst teams in the NFL. The one thing to beware of is the late December weather in Chicago, which could randomize the outcome to an extent. Confidence: Very high

Giants, 8-4, DVOA 5.0%, (12th)
The new players on the Giants’ defense were just starting to gel when end Jason Pierre-Paul’s season ended after sports hernia surgery. Their defense, with the No. 7 DVOA (-9.6%), won’t collapse but it won’t be as strong. Eli Manning’s stats are down a tick from last year but as long as he has Odell Beckham to throw to the Giants won’t be totally stymied on offense. This one is hard to get a good feel for this far out, not knowing what might be at stake for either team. Confidence: Moderate

For comparison purposes, the 6-5-1 Redskins have a DVOA of 9.8% (10th)

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