[Weekly Rundown] Muhammad Ali tributes; Uncle Verne and Joe Buck; a Christian rocker comes out; what is tronc?

Today, we’re sports-heavy – honoring The Greatest, more Baylor fallout (now featuring Mississippi State), and sports broadcasters accused of bias. That, plus a Christian rocker comes out, social media faces censorship, and something called tronc.

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Sports

Muhammad Ali died Saturday night. If you only knew him as a boxer, I hope you’ll take all the tributes as an opportunity to learn more.

The news broke as I was finalizing this week’s rundown, but people more attuned to great sports writing have been curating your must-reads. I recommend this list from Don Van Natta and Jacob Feldman’s Sunday Long Read newsletter.

From a sports media perspective, ESPN did something I can’t recall seeing before. They went live in the wee hours Saturday with their top journalistic talent. Bob Ley and Jeremy Schaap anchored a SportsCenter that was relaxed in pace, letting both men and their guests share longform stories about Ali. Deadspin, who loves to hate on the Worldwide Leader, offered praise, and captured a 12-minute segment for you to watch. SI’s Richard Deitsch has the behind-the-scenes look at how the late-night broadcast came together.

This probably isn’t your first time to see the photo at the top of today’s post. It was taken by Neil Leifer for Sports Illustrated in 1965, and remains one of history’s most iconic sports photographs. Many stories have been written about it since. Here’s a longread by Dave Mondy published about a year ago that explores the photographer and the fighters he captured.


UPDATE: Last week was not a good one for Baylor. This week, more heads rolled, as the athletic director resigned and former president Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) stepped down from his made-up administrative holding cell. Starr gave an interview to KWTX in Waco that reminds you just how long it’s been since he was in the media spotlight.

After answering a question a little too honestly, a PR rep interrupted the interview to coach Starr. Post-strategy session, it still took Starr a few times to get his response straight. The only reason we know this is because the cameras kept rolling, and the station decided to air the footage.

This sort of PR handling happens more often than you’d think, and it’s not uncommon for journalists to go along with it in order to maintain their relationship with the source. Kudos to KWTX for showing us more of the botched crisis communication that seems to be at the heart of the whole story.


It didn’t take long post-Baylor for another school to balance assault and winning football games. Mississippi State is facing backlash after announcing it will suspend top recruit Jeffery Simmons just one game for striking a woman on the ground multiple times (the outcry no doubt fueled by the fact that there’s video of the incident, if you really want to see it). Simmons has been charged with simple assault.

For some reason, the suspension announcement was made during the SEC spring meetings, which made it especially easy for media to gather around MSU A.D. Scott Stricklin and generate plenty of awkward exchanges.

The reaction has been widespread and prominent for a school that typically flies under the radar. As you might imagine, it has not been positive.


Staying in the SEC, legendary broadcaster Verne Lundquist announced that this season of the SEC on CBS will be his last. Lundquist has been the voice of college football Saturdays in the south for 16 years. “Uncle Verne,” as he has come to be known, is one of the last storytellers doing football play-by-play (alongside Brent Musburger, who signed a multiyear extension this week to continue to be the voice of ESPN’s SEC Network). And sure, he isn’t as sharp on player names as he once was, but I for one am looking forward to one final season of chortles. Oh, my!

Some SEC fans, however, in their intense fandom, hate Lundquist and partner Gary Danielson (and Musburger, for that matter), who they are convinced are biased against their team… each of their teams.

Must be hard to have the entire world out to get you, SEC fan.


I imagine that’s how Joe Buck feels. The lead play-by-play man for FOX gets roasted on social media just about every time he gets behind the mic. Like Lundquist, he’s pulled off the impressive feat of being biased against everyone’s team at the same time. I admit to jabbing at Buck a time or two; I don’t love his football style, but he’s pretty impeccable at the technical side and his wry personality works well for baseball. Read this insightful profile by Bryan Curtis for Grantland creator Bill Simmons’ new site, The Ringer, which launched this week.

Branding

tronc

Two of the largest media conglomerates in the U.S. have been feuding. Gannett, best known for publishing USA Today, has been attempting to acquire Tribune Publishing, best known for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. Tribune apparently figured the best approach to fending off the takeover was to undergo a rebrand straight out of a bad movie about clueless new-tech boss, played here by CEO Justin Dearborn [emphasis mine]:

Today, I am pleased to announce another important step in our transformation — the renaming of our Company to tronc, or tribune online content. At our core, we remain a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels. This rebranding acknowledges our important evolution as a company and captures the essence of our vision for the future.

Within hours of the announcement, #tronc was trending nationwide. That’s not a good thing:

Here’s more, curated by Ben Mullin at Poynter.

It’s a terrible name, and a terrible logo. But, come on, this seems pretty insidery for a trending topic. Plus, bad digital age rebrands are kind of big publishing’s thing. Remember Gannett? They spun off their television and digital holdings into a company called TEGNA (all caps as opposed to tronc’s refusal to be proper noun). Bleh.

I think two other things are happening here. One, media users are a super-active segment of Twitter (it’s why people like me love it, but your average social media user has moved on to other platforms). Two, it’s not just a bad name; it’s a bad purpose statement. “Content curation and monetization” sounds like the worst in news aggregation, not the best in original journalism (which many of Tribune’s publications are). In fact, as NPR’s David Folkenflik noted, the rebranding announcement didn’t mention a single one of Tribune’s major news assets.

Want more? Ken Doctor has a solid explainer for Harvard’s Nieman Lab.


Speaking of media rebrands, MSNBC has been reinventing itself quietly over the past year or so, placing more focus on hard news and adding balance to its largely liberal opinion lineup. Some of those conservative commentators are on display in the cable channel’s latest promo.

MSNBC has reimagined itself more than any of its cable news competitors, and its ratings reflect that constant state of change. It started as a tech news partnership with Microsoft (that’s the “MS,” in case you didn’t know), was hawkish leading into the War on Terror, later becoming its biggest critic and a counterbalance to Fox News. The liberal moniker is most tightly connected to MSNBC’s image, and I’m skeptical a guest list of obscure conservatives will change that impression.


QUICK HIT: Walmart is bringing back the smiley face.

Social Media

The biggest social media platforms all agreed to adhere to the European Union’s “code of conduct on illegal online hate speech,” which requires resolution of hate speech reports within 24 hours, be it by removing or restricting the content or the user responsible. Meanwhile, Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith is suggesting these companies strive for consistency in their policies, using the First Amendment as a guide. Here’s why:

[Social media platforms’] core mission can’t and won’t be realized by what they say, but rather in how they empower, constrain, and manage what other people say. The trust we place in them is ultimately about whether we trust them to manage our own collective expression. For this trust to endure, these platforms must be transparent about their own policies and be consistent in their enforcement.

I’m planning a deeper dive on this for next week.


UPDATE: Last week’s top story was Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s vendetta against Gawker. This week, one of the cases Thiel was believed to have been bankrolling was dismissed. Former big league pitcher Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams allegedly made a scene while coaching a youth baseball game, eventually leading to his termination as an analyst for MLB Network. He sued Deadspin (a Gawker property) for this article, which he claimed was defamatory. A judge quickly disagreed and tossed the case (probably because this seems nowhere near the actual malice or reckless disregard for truth Williams would need to prove). Gawker founder Nick Denton took a victory lap in an internal memo.

Faith

Trey Pearson is the lead singer of Christian rock band Everyday Sunday. Back in my radio days, I talked to him on numerous occasions. He’s an awesome guy. Just plain fun.

This week, Pearson announced he was gay, in a letter to fans and a feature for alt-magazine 614 Columbus. It’s worth a read. The part about his family is particularly though-provoking, as Pearson and his wife attempt to “co-parent” their two young children.

Pearson isn’t the first Christian artist to come out, nor the most prominent. But be it the timing or his animated personality, he’s getting a ton of media attention. Here’s his appearance on The View.

Trey has always been great at expressing the joy he gets from his faith; I’m interested to see what he does with this platform.

Academia

Nick Kristof has been opining about a “liberal blind spot” toward conservatives and Evangelicals in certain areas of academia, and the effect that might have on our colleges and universities. His columns, and the reactions they have received, are certainly worth considering.


The International Communication Association’s annual conference begins Thursday in Fukuoka, Japan. This will be the first one I’ve missed in a few years (those flights don’t come cheap!), but you can follow the conference hashtag on Twitter (#ica16) for plenty of cool research.

Have suggestions for the Weekly Rundown (including a more distinctive name)? Email me or tweet @voiceofD.

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