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Thursday, March 9, 2006

The billionaire's new best friends

The front page story in The O yesterday about public subsidies for professional sports teams was interesting on a couple of levels.

Right off the bat, the headlines were worth a million words when it comes to illustrating the perennially odd attitude of the newspaper. The big main head was "Owners' new game: Pay me to stay," which was fair enough, but then there was the subhead: "Sorry, Portland, but Paul Allen's hardly the first to seek a public handout for a team":

That condescending "Sorry, Portland" was really awful. It could mean only one of two things. "Sorry," as in "You think you understand this, but it's unfortunate that you obviously don't and we're smarter than you." Or "Sorry," as in "We know you'd like to tell Paul Allen to stick his toy where the sun don't shine, but you'll never be able to do that." Either way, it's an insult, intentional or otherwise, tossed by the Stickelers at their captive monopoly readership.

Then there's the "hardly." Not "Paul Allen's not the first," but "Paul Allen's hardly the first." A rhetorical term is chosen -- a term of argument. Another strong signal to the 90 percent of Portlanders who oppose a taxpayer bailout of the Trail Blazers that they're wrong, and wrong-headed. I suspect you'll be hearing that argument long and loud from the O management in the weeks ahead -- the public must pay tax money to keep the Blazers. I will enjoy reading those editorials on the editorial page, but not on the front page where the news is supposed to be.

I can see where the folks at the O are coming from. They must be in a bit of a panic. Craigslist is killing them. There is a dwindling young-readership base for the dead tree version of their paper, and their home office in the Swamps of Jersey is botching the internet badly. One of the remaining "selling points" of the local product is the sports section. There are a lot of guys who pick up the morning paper on the front porch, pull out the sports section, and throw away the rest. If there is no Blazer news, it's that many hundreds fewer people who will bother with a subscription. Let's say it's 250. At $28 a month, that's $84,000 a year -- not to mention smaller circulation numbers which eventually cut into advertising rates. Discounted at 5 percent, the present value of an infinite stream of annual $84,000 receipts is $1.68 million.

And so through the O's lenses, the Blazers are probably going to look "vital." You know, a "linchpin." They're "snazzy."

I hear that the Blazers recently pulled their ads out of the O. That gets the Newhouse people's attention right away. If it's true, they probably want those ads back, and figure the time will come when they'll get them back -- that is, if the Blazers are still here.

Thus, it looks as though the p.r. game has begun, and on this one, the city's best daily newspaper apparently doesn't care how many readers are turned off by its tone. Readers with sensitive dispositions could be offended. It's a good thing no one under the tender age of 30 is reading the thing any more.

Comments (13)

You're probably right, Jack. Of course, it's a sign of my political attitudes that I imagined an unspoken second half of that subhead:

"Sorry, Portland, but Paul Allen's hardly the first to seek a public handout for a team .... so don't be surprised when the Blazers leave."

Of course, the O could fix some of their revenue problems if they would just put Google ads on OregonLive. Takes about 10 minutes to set up and copy/paste into the templates.

(Yeah, yeah, separate corporate pyramids, blah blah blah. No one outside 1320 SW Broadway cares.)

At the rate it's going, The O will be the next one looking for a taxpayer bailout. But only out of urban renewal funds, of course -- not out of taxes.


And so through the O's lenses, the Blazers are probably going to look "vital." You know, a "linchpin." They're "snazzy."

And, although the "naysayers" complain of slowness, the O's delivery drivers "zap" the paper to my door.

Although somewhat smarmy, the headline is gentle wake-up to Portlanders. We tend to think that we are oh-so-different: we don't pump our gas, we eat salmon, we hate Wal-Mart, we believe in peak oil, our schools are underfunded, families are fleeing to the suburbs, our public projects are boondoggles, and our pro sports team is threatening to leave.

Apart from pumping gas and peak oil, we're pretty much like any other city our size.

I thought it was an odd headline too. But I didn't read the article, did the article repeat the same theme? Sometimes the reporter has no control over the headline, and the headline is just written by some schmuck trying to make the paper appear more interesting than it really is.

That said, if The Oregonian comes down in favor of bailing out Paul Allen, they will kill their readership. Portlanders can't agree on much, but a hatred for Allen and Co.is one feeling everyone shares.

And of course, you can subscribe to The O, sign up for Easy Pay, and get two free Blazer tickets...!

(I can't believe someone somewhere thinks that's an incentive to sign up for Easy Pay...)

Anyone watch the Blazer-Mavericks game on KGW the other day? If only people would stop listening to the talking heads at the O, they'd realize this team is closer to winning than people think. Free throws did them in, but they played their asses off. Almost beat the best team in the West. But you wouldn't know it if you only read the O. Can't they at least admit they're fun to watch again?

I loved the quote:

"The deal was sweet for Oregonians. Just how sweet has become clear only in recent years as owners extracted enormous public subsidies from local jurisdictions. The more public money other owners got, the worse the Rose Garden deal looked to Allen."

Just because other cities are getting screwed by giving in, and we only got a little screwed, we got a SWEET deal. How is that again?

You're right, the headline sucked. And Justin's right, it's just a poor schmuck on deadline writing it. I wouldn't go building a conspiracy theory on one bad subhead. I don't know about the editorial page staff, but believe me, there is much, much scorn in the newsroom for the idea of a Blazers bailout, even more so than for the tram (do I have to say rimshot?).

Oh Jack, I love it when you talk NPV calculations to us....

The "O" needs to take a look at the Montana Billings Gazette on-line...maybe they could glean some ideas from them...


I'd much prefer the next PDC boondoggle be a bond measure (with Homer Davenport nowhere in sight) to buy the arena from the East coast bankers, invest in the Rose Garden area, and give a couple of restaurants/clubs a reason to move back in there. They should be able to bank a few million over the cost of the bonds from a new Blazer lease agreement as well as hang on to the 3 million a year they net out of the parking.

Just a thought.

Hope it is OK to comment on 2 threads today and forgo commenting tomorrow, because I decided I can't resist commentng on this thread.

I have noticed that, whenever the O gets called on the haughty tone-found both on the news and editorial pages- or some other endemic problem with the paper, the fault is said to lie with either "some poor schmuck" or David Reinhard. Easy scapegoats. If you confront the haughtiness directly -maybe say something equally incendiary like: "I have met stericolous organisms changing diapers or cleaning cat boxes that were smarter than you", then reporters can fly into a rage and say you are rude. Rude is bad for you, but OK for them. They don't seem to consider the possibility that they are making respectful public conversation difficult.

Speaking of rude, how about the first 2 paragraphs of yesterday's lead editorial: "The backers of South Dakota's abortion ban say they're motivated by a deep respect for human life.

They are lying."

Wow. No wonder they win so many awards for journalism.


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