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Piling-on pundits piss off prospective paper purchasers

September 26th, 2011 · No Comments · Blog

It’s not the media’s job to cheerlead for the local sports franchise. Newspapers are not PR departments. We don’t need or expect them to include a pair of rose-colored spectacles on our front porch bundled with the morning paper. (Or use a rose-colored font for those who get all their news online.) If our team sucks, you don’t have to sugarcoat it. We can take it.

But don’t pile on, either. It’s just as egregious, if not moreso, for local pundits to go to the opposite extreme, dousing the local boys and their fans in negativity. “They’ll never win. Don’t fall for the fluky victory over a mediocre opponent. These guys still suck. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.” Not only is it obnoxious, it’s bad business. And newspapers these days ought to be careful about pissing off their few remaining subscribers.

On top of that, of course, there’s the risk of being wrong. And don’t underestimate the joy readers will derive from that.

Jennifer Gish, who splits her time between covering sports and parenting issues for the Albany Times Union, got on her high horse last week and took a charge at local Bills fans, upset by the lack of coverage in her paper. Here’s how she opened her column on Thursday.

Help me help you, Bills fans.

Your 2-0 start has brought out the worst in some of you.

You’re getting crazy notions again, demanding more Bills coverage in the Times Union.

It got more condescending from there, as she proceeded to take a 765-word crap on her readers, mocking them for giving the Bills a chance to win over the Patriots, who had defeated Buffalo in 15 consecutive matchups. She called out three individual readers by name, explaining away their justifications for expecting more coverage of the Bills, despite having the audacity to live five hours from Buffalo.

Yes, she told readers, likely paying customers, to be satisfied with what they get, because their team wasn’t good enough for the newspaper to devote more space to detailing its woeful and pitiful performance. And she couched it all as some kind of public service piece. “This isn’t about mocking you. It’s just about bringing you back to reality, settling this silly ‘Bills don’t get enough respect’ debate and preserving the innocent ears of the sports department.”

This morning’s Sports headline on the Times Union site: “Start Bill-ieving: Buffalo 3-0 after beating Pats.”

What? I didn’t think they belonged on the same field. I thought us Bills fans were delusional.

I mean, I shouldn’t have expected even a single win this season after reading Bob Matthews in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Before the season began, Bob wrote:

No one associated with the Bills would admit they’ve given up on this season and are anticipating the selection of “franchise quarterback” Andrew Luck in the 2012 college draft.

But it might not be a bad idea.

I projected a 6-10 record for the 2011 Bills. Upon further review, I’m afraid it will be one of my all-time worst sports predictions.

No, he wasn’t fearing 6 was too low for the victory total. He was openly advocating throwing the season in order to earn the top draft pick next April and take a real quarterback. When the Bills whipped Kansas City in their first game, he came back with:

The Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills entered NFL Week 1 with the unwanted consensus tag of the “two worst teams in the league.”

After impressive road wins Sunday, the Bills and Bengals won’t be 31st or 32nd in the assorted weekly rankings entering Week 2.

So they’re not the worst? Thanks for the tip. I’m glad Bob and the other experts couldn’t discern truly pitiful teams like Kansas City (0-3, outscored 109-27) and St. Louis (0-3, outscored 96-36) from someone with a chance to compete. I’m not going to pretend I foresaw a 3-0 start for the Bills or an NFL-best 113 points scored, but I wasn’t shoveling dirt on their grave, either.

Of course, I actually figured the Bills would be good this year when I read Matthews’ multiple rip jobs this summer. Because Bob is always wrong. About everything. I’ve been a D&C subscriber for 10 years, and have read it at least sporadically dating back to 1980 when my dad moved here. Like night follows day, like weeds grow through the cracks in your sidewalk every summer, like toilet water circles clockwise north of the Equator, Bob is wrong with dependable regularity. Which is fine, because no one expects otherwise.

Yet I keep scanning his column every morning on the off chance he’ll acknowledge it. Nothing yet.

Instead this morning we get “The two happiest 3-0 teams have to be the long-maligned Detroit Lions and the Bills — the only teams to fail to make the playoffs since 1999.”

Nowhere does he mention that he bears more responsibility for the length and degree of the maligning than most. And later he adds, “Through three weeks, Buffalo arguably is the NFL’s best story and most entertaining team. After more than a decade of futility, the Bills are an easy team to root for.”

Again, no acknowledgment that he was rooting for them to cash in their chips just three weeks ago and make an inglorious run for 0-16. Once you’re on record with such garbage, I don’t think you ought to be allowed to write about the team when they start winning. At least not without requesting forgiveness from your readers. Or at least a stint in the online stockade. You don’t have the right to have it both ways. You can’t simply pretend you never wrote it. It’s on the Internet for God’s sake. Anyone can look it up.

I’m sure there are a few Bills fans who are jumping back on the bandwagon as it rolls through town, but most of them never left in the first place. Despite the brutality of the past decade, the team’s faithful in Western New York have stuck in there, filling the Ralph and tuning in on TV. Sure there have been a handful of television blackouts, but I can’t hold it against anyone for not wanting to sit outside for three hours in 20-degree weather in December to watch a team that was mathematically eliminated before Halloween.

I doubt there will be any problem selling tickets this year. Bills fans are in a celebratory mood. Maybe it won’t last. 3-0 doesn’t guarantee a playoff berth. But it’s a hell of a lot better than 0-8, which is how they opened last season.

Regardless of how this all plays out, we don’t need anyone talking down to us because we were foolish enough to never give up on our Bills. So, please, take your pen and go home. We don’t want you covering our team anymore anyway.

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