See Me, Hear Me, Read Me

Ethical issues take a back seat to synergy and branding in local sports media

"I've never understood the New York Times' policy," says Burwell, who cut his teeth in the multimedia game under Lupica's wing with dual gigs at the Daily News and SportsChannel New York's football desk, which led to subsequent (and often simultaneous) stints with USA Today, HBO's Real Sports and Inside the NFL, and TNT's National Basketball Association broadcasts.

"In a short period of time, I've been able to establish a brand name [in St. Louis] because you see me, hear me and read me," Burwell argues. "It clearly helps the newspaper. If anything I think it's very selfish on the newspaper's part to not let Bernie [Miklasz, Burwell's fellow P-D sports columnist] and I put our radio airtimes in italics at the bottom of our columns. They're reaping all the benefits without participating in the synergy."

Miklasz, who regularly provides commentary for FOX Sports Midwest and recently moved his daily sports talk show from KMOX (1120 AM) to ESPN Radio's KSLG (1380 AM), offers a more nuanced take.

Tim McKernan (right, with  co-hosts Martin Kilcoyne and Jim Hayes, in FSN ballcap) shed his coat and tie last February to focus on radio.
Jennifer Silverberg
Tim McKernan (right, with co-hosts Martin Kilcoyne and Jim Hayes, in FSN ballcap) shed his coat and tie last February to focus on radio.

"Newspapers are in a quandary right now," says Miklasz. "We're all trying to figure out where we fit in this berserk, multimedia age where you have instant, 24-hour news. And if you want to be true communicators and deliver news in the timeliest fashion, you'd better jump in on all of this stuff, because it's not going to go away.

"I really believe that the days are gone where a newspaper can stand alone and say, 'We're the final word,'" Miklasz adds. "As much as I admire those standards, it's an outdated concept."

Post-Dispatch sports-page editor Larry Starks sums up the benefits of the pair's ubiquity in one word: "Branding." And he dismisses the notion that outside commitments might cut into time spent reporting for the Post.

"It brings more readers to their columns," says Starks. "It allows them to sort of be seen as the authority on sports in the area, and that in turn helps the newspaper. They know that their column comes first, and I think that's pretty much the way it goes throughout the country with people who have columns and radio shows. Really, it's one of those things where the genie is out of the bottle now. Everyone's doing it."

And everyone's making money at it, though no one will say how much. (None of the sports pundits contacted for this story would discuss remuneration. The side work pays "enough to buy all the finest meats and cheeses," says the Post's Burwell.)

Regardless, Starks doesn't mind if the content he publishes repeats what has already been aired in another medium.

"That's OK, because they're expanding on what they've said on the radio," the editor reasons.

Au contraire, says Webster University media literacy professor Art Silverblatt.

"If Bernie's doing his column on the air, that's a problem," argues Silverblatt. "It would seem to me that people want different information, rather than stuff that's repackaged."

Which opens up another can of worms.

"If they get a scoop or an exclusive, whom do they give it to?" wonders UMSL's McPhail. "I think they're trying to serve too many masters."

"If there's a conflict, it's that sometimes I have information and I can't scoop myself on the radio," Miklasz allows. "I might tease that I have some information that'll be in my column, without letting the cat out of the bag. It creates some intrigue."

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