BOTC Roundtable: That Situation In Wichita

In light of the goings-on down in that flat slab of concrete 50 miles north of Oklahoma, we assembled the BOTC crew to express our thoughts on the situation.  We all gave our basic reaction to the decision to hire Kellis Robinett to replace Jeffrey Martin as K-State's beat writer, then set forth a few questions we would ask if Robinett and Kirk Seminoff were interested in answering questions.

At this point, none of the very few explanations given go very far in explaining this situation.  As such, I propose that each of you act as good American consumers and take your business elsewhere.  Don't subscribe to the Wichita Eagle or Kansas City Star.  Don't click over to their Web sites.  You can get all the K-State sports news you need from other sources.  If you already subscribe to one of the two newspapers above, invest that money in the Topeka Capital-Journal or a membership at GoPowercat.com.  Austin Meek and Kevin Haskin at the TCJ do a better job covering the Wildcats than any of the other newspapers.  You can't get better recruiting coverage or access than the GoPowercat staff has.  Don't forget about Curtis Kitchen's blog at 810 WHB, either.  Kitchen has access, and has shown that he has a knack for getting quotes, finding story angles, and writing entertaining posts.  At the Manhattan Mercury, Cole Manbeck is doing what he can to make that paper's coverage of K-State sports relevant again.

Anyway, this is it for us on this issue.  I'm as done with this issue as I am with reading McClatchy's newspapers in Kansas and Missouri.  As The Mayor would say, back to your regularly scheduled Weblog, which is already in progress.

TB: In a lot of ways, this is just a sad situation.  It makes me wonder what the basis for the Robinett hire was.  As Kevin Kietzman said on Between the Lines yesterday, there was another candidate for this job, and I think we all know exactly who that is, who would have been an excellent, uncontroversial hire for the newspaper.  I'm not saying Robinett's incompetent.  He won some awards in Idaho for a few stories, but there's nothing outstanding about his work.  Given his background and his comments on the blog, it shows a stunning level of naivete on the part of the Eagle to hire him given all that.
 
What's almost worse is that the Eagle is now letting him twist in the wind.  He's being crucified on K-Stated by Wildcat fans and can't respond.  He couldn't go on Between the Lines yesterday to explain his side of the story.  He declined an interview request from us.  They're not explaining themselves, and I get the feeling it's not so much because they feel like they don't need to explain themselves as they're not sure how to explain themselves.
 
Which all brings me back to the original question: What was Seminoff thinking?  Did he think you could delete Internet pages and nobody would ever find them?  Or did he think that he needed to make a controversial hire to drive traffic to the Eagle's Web site?
 
Questions:
--For Robinett: Why did you want to cover K-State sports?
--For Seminoff: Why did you have Robinett delete the blog rather than just telling him not to write for it anymore?

Panjandrum: My initial reaction, which I shared with TB and another local writer, was that the Eagle couldn't possibly have been clever enough to think that this would be a good thing for business.  Sure, there will be an initial spike in K-Stated hits due to the fact that the comments section is a slow-motion train wreck, but ultimately, once the word got out about the situation, people would be dumping their subscriptions left and right.  And, after the information about what this kid's written gets to the coaches (which I'm sure it already has), he won't be getting any inside information any time soon.  Therefore, folks will continue to migrate to other news sources to get their information because all he's going to be doing (and has done) is rehash the same thing that other people have already written.  The level of commentary and information will be so inferior to what Martin had (because of his solid relationships) that it's just going to continue to dry up and get worse.  The only metaphor that I can use is that it will be a long, slow flush as the water circles the bowl and out of the toilet altogether.  You can't insult the intelligence of your readers and expect them to simply take it sitting down.

(Toilet metaphor over.)

Truthfully, while I've taken exception to some of the things that Robinett has printed in the past, I don't wish ill will on him or (truthfully) want him to lose his job.  I think it would be best for all parties if he found a new position as soon as possible, but in these troubled times, I will be the last person to say someone should be fired.  If you're looking at someone to be angry with, you need to look squarely at the Wichita Eagle's editors, as they were the ones who pushed forward with this even after knowing about Kellis' past.  He's just a guy looking for a good beat to cover, and while I don't buy the notion that this is 'the' opportunity he's been waiting for, I'm sure it's definitely 'an' exceptional opportunity for a young man to get experience covering a BCS school.  He obviously wouldn't want to let that pass him by, so I'm sure he thought his professionalism and skills would win fans over.  However, the main problem is that he was advised by the Eagle to take down his blog, and their complete mismanagement of that situation has put him and his employer in a bit of a bind.  In a way, I feel sorry for him because he's not able to defend himself, but again, when you apply to cover the beat of a rival school, and you've written some of the things that he has, it's either a certain level of naivety or desperation that would lead you to jump into the lion's den.

However, the Wichita Eagle should have at least given him something to defend himself with.  As it stands, they're just letting him get ripped apart, and they're the ones who ultimately spat in the faces of their readers.  The fact that they don't know how to explain themselves, or if they are choosing not to, makes them look grossly incompetent, or worse, completely devoid of integrity and only looking to make a quick buck at the expense of a young and naive journalist.

Questions:

--For Robinett: Did you honestly think this kind of backlash wouldn't happen once your past work was discovered, or did you not think that was going to be discovered?
--For Seminoff: What in God's name were you thinking?

EMAW: Like many fellow K-State fans, I was surprised when I heard the announcement of this hire. It wasn't until I began to read some of Robinett's past work that I became confused as to the reasoning behind the hire. I couldn't care less where he graduated from, but I did care about what he had written about Kansas State, Manhattan, and the players and coaches of the university. Specifically, the "green card" comment upset me the most. I don't know if the KU players made the comments or not, and Robinett was free to defend his alma mater. What he shouldn't have done was make an ignorant statement that was borderline racist in and of itself.
 
That statement has made this a much bigger issue. We are in the midst of a technological age that allows persons from all walks of life the opportunity to have their voices heard on a myriad of topics. Kellis Robinett chose to contribute to a fan blog where he could express his opinions on, and love for, KU. What he failed to realize are the consequences that come with such actions (link added by TB). Employers are mightily aware of the social networking and media sites their potential employees frequent. There is no where to hide on the Internet. As a professional writer who planned to earn a living being an objective observer and reporter of the facts, he ventured to an edge that many would be cautious to approach. With one ignorant and unfunny comment, he leaped off that ledge and somehow landed on his feet. In all other cases with similar scenarios, Kellis Robinett would have not been hired. Not just for the comment, but because that comment was aimed at a member of the beat he was going to cover. You wouldn't hire a reporter to cover the city desk after he made degrading comments on his personal blog about the mayor.
 
I can't begin to comprehend why Seminoff (and the Wichita Eagle) made this hire. In no way do I blame Robinett for taking the position. As a journalist who probably hopes to further his career, he will most likely do his job, stay as objective as possible, and quickly move to a different beat or paper. Onward and upward. It would be career suicide for him to start writing inflammatory articles based on rumors, half-truths, or anything he makes up on his own. So, what should be done? I think K-State, John Currie specifically, could justify publicly asking that Robinett and Seminoff explain why the blog was taken down, and that Kellis write a formal apology to Denis Clemente. This would put Seminoff on the hot seat and force him to at least acknowledge the hire in some fashion.
 
Questions:
Robinett - Can you justify the "green card" comment? Why do you think that "Where's your green card?" does not have racial overtones?
Seminoff - How do you expect K-State fans to take your paper seriously now that all of this has come about? What was your overall plan for hiring this person for this position?

BracketCat: I'm going to approach this from a different angle. I think we've all vented sufficiently about the hire, and I also have already posted my thoughts about where the industry as a whole is going, and why it's bad news for papers like the Eagle and the Star.

So instead, let me briefly sympathize with the new beat writer: Part of my job is covering the city commission of the municipality in which I work. I don't know how many of you hail from a small- to mid-sized Kansas town, but the old saying that "all politics is local" is very apt. Vicious, vicious backstabbing.

I inherited this beat after my direct supervisor was fired for plagiarism, the cardinal sin of journalism. I inherited this beat with unbelievable baggage upon my shoulders: his laziness over the past five years, the owner/publisher's use of the newspaper to pursue various political and personal biases, and good, old-fashioned, petty squabbling and anti-journalist sentiments among the citizens of the town.

Every day is a slow crawl up the mountain, aiming for the summit of respectability. I do it by reporting the facts clearly, concisely and fairly. I do it by not playing favorites. I do it by cultivating a personal relationship with each of the commissioners. I do it by researching the issues forward and backward, until sometimes I know more about a given crisis than individual commissioners do.

And despite all this, the anti-newspaper sentiment continues. Despite this, my boss can change a few words or insert his own thoughts into a story of mine while I'm not looking and cost me months of progress. Despite this, a commissioner can wake up on the wrong side of the bed one day and decide to make my life living hell.

All of those things have happened at least once this year.

In some ways, I am Jeffrey Martin. I have been told by countless readers that I am the best thing to happen to this paper in a long time. Eventually, I will leave, and my shoes probably will be hard to fill, based on the track record of hires at this institution.

But in other ways, I am Kellis Robinett (minus the blogging baggage). Some people think I am a push-over. Others see only the logo on my polo. I'm just a guy who took a job and tries his best to be unbiased, even though I have my opinions on matters that probably color my writing in ways I can't even realize.

As journalists, all of us are part J-Mart and part J-Lounge. The choice to be fully one or the other is precisely that: a choice. It's the sum total of a million tiny actions and decisions, not a God-given state of being.

Kellis probably will have to write at least 50 articles without a hint of bias before K-State fans even begin to forget about his blogging past. Even then, one small slip and it all comes crashing down.

My advice to him is this: Make the choice and commit to it. If you're half-hearted about it, we will be able to tell, and then you will be a thousand times worse off than you are right now. That's because you won't be able to blame it on Kirk Seminoff or other bloggers. The weight of that choice will rest solely with you.

It's easy to preach about objectivity. Put it into practice, and we'll see if you know what you're talking about.

The next few months will be relatively simple for him. Bill Snyder is easy to praise. Win or lose, the team will try hard, and even a diehard KU fan should be able to see that. More importantly, they probably won't threaten KU's temporary superiority, and that means ethical conflicts will be few and far between.

The first three months of 2010 will tell us all we will ever need to know about Kellis. He's questioned Frank Martin, he's questioned Denis Clemente, and if you go back far enough, he's probably questioned this entire reclamation project since the day Huggins first asked, "Why settle for second when first is available?"

Well, this season, despite premature Jayhawk conclusions to the contrary, first IS available. And for the first time in 20 years, we have a team that can put it all together and do more than settle for second. What if they do? What if they derail KU's road to the championship - either Big 12 or national? What if they thrash them in Bramlage on College GameDay and stop this infantile second streak that is one game long in its tracks?

How Kellis handles the upcoming basketball season will tell us everything we need to know about him, his employers and possibly the future of sports journalism in newsprint.

As fans of George R.R. Martin might say, "Winter is coming."

 

Questions for Eagle/Star employees and alumni:

Kellis, have you read Mark Janssen's biography of Bill Snyder? If not, please do. And then try to write IN EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE MANNER IN EVERY WAY.

Kirk, have you talked to your advertising director lately? No? Well, why don't you go over to his office and let him kick you in your fat head for making his life MISERABLE since Saturday?

Jeffrey, are you sick of Houston yet?

Jason, ever thought about trying a diet? Contrary to what some of the ladies may have facetiously told you, bigger is not always better. Shed a few pounds, and you might not have to rely so much on your "winning" personality when you troll the P&L for booty.

Bob, fuck off. That's it. No question - just fuck off.

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