Watch Tower: PG Erects Paywall, BTSC Breaks Ramon Foster News, and South Side Steelers “Anonymous” Source

The Pittsburgh Steelers have posted their first 0-4 starts since the Bill Austin era, and everyone has a lot to say about it, giving the Watch Tower plenty to shine its light on.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette Erects Pay Wall

While far from the biggest story, the decision of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to erect a pay wall er um, introduce “metered content” effective October 1st perhaps has the most important-long term implications for press coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Post-Gazette is Pittsburgh’s leading daily and the go-to Steelers news source for much of Steelers Nation. The Post-Gazette has the most experienced team covering the Steelers and, if you include PG Plus, it holds a slight edge in the content creation category.

The decision to begin charging users for access reflects a growing trend around the country. As readers get their new on-line, print circulation drops and, more importantly, advertisers flee (although the Post-Gazette has bucked the trend and posted some slight circulation increases.)

On-line revenue has not kept pace with and will never likely replace print advertising. So from a pure business perspective, the PG’s decision appears sound.

  • But the decision also entails an awful risk for the Post-Gazette.

There are several reasons why the PG’s pay wall gambit could be harmful. Various numbers about newspaper circulation rankings circulate (pun intended) and most rankings span the “30’s” which makes sense given Pittsburgh size.

  • While digital circulation numbers are harder to find, it is believed that the Post-Gazette’s digital circulation ranking is better than its print circulation ranking.

Given the phenomena of Steelers Nation, does anyone think the Steelers aren’t one of the biggest, if not the biggest, magnets drawing on-line visitors to the Post-Gazette?

  • Putting Pittsburgh Steelers content behind a pay wall jeopardizes that magnet.

Another concern is demographic. Anyone who has filled out one of the PG’s on-line polls that inquires about readers’ age quickly notices that the age skews upward. Sharply.

  • The age breakdowns typically stop at Generation X and plunges to single numbers when the Millennials are counted.

Putting Steelers stories behind a pay wall may make it more difficult for the Post-Gazette to reach a generation it is already struggling to connect with.

The Post-Gazette is however offering a Steelers-only focused App, which perhaps signals an understanding of these challenges. (Hopefully their on-line payment system will allow users from outside the US to subscribe, unlike PG Plus.)

BTSC Breaks the News on Foster

As everyone knows, the Steelers loss in London was the second time during the season where superstar Kelvin Beachum was forced into the line up due to injury. This time the Steelers lost Ramon Foster. Foster went out late in the first half, returned, and then was out the second half.

On Monday after the game the news broke that Foster’s pectoral muscle was injured. But the news didn’t come from the Post Gazette, Tribune Review, or even ESPN.

Traditionally the difference between traditional news sites and fan-based sites such as BTSC is that the later do not conduct news gathering activities. However, the editorial staff of BTSC does have sources inside the South Side and used them aggressively.

  • It’s fair to point out that most of Pittsburgh’s credentialed writers were probably flying home when the story broke, but that fact doesn’t get the professionals off the hook.

This is the third time in 2013 that the Watch Tower has noted BTSC’s forays into pure news gathering/breaking (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC, but neither have access to nor knowledge of its sources.)

First, BTSC, along with the Post-Gazette, confirmed reports out of New England that the Patriots had made restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders an offer. That report looked to be erroneous for a time, but was ultimately correct.

Next BTSC made a prediction on a Steelers draft pick, reporting that Sean Spence’s health was better than publicly acknowledged. The Steelers did not take the player in question and while a draft-day interview with linebacker’s coach Keith Butler appeared to contradict BTSC’s report, subsequent comments by Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert show that BTSC’s news about Spence was fairly accurate.

  • But in this case there is no grey area. Behind the Steel Curtain scooped its professional competitors plain and simple.

Kudos to BTSC editor and super writer Neal Coolong

Rise of the Anonymous Source on the South Side

No NFL team quietly goes 0-4 and the Pittsburgh Steelers are no exception as Ed Bouchette’s reporting shows.

Days after the Steelers loss to the Bengals, Ed Bouchette reported that Todd Haley and Antonio Brown had had a heated sideline confrontation that days later had left both men bitter.

Bouchette wasn’t finished however, reporting later that the Steelers were in “panic mode,” and he later made a point of using the word “panic” in several other reports.

The use of anonymous sources in Steelers coverage is neither new for Bouchette or the Post-Gazette, as Bouchette has regularly offered injury reports based on unnamed sources that contradict the official word from the team.

  • But use of such unnamed sources in football related matters is less common.

As the Watch Tower noted, the Post-Gazette reported in early 2011 that Steelers coaches had said running plays called in an escape-like win vs. the Colts differed from those practiced during the week.

After the 2012 loss at Dallas Gerry Dulac reported that Heath Miller had been the primary target on several second half plays, news which he clearly got from a coach that directly contradicted Ben Roethlisberger’s public complaints.

But those sources were isolated reports making up larger stories. Non-injury related anonymous source-based stories have been rare for the Post-Gazette, Ron Cook’s example of an unnamed player calling out LaMarr Woodley’s conditioning notwithstanding.

Interestingly enough, camera’s failed to record the confrontation, and most of the other publications did not follow up Bouchette’s report with stories of their own, although they did question the principles about the incident.

Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola did some questioning of his own, writing:

The “report” immediately became fact regardless of a point-blank denial by Haley and the continued absence of any footage from anywhere showing anything even remotely resembling a confrontation.

If Labriola’s words must be tempered by the reality that the Rooneys sign his paycheck, it should also be remembered that during 2012 the Steelers PR machine worked mightily to downplay any tension between Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley, only to have Labriola out the Roethlisberger-Haley relationship for being less than peachy-keen.

Digest Pulls No Punches with Dwyer

Jonathan Dwyer’s return to the Steelers was the subject of what amounts to an extremely hard hitting interview with the Steelers Digest. Correspondent Jim Wexell opened the interview referring to Dwyer’s weight problem, punctuality issues, and penchant for fumbling, and he was just getting warmed up.

Steel Curtain Rising’s editorial policy does not include stealing another writer’s thunder, but here are some snippets from the interview:

SD: Didn’t playing the way that got you here cause all of the problems to begin with?
SD:  …Did getting cut change your perspective? Make you angry? Make you re-focus?
SD:….Business? Did you learn anything else?
JD:  I just learned that I’m always going to make sure I’m always on my p’s and q’s. Always. Show more consistency. And just be the person I know I am.
SD:  What exactly were the p’s and q’s?

For whatever criticism one might make of the Digest for being a “homer” publication, clearly they pulled no punches here and the Watch Tower salutes them for that.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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