Watch Tower: Kudos for Wexell on Polamalu Retirement Coverage, Steelers Wire on Robinson Suicide

Steelers OTA’s may be in full swing, but this edition of the Watch Tower focuses its lights on Troy Polamalu retirement coverage, Adrian Robinson’s death, the Steelers safety position, and the disappearance of another Steelers scribe.

Jim Wexell Score Major Scoop with Polamalu Retirement

As a rule, major Steelers news only breaks when I am traveling and unable to write, and this off season was no exception, with Steelers legend Troy Polamalu retiring and Ike Taylor hanging it up while I was on the road. As such, the Watch Tower did not have time to give Jim Wexell his due.

  • Google’s “Define” functionality tells us that a scoop is “A piece of news published by a newspaper or broadcast by a television or radio station in advance of its rivals.”

Before the internet, a “scoop” was a true prize, as it generally gave the reporting outlet a monopoly on the, albeit a short one, on an exclusive story. The advent of the digital age diminishes scoop’s value is somewhat, but the prestige in landing an exclusive story is inversely greater.

On April 10th 2015, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell phone rang with a reporter’s dream come true. Troy Polamalu had retired, and he chose Wexell as his sole confideant in the press. Yes, Polamalu had informed Dan Rooney, but after that Jim Wexell was the only person he spoke with.

  • Troy Polamalu has often been described as one of the toughest interviews in the business.

That’s not because Polamalu assumed an adversarial role with the press, the way say, Greg Lloyd did, but rather because Polamalu disdained tooting his own horn (see his suggestion when he was injured in in 2009 that the Steelers defense would improve with Tyrone Carter instead of him.)

Jim Wexell is a tenured veteran of the Steelers press corps. but one of the very few credentialed journalists not affiliated with a major print or broadcast organization. And if Wexell lacks the notoriety of an Ed Bouchette or Gerry Dulac, he makes up for it by going the extra mile. Wexell is known for digging deep into the Steelers locker room to deliver readers stories that others miss.

  • The fact that Polamalu singled out Wexell to break his story is a testament to the time and effort Wexell invested in building relationships with the men he covers.

Wexell’s story on Polamalu’s retirement also broke some new ground, confirming that Polamalu was not particularly happy with the way his exit unfolded, and citing some of Polamalu’s concerns about the direction of the Steelers locker room culture. Previously, the blog Steel City Blitz had run a story to this effect adding that Polamalu was unhappy with Dick LeBeau’s exit, but that story was based on anonymous sources, whereas Wexell’s came directly from Polamalu.

Wexell went into further detail when he covered Polamalu’s appearance in Thomas Tull’s press box at PNC Park. As that article was behind Steel City Insider’s pay wall, the Watch Tower will not steal Wexell’s thunder, but will say that Wexell revealed that tensions between Polamalu and the organization pre-date Polamalu and Dick LeBeau’s exit.

(In doing research on Troy Polamalu retirement coverage, the Watch Tower also uncovered an article by Wexell on Troy Polamalu’s first days as a Steeler that is well worth the read.)

Steelers Wire on Adrian Robinson’s Untimely Passing

Former Steelers linebacker Adrian Robinson tragically took his own life a few weeks ago. Both the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune Review dutifully covered his death, as did other major outlets.

The stories were by in-large of the boiler plate variety, providing readers with details of his death, quoting Mike Tomlin and/or other Steelers and leaving it at that.

With no disrespect to the departed Robinson, it’s a fair guess that most Steelers fans saw the headline “Former Steelers Linebacker Adrian Robinson dies” and first thought “Who?” and then vaguely recalled Robinson’s role with the Steelers.

  • Neal Coolong put Robinson’s story with the Steelers in a human context.

Coolong reminded his readers of who Robinson was, and what he meant, at least potentially, to the team at one point. While it’s possible to suggest that my friend and fellow Steelers scribe exaggerated when he asserted that “Robinson looked like the future hero. The next in line to ascend a throne of dominant edge pass rushers that went well-beyond Harrison and Woodley” it is undeniable that there was a buzz surrounding Robinson during Steelers 2012 training camp.

And in that light, Coolong wins Watch Tower kudos for not only recalling how much of a human tragedy Robinson’s death represents, but also bringing to life just how transient of an existence the NFL is for so many young men.

While Robinson might not have achieved cult hero status the way Isaac Redman did in Redzone Redman heyday, Robinson was seen both coaches and fans as another undrafted rookie free agent who had limitless “upside” coming out of his first training camp, only to find himself as trade fodder for Felix Jones in his second.

These kudos for Coolong do come with extra “style points” because, unlike a beat writer, Coolong put this story together without access to the Steelers locker room.

Seeing the Swearinger “Story” Before Everyone Else

Steelers Wire also wins kudos for seeing being way, way ahead of the competition in spotting the Steelers interest in former Houston Texan’s safety D.J. Swearinger. Prior to the draft, word leaked that the Houston Texans were interested in dealing Swearinger.

Neal Coolong immediately wrote a story suggesting the Steelers might be interested in Swearinger, and cited Mike Tomlin’s lavish praise of the Swearinger before the Steelers mid-season matchup with the Texans. When the Texans cut Swearinger the Steelers Wire also struck again, informing readers that the Steelers had put in a wavier wire claim on Swearinger. Later Steelers Wire treated readers to a third story on the implications behind the Steelers wavier wire claim on Swearinger.

  • From a press traditionalist view point this might seem excessive.

And, if story space stuff suffered the limitations imposed by available column inches and advertiser sponsorship, the Steelers wavier wire claim on Swearinger wouldn’t have warranted more than 2-3 inches – and that assumes a fairly slow day for sports news.

But such limits are obsolete in the digital age, and such an approach has allowed Steelers Wire to achieve 4th ranking for the Google query “D.J. Swearinger Steelers” which is not bad for a website that’s less than 3 months old.

Also of interest to the Watch Tower: ESPN is the only “traditional” news outlet showing up in the first page of SERPs for the query “D.J. Swearinger Steelers,” which shows just how far behind traditional mainstays like the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Tribune Review are in competition for unconventional stories.

As Goes Robinson, So Goes Brown?

An earlier edition of the Watch Tower noted Alan Robinson sudden but unexplained disappearance from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review back in November. Not it seems that Scott Brown is following suit.

Scott Brown left the Tribune Review in to cover the Steelers beat for ESPN covered did without missing a beat until April 27th, the Monday before the 2015 NFL Draft. There is contributions suddenly stopped, with AFC West/Raiders beat writer Bill Williamson handling Steelers coverage initially, until the job fell to Jeremy Fowler, who up until now has been covering Cleveland.

  • Likewise, Brown’s Twitter feed went dark after April 27th, save for one retweet in early May

The Watch Tower has no knowledge of why this occurred or under what conditions, but rumor has it that Brown has indeed departed from ESPN. Which is an unfortunate loss for Steelers Nation.

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