The Watch Tower’s lights have been dim since mid-October, in spite of plenty of material to shine its light on from Ian Rapport & the NFL Network’s reporting on Ben Roethlisberger to Tomlin’s sideline shuffle. Alas, if desire and material have been present, time and energy have not.
Yet the Steelers 2014 off season is only a week old, and the Jack Bicknell firing gives the Watch Tower something to focus on that includes everything from scoops to outright blackballing. Read on….
Tomlin Stirs the Pot, Surprises All But One with Bicknell Firing
January at the Pittsburgh Steelers headquarters dull. Sure, January 2010 and 2012 brought their dramas about Bruce Arians and Todd Haley, but that’s outright mundane when contrasted with the annual upheavals in places like Cleveland or Redskins Park.
- Last Friday however, Mike Tomlin decided to stir the pot.
The news came through, as all good announcements do in 2014, via Twitter. Steelers PR Director Burt Lauten dropped a little bomblet:
That’s right. Offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, who oversaw the biggest in-season turnaround of an individual Steelers unit in recent memory, was getting the boot.
- Now normally, moves like this don’t, or shouldn’t cause too many ripples among the press corps that covers the Steelers.
These men and women are at the South Side daily. Yes, their official access is restricted, (note how Ed Bouchette travels to NFL spring owners meetings to get an on-the record interview with Mike Tomlin), but their mere presence there gives them all sorts of unofficial access.
The average fan of course has no real idea of what the form, fashion or frequency of these coffee room, watering hole and elevator conversations is.
- But they do happen, and that is undoubtedly where some of the best stories are born.
And the Bicknell firing is no exception, because one reporter was obviously talking to the right people.
The Bicknell firing caught the Steelers press corps by surprise. Here’s a sampling of their responses on Twitter:
Steelers fire Jack Bicknell. Wow, that’s a shock
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) January 3, 2014
Perhaps it would be unfair to say that the Steelers beat writers were caught flat footed, but none of them were expecting the news.
Except for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Gerry Dulac, that is, and Dulac was one of the first to respond on Twitter:
Steelers fire OL coach Jack Bicknell. No surprise.
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) January 3, 2014
Dulac didn’t just sit back and try to say, “Yes, I was just thinking of something like that myself,” he quickly ran a story which backed up his Twitter commentary, reporting:
… the move is not surprising because Bicknell’s role slowly diminished after the Steelers had problems protecting Ben Roethlisberger and running the football in the first half of the season. In fact, for most of the second half of the season, offensive assistant Shaun Sarrett was doing a lot of the instruction and daily handling of the offensive line – duties normally performed by the offensive line coach.
While its impossible for the Watch Tower to evaluate the accuracy of Dulac’s story, he clearly and an inkling that something was coming, had clearly done his homework, and was ready with a story to give Steelers Nation a little insight into what was a surprising story.
This Bud’s for you Gerry.
Dejan Kovacevic Delves Deeper
Although Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s was caught by surprise, he quickly sprung into action. His first bit of reporting came via Twitter, and seemed to contradict Dulac’s report:
Later, Kovacevic expanding on the story via his blog on the Tribune Review. While he reiterated his reporting that refuted that Bicknell’s day-to-day role had been diminished, he did offer his readers fresh news on the story.
First Kovacevic informed that Bicknell remained active in game planning. But he also reported the Bicknell “struggled” with “individual instruction” and offered that “there’s also a sense I get that he might have lost them as a coach — fair or not — when times were toughest.”
While Kovacevic and Dulac’s story do differ on important details, this is a clear cut case of credentialed press fulfilling their role by taking their readers what goes beyond the 140 characters of PR announcement.
(For a discussion on the differing nuances between the two stories, see Neal Coolong’s article on BTSC.)
Dejan Defends his Trade, Gets Blackballed (or at least blocked on Twitter) for his Trouble
The Watch Tower must begin this section by taking a bit of our own medicine and admitting to a fib. Gerry Dulac wasn’t the only credentialed press member not to express surprise by the Bicknell firing.
NFL Network reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala contributed this to the story:
And the Steelers have made official what we foresaw some weeks ago: OL coach Jack Bicknell, Jr. has been let go.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 3, 2014
Note the differences in the words Kinkhabwala and Dulac use to communicate their respective reactions to the breaking news.
Dulac’s words were “not surprising” which is to say “I thought it would probley happen and it has.” Kinkhabwala paints her reaction in a much more definitive, encompassing a scope, “what we foresaw some weeks ago.” The use of “we” implies that the knowledge was shared by many, presumable by the NFL Network. “Foresaw” of course implies that the NFL Network knew Bicknell’s firing was in the works.
And there’s one other difference between Kinkhabwala and Dulac. Gerry Dulac backed up his assertion with a supporting story, Kinkhabwala did not.
- Nor did anyone on the NFL Network.
This did not sit well with Kovacevic, who after retweeting Kihkhabwala, tweeted:
Previous RT blows my mind. Not a soul in existence ever reported a syllable of Bicknell being in trouble. If so, show link, clip, anything.
— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) January 4, 2014
He didn’t stop there. His Twitter timeline is full of tweets made in jest about things that either he or the Tribune Reivew “foresaw.” He even went to the extent of joking that he should have watched the NFL Network to get advance notice of his son’s premature birth. These jokes were interspersed with serious inquiries and requests for them to back up their assertions with reporting.
The result? The NFL Network blackballed Kovacevic:
And then in response to readers questions about the issue:
Short version: They didn’t report something they claimed to have reported. They then ignored my readers’ questions on that and blocked me.
— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) January 5, 2014
As mentioned above, Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower simply has not had the time to review Ian Rapport and other NFL Network claims about the Steelers, but Kinkhabwala “foresight” is far from the first controversial NFL Network “news” story relating to the Steelers.
But the evolution of events is pretty simple here:
- Kinkhabwala implied that she and/or the NFL Network had known the Bicknell firing was coming
- Kovacevic challenged her to back up the claim
- The NFL Network responded by blocking Kovacevic en mass on Twitter
So in other words, when challenged to live up to basic journalistic principles by a fellow journalist, the NFL Network’s collective response was to turn away, lower its head, and clamp its hands over its ears the way a nursery school child would….
…If this is to be the journalistic norm that the NFL Network will follow, then the role of the independent, non-affiliated is more vital to sports fans than it ever has been.