Thursday, June 07, 2007

2007 WSOP, Day 7: Part Two -- On WSOP Coverage

Reporting from the WSOPApparently CardPlayer heard Tony G and decided to comply with guidelines set forth by WSOP and Harrah’s regarding media reporting from the series. If you go over to the CardPlayer site, you’ll see a dramatic difference in their reporting of chip counts -- now, instead of ripping off the entire list painstakingly compiled by PokerNews reporters, they are only showing the top ten. Meanwhile the comprehensive, up-to-the-minute lists appear on the PokerNews site, and on the Bluff Magazine and official World Series of Poker sites’ (who have paid for the rights to use the information).

CardPlayer’s Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V approach to covering the first four days of this year’s series demonstrated some serious nerve, given that unseemly video exposé from February in which they accused Bluff Magazine of doing precisely the same thing -- an accusation the grounds for which were as shaky as the camera with which it was filmed. In his statement regarding the incident and CardPlayer’s report, CardPlayer CEO Barry Shulman insisted that while sharing of information among reporters does occur, “using one team’s updates as the primary source of one's own reporting is not common, nor should it be tolerated.” Although the evidence has now been largely removed, that’s precisely what CardPlayer did for Days 1-4 of the WSOP.

Some want to say Harrah’s makes a mistake when it sells the rights to cover the WSOP to an “exclusive content provider.” (A few months back, I myself described the situation as “lamentable” though understandable.) On the May 27th episode of Rounders, co-host Adam Schwartz took a moment to represent that position, making the usual arguments:
You look at a guy like Jeffrey Pollack. He came over from NASCAR and he wants to [put] poker and the World Series specifically in that league. Well, if you are going to sell the rights to reporting on an event to an institution that has its own agenda . . . when you sell the actual news part of it to, like, CardPlayer or Bluff, now they have their own agenda. Remember, these . . . magazines are paid by sponsors, and those sponsors want to see their players.

So last year, if you weren’t a Full Tilt Poker player . . . [for example,] if John Juanda was 150th in an event, he was listed. He was in there. But you didn’t see a lot of the other players. And this is the problem . . . the World Series isn’t taking themselves seriously like an NHL, a NASCAR, or an NFL. Those institutions all allow everybody to come in -- well, not everybody -- but there is a limited number of press passes that they give out to newspapers, radio stations, [and] television stations that can come and report on it. Well, at the World Series when it gets down to eight tables, only one [group of] people -- and the sponsor this year is Bluff -- they are allowed to have their people in there and they’re going to report on the players that they want to report on, and it’s sort of unfortnate that [they]’re trying to take themselves seriously but [they] do that.
As Schwartz and his co-host Mike Johnson went on to acknowledge -- and as the PokerNews reporters on the floor at the Rio can attest to more forcefully than can I -- there is limited space available to cover tournaments. So allowing every media publication who desired access would necessarily lessen the quality of the information being reported. Furthermore, these aren’t the NBA playoffs, with scoreboards and players’ names on the back of their jerseys. Until the poker world completely gives itself over to technology -- going beyond the lipstick hole card cameras to electronic “chips in chips” and the like -- there will always be that issue. So analogies with other professional sports (perhaps encouraged by Pollack’s NASCAR background) don’t really hold here.

Schwartz’s other point -- about the potential for bias in the coverage -- is more persuasive, although my sense is his fears about this year’s coverage haven’t necessarily been warranted. He’s right about CardPlayer’s “full tilting” of its coverage last year, giving the members of Team Full Tilt Poker more play than others. And while a lack of objectivity is most certainly possible when it comes to Bluff this year, to their credit they have contracted the live reporting to an independent news organization, PokerNews.

PokerNews’ reporters are attempting to identify and report on as many players as they can, regardless of those players’ affiliations or lack thereof. Says Amy Calistri (one of PokerNews lead reporters), “our goal is to know each and every player -- especially as the fields narrow down to 300 players -- these events always attract many new and relatively unknown players.” She admits the system isn’t foolproof, but speaks of how the PokerNews team is “committed to take all criticism and suggestions constructively -- no matter how they are worded or delivered. Feedback (positive and negative) is a tool that we will use to improve the quality of ‘our product.’”

And, as far as I have been able to tell, when it comes to the live reports and chip counts, Bluff and the WSOP site are simply relaying everything PokerNews is providing them, without inordinately highlighting certain players (as CardPlayer did last year). Not to say that Bluff has no agenda whatsoever, but my sense is they are doing well thus far to avoid the more egregious mistakes of others here.

The next post (last of the day) -- On CardPlayer’s Mysteriously Changing Headlines.

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