Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Spines, or the Lack Thereof

Bending over backwardsEarlier this week the latest issue of Card Player magazine appeared in the mailbox, the one with Gus Hansen on the cover (Vol. 24, No. 9). I had already skimmed through it and had left it on the counter where Vera Valmore spotted it one evening. Then she did something I couldn’t remember ever seeing her do before -- she picked up the issue and leafed through it.

Vera isn’t a poker player herself, and so generally isn’t too interested in what the poker magazines and books I have laying around have to say. I have shared an article or two from Card Player with her before, but I had no recollection of her picking it up without my having recommended something. I watched as she quickly flipped to the article on page 8, a one-pager in the “Inside Straight” section that briefly summarized the events of “Black Friday” and the immediate aftermath.

While the issue is dated May 24, 2011, it’s clear the article was probably written about a month before, as it only speaks of the indictment, relates a few of the initial responses (from PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, the PPA, and Rep. Barney Frank), and tells of the deals struck between the DOJ and Stars/Tilt to regain their domains.

“Is that all?” said Vera, flipping through the rest of the magazine.

I laughed and shook my head, saying that yeah, that was it. I added that it was a little funny to think that this was the third issue of Card Player I’d received since “Black Friday” and this was the first mention of it.

I pointed out one other interesting detail of this issue, the conspicuous lack of advertising for Stars, FTP, Absolute Poker, and UB throughout. I noted how it was 16 pages shorter than the previous issue, pointing to the staples on the side to show that the magazine had even been bound differently.

The 5/10/11 and 5/24/11 issues of 'Card Player'“There isn’t a... uh, it doesn’t even have a...”

“Spine,” said Vera, finding the word for me. Then she added, “It’s spineless.”

I chuckled at the word, remembering some of the criticisms that have been directed of late toward various publications and sites that report on poker. Some have felt certain outlets -- just about all of which have long depended on online poker sites for advertising dollars and in other ways -- weren’t going after the story of “Black Friday” with the sort of vigor it deserved, muting their coverage perhaps because of their relationships with the targeted sites.

I realize Card Player’s publication schedule likely prevented it from reporting on the matter sooner, though it was interesting to see the story finally appearing in the very same issue in which the ads for Stars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UB no longer appeared.

I pointed out to Vera how Card Player has always, even from its early days, been more focused on supporting its advertisers, which early on were mostly casinos and more recently the online sites. When explaining this, I was remembering having heard Linda Johnson -- publisher and owner of Card Player from 1993-2000 -- interviewed by Gary Wise way back in early 2008.

In that interview, Johnson explained to Wise how the magazine was never intended to be “journalistic,” but rather “was to support the poker industry,” one consequence of which being the avoidance of reporting on stories or events that reflected badly on the industry as a whole and/or their advertisers in particular. (Incidentally, I’m a big Linda Johnson fan, one of those who believes “The First Lady of Poker” deserves serious consideration for the Poker Hall of Fame.)

I wrote here a bit about that interview in a post titled “On Poker Mags,” discussing it in the context of considering Card Player’s tentative coverage of the insider cheating scandal at Absolute Poker during those early months of 2008. My conclusion there was to say that even though the magazine touts itself on its cover (still) as “the poker authority,” one obviously would want to look elsewhere for genuinely revealing news and/or unblinkered opinion about the industry.

All of which is to say I hadn’t necessarily been anticipating reading much of anything in Card Player about “Black Friday.” Indeed, that one-page summary of information we’ve all known about for more than a month now pretty much fit my expectations for what I’d find there on the matter. And I should add there are a number of interesting pieces in the issue -- as is often the case -- including the usual strategy talk, the columns and interviews, and that feature on Gus, too.

Understanding the magazine’s purpose, then, I suppose I’d refrain from using the word “spineless” to refer to it other than literally to describe its changed physical appearance. It is interesting to consider, however, how “Black Friday” has inspired renewed attention on the relationships between media outlets that report on poker and their advertisers -- relationships that in just about every single case have at least some significance when it comes to editorial content produced.

Indeed -- not to single out any one site or publication in particular -- when it comes to accommodatin’ those advertisers, some’ll bend over backwards.

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