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When Breaking News Happens

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The past few days I’ve had the benefit of enjoying some time off and during that time I couldn’t help but be drawn more to CNN, Fox News and MSNBC as a result of the situation in Ferguson, MO. Having spent 5 years of my career and life in the St. Louis area and still maintaining friends in the area today, I was curious to find out what was going on with the chaotic situation that has been unfolding for more than a week now.

fergusonWhat started as a curiosity on my part to learn more about the story, ended up becoming a reminder of how important it is to handle breaking news coverage the right way. Some of this may seem obvious but as simple as it may appear, not every individual or brand handles things right when it comes to dealing with major stories that require an ability to think and react quickly and wisely.

Case in point this past weekend’s news television programming. I think most would agree that the Ferguson, MO shooting and situation between the police, protesters and looters qualified as a major breaking news story. If you work in news television then it would qualify as an all hands on deck type of situation. What occurred though was perplexing.

KMOXOn the positive side, 1120AM KMOX in St. Louis was on top of the story every single minute. The station went wall to wall with on-air coverage and I saw numerous people involved with the radio station tweeting, posting photos and continuing dialogue with listeners. I could tell quickly that the brand was connected with its audience and invested in making sure they had the most up to the minute information on the story.

Dana Loesch who hosts her own syndicated radio show and works for “The Blaze” network, was also highly invested in the story and offering different viewpoints on the situation. She too was dialed in with her audience on Twitter and was supplying audio samples of things that she had gathered on the show to further help with gaining perspective.

KMOX and Dana Loesch are both St. Louis based so they had an opportunity to be closer to the situation and to their credit they took advantage of it and went full throttle on the story. In simpler terms, they played the hits and super served the needs of their audiences.

On the local television side in St. Louis, Fox-2 KTVU and News 4-KMOV did a stellar job covering the scene to provide eyewitness footage of what was taking place and they kept their focus on presenting the facts which is difficult in situations like this. So many outlets are battling for information and want to provide it to the viewer as quickly as possible so what impressed me with both stations was how they kept their standards high and just reported what they knew rather than try to become the story.

boycottOn the flip side, KSDK-4 in St. Louis dropped the ball big time. Rather than stick to reporting the news, the station became the news after they elected to sensationalize the story and show footage of the police officer’s home which had his address on the house. This caused an uproar from local viewers and led to the creation of a “Boycott KSDK” facebook page which as of last check had over 29,000 likes. Many of those people also planned to boycott outside the TV station to voice their unhappiness with the station’s lack of judgement.

The station to its credit came out and apologized after for their egregious error but the damage had been done. Poor judgement during a pivotal time cost the station its trust and loyalty from the audience and a whole lot of bad PR. One could make the case that their quest for higher ratings on this day, could cost them a lot more in the future.

FoxNewsSpinning it to the national side, Fox News almost always wins in the ratings because for the most part they do a good job. That top notch programming though wasn’t on display this weekend however. Instead I tuned in on 5 different occasions for coverage of the Ferguson story only to find the network showing taped programming or a quick news update. On one occasion they even presented a live show and focused content on Rick Perry’s issues in Texas rather than the Ferguson situation. That was very surprising and disappointing for a channel which is usually the first choice for news programming.

MSNBC meanwhile was slightly better than Fox News but they too were missing in action on the lead story too often. In a few instances I once again stumbled across taped programming rather than live coverage of the biggest news story in the country.

CNNThe one national network that owned the story was CNN. Anytime I put the channel on, they were focused on the story. While some of the coverage became tiresome due to repetition, they kept the focus on what mattered to most people and I felt after 3 days that if I wanted to know anything about the story from a national perspective that I could trust CNN for their commitment to it.

When stories like this unfold I think it’s extremely important to be all-in with your coverage. I can handle a listener complaining that we spent too much time on a major news story a lot better than having to explain why we were absent on it. Listeners and viewers turn to us hoping to receive information when things like this occur and if we’re not fully invested in the content that everyone is talking about, then we not only lose the audience today but we lose them in the future too when the next big event happens.

facts2I also think it’s critical when these types of stories come up to be very smart and factual when reporting information. When I see a channel like KSDK make an error and show a police officer’s address on live television during a time when tensions are high, I can’t help but wonder which manager made the call and what repercussions they’ll have to deal with for making such a bad judgement. The last thing you want to do in a situation like this is become the story and KSDK became that for a day when they made one really bad decision.

It reminded me of a situation I went through in St. Louis back in 2007. I was programming 590 The Fan in St. Louis the day the Mitchell Report was released. A ton of baseball players had been found guilty of using PED’s and rumors began to swirl that when the list was made public, Albert Pujols’ name would be on it. Albert was the most popular figure in St. Louis and had been a great representative of the city and his being on this list would no doubt crush his public perception and put his entire career under the microscope.

pujolsOur competitor 1380AM chose to go on-air and report that Pujols was indeed on the list. At the same time, Fox 2-KTVU made the same call and decided to send a crew over to Albert’s restaurant and ask patrons how they felt about Pujols being on the list and whether or not they’d eat at his place of business again in the future.

The guys on my staff started to get antsy and wanted to run with the story and a few were starting to question why I was holding back on going with the story. I remember getting into a spirited argument with one of my guys and I told him “I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to St. Louis’ biggest superstar and if I’m late reporting on him cheating the game of baseball I can live with it….but I won’t be ok sleeping tonight if we make a decision to report him as guilty when we don’t have evidence to show that he is“.

pujolsAn hour later the Mitchell Report came out and Albert Pujols’ name wasn’t on it. The staff seemed to be more relieved that we didn’t get beat to the story than happy that we were accurate but truth be told, it was a big risk. I had a 50/50 shot of being the hero or the goat and I chose to follow my gut and my beliefs which were “you’re innocent until proven guilty“. Maybe I’m old fashioned with situations like this but I’d rather be late and right than first and wrong.

The next day, I got a call from a member of Albert’s camp thanking me for how we handled the story and I specifically remember Albert expressing his disappointment with the local media during his first local news conference. Because we hadn’t presumed him guilty, he would grant a sit down interview with one of my reporters and one other local TV outlet who had also elected not to assassinate his character without evidence.

Now I didn’t care if Albert liked my radio station or not and I didn’t make that call hoping it would lead to him appearing on a show, I did it because it felt right and I believe attacking one’s character is only warranted when there’s evidence to support doing so. Going on witch hunts and reporting speculation is a dangerous area that usually results in the broadcaster having egg on their face. I can recall more personalities being suspended, fired and/or sued then those coming out on top after accusing someone of something without evidence.

tfIt sounds basic but when breaking news happens I think you’ve got to be on top of it immediately and you’ve got to ask the right questions. As difficult as it may be, you’ve got to separate fact and speculation and do so quickly. So many people are in a rush to get content on the air that they hear one side of a story and run with it and then when the other side comes out later, they look foolish. It’s ok to report the one side that you know but how you paint the picture has a lot to do with how you’ll have to navigate the next part later on.

Even worse though is turning a blind eye to a story and pretending it isn’t there. When we first launched 95.7 The Game in San Francisco we spent a lot of time talking about these types of situations and sure enough, during our first month on-air there was a huge local story that I felt our crew did an excellent job with while our competitor missed the boat.

49ersThe 49ers and Raiders played a pre-season game at Candlestick Park in August 2011 and at that game a number of fights broke out in the stands and bathrooms. There was also a shooting in the parking lot. It was a scary situation and easily the number one story throughout the Bay Area.

Our competitor that Monday did a nice job of landing Joe Montana for an interview fifteen minutes before we did, so they had the advantage of getting the perspective on the situation first from one of the most famous San Francisco 49ers of all-time – except they never asked him about the situation.

Instead they spent 8 minutes of the interview asking Joe about the San Francisco Giants and 2 minutes on Alex Smith’s QB abilities. As soon as I heard what they were doing, I called my morning producer to make sure we had a strong plan ready for when Joe appeared with us and sure enough we did.

montanaJoe then joined us right after that conversation and the first question from my morning crew was about the violence at Candlestick Park. We then spent the first 6-7 minutes of the interview talking about the situation with Joe and he was engaged in the topic and went as far as to tell us that when he played for the 49ers, he too saw similar situations occur in the stadium and didn’t always feel safe there. His comments would go on to make national news that day and become a topic of conversation for the rest of the broadcast day.

What happened that day was a result of good/bad strategic execution and that’s the same thing that took place this past weekend with the news coverage of the Ferguson situation.

dotherightthingI’ve seen people lose careers over making the wrong calls in these kind of situations and my approach is simple “dive into the story immediately, share the facts, allow for audience interaction and voice your opinion based on what you know“.

In these cases, we’re not the story – we’re simply the messenger passing along the information and giving people an outlet to express their opinion at. Your brand’s loyalty and trust are at stake and how you handle things determines whether or not your audience will turn to you again in the future.

I can tell you this, as someone who watches news television on a very limited basis, when the next major news story breaks my first stop will be to CNN not MSNBC or Fox News. It’s then CNN’s job to present the information well, keep the programming interesting and give me a reason to stay. If they don’t, then they’ve created an opportunity for their competition.

This is exactly what you’re faced with when the next big story breaks. Don’t try to be the one person in the room who thinks that just because everyone else is talking about it you don’t need to. That’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you care about the needs of your audience and want their support in the future, give them what they came to you for.

GreenDayIt’s no different then going to see your favorite band. If they play every song that never was released and ignore the “hits“, chances are you’ll leave the show disappointed or less than satisfied. Those who crank out the tunes that everyone knows, usually benefit from having the crowd sing and dance along and spend more money on other CD’s, merchandise and tickets to future shows.

Like it or not, you work in the breaking news business and how you react to big events says a lot about your judgement and the way you value your audience. Embracing the subject, reporting the facts and allowing people an opportunity to weigh in puts you in position to form a deeper bond with the listener. Sensationalizing the content, reporting inaccurate information and choosing to ignore the story completely earns you mistrust, your brand being boycotted and in some cases unemployment.

Playing the hits isn’t difficult – you’ve just got to check your ego at the door and let the story be the star. Question is, can you do that?

Barrett Blogs

Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas

“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”

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Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.

The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.

It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.

For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.

Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.

But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.

I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.

Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.

Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.

Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.

Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.

Additional:

You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.

Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.

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Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media

“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”

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Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.

As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.

As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.

I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.

But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.

Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.

I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.

Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.

These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.

If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.

I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.

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Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure

“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”

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If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.

When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.

Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.

It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.

In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.

I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.

We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.

Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.

This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.

Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.

Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.

I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.

For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.

That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.

But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.

Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.

How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.

The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.

Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.

Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.

You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.

I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.

Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.

One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.

Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.

It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.

Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?

I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.

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