Thursday, June 10, 2010

Negreanu, the WSOP, and the poker media

You may have read or heard about Daniel Negreanu's complaint, via Twitter posts and a recent blog post, about the PokerNews chip counts--how they're updated so infrequently and inconsistently as to be worthless. He said that coverage of the events would be more worthwhile if the whole PN team just kept the chip counts up to date, and dropped all of the story-telling that they do about specific hands, bustouts, etc.

I was going to let this go by without comment. But today an "anonymous pro" posted, via Pokerati, an interesting and thoughtful rejoinder to Negreanu, which you can (and, I think, should) read here.

I don't have a well-composed essay ready to pound out here, just a few scattered responsive thoughts. I think most readers know that I worked for PokerNews's for the WSOP in 2008 (behind the scenes) and 2009 (writing nightly recaps). I'm not exactly a deep insider, but that experience gives me at least a degree of credible perspective, I hope. If it means that I have some bias, too, OK, I'll accept that accusation.

1. Just purely as a matter of self-interest, it seems unwise for Negreanu to make enemies of the people who will be reporting on his every move. Now, I know a fair number of the rubber-hits-the-road part of the PokerNews team, and they're classy people who take pride in their work. They are certainly not going to let a sting or a grudge change wholesale how they cover a story. But they're also human, and they are able, at least at the margins, to make coverage-shaping decisions.

I don't know whether they would or will actually do the kind of thing I'm thinking about, but one can easily imagine Negreanu saying something stupid or embarrassing while in an unguarded or exasperated moment at the table. Suppose it gets overheard by or reported to somebody working for PokerNews. They can either make a story of it, or ignore it. Which would you rather have them do, if you were the subject? Which outcome will Negreanu's screed be more likely to result in?

Or set aside the theoretical. Here's an actual consequence, though not involving the PokerNews product that you'd find on their web pages: An informed insider of my acquaintance told me recently that a day or two after Negreanu posted this rant, he was interested in knowing how somebody was doing in a tournament, and approached media row to ask the bloggers. They did give him the bare minimum information he was seeking, but coldly and quickly, without elaboration, whereas their previous interactions had been warm and friendly. He might have gotten more out of them if not for his public shaming of them. Who can blame them for such a reaction? Why go out of your way to help and/or be nice to somebody who has just used his very large megaphone to announce that you're incompetent at your job?

I've shot from the hip in this blog any number of times, only to find that the bullet landing in my foot. (I have reason to think that I once cost myself a poker media job that I was interested in because of how nastily I had lambasted the work of the outlet in question.) I think Negreanu may find that he has done the same thing.

2. As "Anonymous Pro" says, Negreanu has the wrong target in his sights. The problems he complains of are not the fault of the reporters and bloggers. They hustle their tails off doing what they can to report on events so large that they are effectively unreportable, and many of them are the best in the world at what they're doing. (OK, there are a few duds, too.) They are bright, creative, hard-working people, seriously underpaid for the incredibly long hours they devote to the job. The first time I ever set foor in the Amazon Room was two years ago tomorrow. It was Shamus's birthday (happy birthday a day in advance, friend!), and I took a store-bought cake to the PN crew for the occasion. Not much of it got touched because they were all too busy to take the time away from photographing, catching hands, and editing posts. If you read the personal blogs of some of these guys, you know what kind of exhausting hours they put in. Any blame for how things are covered lies with the people at PN who decided to hire a crew that is way too small to do the job right, not with the individuals cranking out the product.

3. Negranu is just plain wrong, in my view, that chip counts are a more valuable part of the reporting than the stories. Not all the posts are gems, but with commendable frequency the PN staff manages to pass on interesting and funny stuff, often with writing quality and wit that far exceeds what one could expect to get under the working conditions of enormous time pressure and mind-numbing fatigue. There are hundreds of examples I could point to, but I particularly remember writing this fawning post because of how perfectly F-Train had told the story of several hands, and how his account conveyed a sense of having been there.* I would not be sitting here two years later reflecting with admiration on a perfectly reported chip count from that event.

I like Negreanu a lot, and I have great respect for the candor he brings to his blogging (e.g., his recent no-holds-barred dumping on UltimateBlecch, here and here). This time, though, I think that while he has a valid point, he aimed at the wrong target. I'm glad that Pokerati let Anonymous Pro supply a needed corrective voice.

*I think this is a funny story, though maybe nobody else will. My very first interaction with F-Train was via Skype instant messaging. I was sitting at home doing on-the-fly editing (i.e., fact-checking and proofreading) of the PN posts during the 2008 WSOP. He had just put up a post about Jimmy Fricke and Howard Lederer being seated at the same table. This was potentially awkward because it was just a few months after the infamous leaked email, in which Lederer had referred to Fricke as "a freak and a very weird dude." F-Train had used some generic headline for the post. I saw a glimmer of potential, and quickly shot him a suggestion: "Please, please change the headline to 'That's very weird, dude.'" Making snarky editorial suggestions was most definitely not in my job description, but he apparently liked the idea enough to make the change (or perhaps decided to just humor the nutjob on the other end of the line to avoid trouble), and we have been friends since.

Addendum, June 11, 2010

Negreanu has posted a response to Anonymous Pro on his blog--a clarification of sorts. See here.


Conan776 said...

I'm happy to open the Globe and read Dan Shaughnessy's latest thoughts about Terry Francona, but it's no good if the box score of last night's game is wrong or missing. All sports journalism needs to walk before it can run.

Baseball scores are simple, and I don't mind that the Fenway scoreboard takes a team of three people to run. That said, there's no reason poker chip counts can't be done completely electronically in this day and age.

vbdave said...

I didn't take Negraunu's comments to be a slam on the people doing the work. I took it more to mean if they're undermanned, then they should focus on doing one thing very well rather than a poor-to-decent job at multiple aspects of the coverage. In his mind, chip counts are more important than the hand histories.

I do think though, that the PN team should be held to a higher standard. If they are going to buy exclusive rights, and leave us with no alternative source to get the information, then they should permeate us with information. We have nowhere else to go for the updates because of their exclusivity.

I enjoy reading Change100's blog and tweets. When she made a comment that basically said people shouldn't complain about a free service, she was way off-base. We have nowhere else to go for the information.

Greylocks said...

The availability of realtime, accurate chip counts is on my list of reasons to use electronic tables for poker tournaments.