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Why the AJC fails--AJC versus Levenson, Part II

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The AJC has sent a response to SB nation's own James Mirtle regarding the Levenson story. I'm not going to reproduce the full statement here, but the key sentence is this one:

The reporters were curious about the identity of the commenter, believing that if it was someone in a leadership position in the Spirit organization, that would be newsworthy. They did what journalists do – reported the story by asking questions, including asking Mr. Levenson whether he was the person anonymously posting as Whammer, or whether someone was doing it at the ownership group’s behest.

First, let me say that I agree that if an owner were sending cranky messages complaining about his team's coverage that would be a story. But how big of a story is it? Where does that rank in the pantheon of other potential stories which the AJC could be pursing in a face-to-face meeting with one of the members of Atlanta Spirit organization. Is it a good use of scarce journalistic resources and scarce face-time with a decision maker?

I'll let you the reader decided for yourself where it ranks, but if I were an investigative reporter tasked with covering the Atlanta Spirit trial and I had the chance to talk to one of the principals here are some questions I would ask well before asking "do you post cranky notes on our website?"

  • David McDavid has alleged that the Atlanta Spirit got a sweetheart deal for the NHL and NBA franchises. He has won a large judgment in court a court of law. The present Spirit owners are suing each other over the precise value of the two teams--but both parties agree that the teams are worth much more than was paid for them. Did the Atlanta Spirit group receive a sweetheart deal from Time Warner? If not, why are the teams worth so much more today than in 2004?
  • Whichever party wins the lawsuit for control of the NHL and NBA teams will owe the other party a large sum of money. Ironically "winning" the lawsuit will be quite costly. Given this fact, if the party that currently controls the teams expect the to win, don't they have a "perverse incentive" to make choices that lower the short term value of the teams? Some fans believe that this is the case.
  • Conversely, if the party that controls the team expects to lose the lawsuit and don't they have a strong incentive to shirk long-term maintenance and other day-to-day operational costs and let the next guy clean up the mess? Some fans have pointed to the proliferation of un-repaired things at Philips Arena and the lack of a NHL coach in (07-08) and a paid color radio guy as evidence of such shirking.
  • The Thrashers eligibility for NHL revenue sharing funds in contingent on 1) exceeding NHL revenue growth and 2) achieving a paid attendance number. Some NHL teams have floated the idea of buying up their own tickets to make sure they hit the attendance target number. Have the Thrashers ever done this? Or have the Thrashers organization, the Atlanta Thrashers Foundation or individual owners purchased tickets and donated them to charities in order to receive a charitable tax write off and at the same time helf the team qualify for additional NHL revenue sharing money?
  • The city of Atlanta is facing a major budget crunch that has forced the city to close fire stations. The lease agreement between the city of Atlanta and Philips Arena requires the city to provide police protection for events at the arena. Has Atlanta Spirit ever considered reducing the city's security burden for these events as a gesture of support in tough times?

That's my list. Those are stories I would pay my money to read about in a newspaper. For the most part the AJC is only giving cursory attention to some of these things. We've gotten the headlines from the David McDavid trial and Atlanta Spirit trial, but I find little evidence that anyone spent hours sifting through the depositions in both of these legal cases and then followed up on tidbits to see where they might contain.

That's what serious investigatory journalists do--heck that's what this part-time unpaid blogger would do if someone wants to pay for the photocopies of the deopositions. Attention readers: If anyone who has access to these legal documents and/or is willing to pay for them, please shoot me an email (see my profile page) and I'll have some thing to blog about this summer.

In the final analysis, a NHL owner making anonymous posts on the internet is indeed a story--but it is a tiny story. While the AJC obsesses over "Whammer" they are effectively choosing not to write about conflicts of interest, possible backroom sweetheart deals and the public costs of a city subsidizing a private business while they are closing fire stations. Time and resources are scarce--how you deploy them matters.