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Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Terrell Owens: The Never-Ending Story

Last Thursday, after seeing a prominent story in each local newspaper regarding (or at least discussing) Terrell Owens, curiosity began to get the best of me. I truly started to wonder just how long a story like this could last, and why. A search of “Terrell Owens” at revealed 28 stories in the previous 7 days on the ex-Eagle. Obviously, there's just not that much “news” on Owens.

On some level, I understand why the T.O. story just won’t die — it grabs attention. But, on another level, I wonder why it keeps coming up. At times reporters will actually say, “This just won't die,” and then do some piece on a minor angle of the story. I often wondered why they don’t just stop covering a particular story.

So, I took a shot. I e-mailed as many local reporters as I could get an e-mail address for from The Daily News, Inquirer, Comcast SportsNet, WIP 610 AM, and WPEN 950 AM. I even guessed at a few. I was genuinely curious what it’s like from their perspective to deal with a story that just doesn’t go away. Not only T.O., but any story. Do they want it to keep going? Do they eventually wish a story would just go away? Are they in some ways compelled to cover it? Does fan interest really dictate how long a story lasts?

Expecting little — after all, I’m just some guy with a blog — I was impressed by the reply I received. Even the polite and understandable decline to comment for a sports blog from Phil Jasner of the Daily News showed me something; he could’ve just hit “delete.”

However, a few reporters did give me their time by replying, for which I am genuinely appreciative.

Michael Barkann of Comcast SportsNet answered with his usual candor and humor: “I only want to keep it going if it's going, otherwise there's no need. Let's face it, there are some players and personalities and some topics that are compelling for readers and viewers. T.O. is such a person. He's revered for his play and reviled for his style. But we'll listen or read about anything said about him. Do I want it to go away? Yes, until they play Dallas....”

Glen Macnow of 610 WIP also checked in with his straightforward style: “As for the T.O. story, sure, sometimes it gets weary. But I also know that the story made for great radio when the breakdown occurred last fall. Talk radio thrives on hot stories like this. There is a lot of repetition in my business, but that’s because fans want to get their opinions in on controversial issues. I’m okay with that.”

Joe Juliano of the Inquirer offered some perspective:

In almost 32 years in this business (and 21 at the Inquirer), I don't think I've ever had a story occupy my time as much as the Terrell Owens saga. You have to understand that most of my career pre-dates the Internet information boom and while there was always competition on a good story from other newspapers, radio and TV and cable, the demand for information wasn't nearly what it is now, where someone can sit at his or her computer and search out the latest news ... or in the Owens case, what passes for news.

I have not had a story consume my time and energy like the Owens saga has. As I was reading your e-mail, I was trying to come up with something similar from my experience. The best I could do was the Villanova phone code scandal late in the 2002-03 season, and the disagreement between Allen Iverson and then-Sixers coach Chris Ford in February and March of 2004. Those were stories that had a shelf life of a few weeks each, where I (and my competitors) looked for new details every day. It's my own sense of inquisitiveness that drives me, but the competition, the knowledge that you could get scooped at any time, gives you that extra kick. Ideally, you want to cover the story to some sort of logical conclusion or resolution. When the phone code scandal hit Villanova, the basketball team had less than a month left in its season. Once the season ended, Villanova did a good job of keeping us informed as to when the results of their internal investigation would be released. And once that came out, the story was over.

With regard to the Sixers and Iverson, the disagreement between coach and player started in late February when Iverson skipped practice the day after the 2004 All-Star game. Ford held him out of the next game's starting lineup as punishment and the relationship deteriorated from there. The matter came to a head on a Sunday in the middle of March when Ford decided he wanted to bring Iverson back slowly after an injury and wanted him to come off the bench, and Iverson refused. He took off his uniform and sat on the bench wearing a Milwaukee Bucks throwback jersey, and on national TV. We had to constantly monitor that disagreement, and that all pretty much finished up toward the end of March when Iverson suffered a knee injury that ended his season. The only thing left was to see which one was going to be leaving after the season ended and, no surprise, it was Ford going.

During my coverage of these two stories, I never really felt like I wanted the stories to go away but the life of both wasn't all that long. I've never had a story sustain itself over two years like the Owens thing. As a reader, and not a big Owens fan, yes, I wish the story would go away. But if I were covering it, as weary as it might make me, I would have to suppress that wish because my readers (and yes, my editors) demand to know what's new when something new happens.

Jody McDonald of WPEN 950 AM dove right in with a very direct answer: “T.O. stays in the mind of all the fans because he stirred emotions. That stays with you. When its both positve and negative emotions [involved] that doubles the length of his staying power!! As long as he continues to play (especially in Dallas) he will be a lightning rod. As a talk show host you steer the ship; yes, I guide the show with my opening monologue and the guests we put on, but if the callers want to change the direction of the show, I’m certainly open to going with the flow. T.O. makes my life easier. All I have to do is keep the conversation from not becoming too repetitive.”

The Daily News’ Dick Jerardi offered a bit of advice with his reply:

Some of the best journalism is when a story is so interesting and has so many angles that there is always something fresh which might give readers a better understanding of the issues.

Whether to continue with a story should be directly related to whether there is anything new to report. If not, move on. If so, stay with it.

Questions often lead to answers that lead to more questions. If there are more questions that really need an answer, keep trying to find those answers.

So, odds are stories about T.O. aren’t going to become a thing of the past any time soon in Philadelphia. The Dallas-Eagles games will no doubt get fans stirred up a little more than usual this year, and stories on the Owens angle will run, and run, . . . and run. That’s not all bad, I guess. After all, T.O. is now just one more reason for Philly fans to hate the Cowboys, and there’s never anything wrong with that.

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