By Joel Warner
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Online blogs supposedly give newspaper writers a greater opportunity to express themselves personally and creatively — but as Denver Post sports writer Adrian Dater recently learned, freedom has its limits.
Dater recently penned "Here's a Shout-Out to ESPN Sports Reporters, Another Name for Leach or Lamprey or Something Much Worse That I'll Have a Little Class and Won't Say Here," a classic online rant in which he blamed ESPN for a slew of sins, including undermining the newspaper business in general. At one point, the piece asks, "Wanna get mad at me for saying that, my bosses out there and anybody else in this business we call newspapering?" The answer to this question was "Yes." When Dater's superiors caught wind of the ill breeze, they stripped his rash/hilarious words from the Post's site — but not before they came to the attention of a reader who shared the essay with yours truly, as well as AOL Sports's Greg Wyshynski, who described the missive in his online column as "a Jerry Maguire moment, if Jerry Maguire hated ESPN with every fiber of his being."
The moment has passed for Dater. "I wrote it as a personal thing," Dater says. "But I'm a hockey writer, not a media critic, and I guess I can understand why the bosses wanted to take that down."
Indeed, Dater is the Post's hockey specialist, providing strong, opinionated coverage of the Colorado Avalanche, who figure prominently in his most recent book, Blood Feud: Detroit Red Wings v. Colorado Avalanche: The Inside Story of Pro Sports' Nastiest and Best Rivalry of Its Era. But during the NHL off-season, he reports about other sports, and when the New York Yankees arrived in Colorado on June 19 for a three-game series against the Rockies, his number was called. After the Rockies won the contest (the first victory in an eventual sweep), he sat down at his keyboard and invited "Blog Nation" to weigh in on a topic that came up during a post-game conversation with a media peer, who contended that "I, Adrian Dater, respected member of the Denver Post sports department the last sixteen years, am not all I can be because I'm not a talking head on ESPN."
His take on this assertion? "You can take your ESPN and all the alleged superiority that comes from being on it every day and you can shove it in that little space where there is very little sunlight, ever," he declared, shortly before taking it to "the people that helped ruin" the newspaper business.
"You know all those stories that we broke with our hard work, with real reporting and real journalism?" he went on. "Yeah, ESPN decided it would be a neat trick to see it on the wire and call up their so-called 'expert' in whatever sport the news broke and then put on the little scroll at the bottom of their screen that it was 'ESPN's so-and-so expert that reported that the news story someone else actually broke was really broken by our lackey expert here.' Do you hear me, Ed Werder? Do you hear me, Rachel Nichols? Do you hear me, Chris Mortensen? Do you hear me, Marc Stein? Do you hear me, ESPN producer schmucks? You didn't break JACK SQUAT."
There's much more material like this; read the entire offering at www.westword.com/blogs. Yet the meat of Dater's argument is encompassed by this paragraph: "We newspaper people — the real journalists out there still — do not need to feel inferior to a bunch of made-up clowns with microphones in hand. Cash your paychecks and feel superior if you need to. But remember this: You'll never be half our equals when it comes to being able to write and really report a story. Oh, and good luck making it in your business when the wrinkles start to show a little."
Obviously, Dater's decision to take on ESPN puts the Post in a prickly position. The paper's featured columnist, Woody Paige, actually left the paper for several years to work at the network full-time, and he continues to appear regularly on programs such as Around the Horn. Moreover, when Paige is unavailable, fellow wordsmith Jim Armstrong has filled in for him on more than one occasion, utilizing a mini-ESPN studio that's part of the Post's newsroom. The set demonstrates that decision-makers at the Post want to strengthen their relationship with ESPN, not snuff it out in a blaze of recrimination.
David Wright, the Post's deputy sports editor, who pulled the trigger on the blog post, declined to comment — an extremely dubious position for a journalist to take. Dater, meanwhile, is trying his best to cool the flames. "I named some names at ESPN, which I am sorry about," he notes, adding that he "didn't mean to impugn their work or them personally, so I'm sorry to them."
In the end, Dater feels he's learned a lesson — one that plenty of fellow pissed-off late-nighters should take to heart. Rather than ditching his inner filter and letting every ounce of frustration spew forth, he says, "I should have gone to bed."