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The Lederer Files from a Poker Media Perspective

The PokerNews interview of Howard Lederer is understandably the only thing anyone is talking about right now. I don't think I can add anything of extra substance to the unraveling story of Full Tilt's demise, but the manner in which it was reported does fall under my niche.

PokerNews and interviewer Matt Parvis have come in for some criticism for how the interview was conducted. In particular some of the feedback includes not asking some important follow up questions, not asking questions such as why Howard Lederer did not return some of his own FTP distributions when the company needed them and generally letting Howard control the pace of the interview.

I think industry expert Bill Rini explains why this happened perfectly:

First off, I’ve mentioned Ray and the board being in over their heads so I should mention that Matthew Parvis is also in way over his head in this interview. I don’t mean that as an insult to Parvis but what this interview needed was someone who had more intimate knowledge of the people and the business.

There were just too many opportunities for him to ask follow up questions that he missed because he just didn’t know Howard was making a factually incorrect statement. For instance, as I mentioned in the previous comments on the interview, everyone in the industry did a spit-take when they heard Howard say that player money segregation was not something anybody was thinking about.

If you were in the business on the operator side or had a solid knowledge of how online poker rooms work, you would have really nailed him down on that.

In the end, it became just a fluff, PR piece for Howard and his allies. Howard outplayed Parvis and was able to avoid lines of questioning that would have forced him to admit wrongdoings.

There are so many moments where I’m shouting at the computer for Parvis to hit him with this or that fact or to force Lederer to address a logical inconsistency but it just flies right by with Parvis moving right on to the next question.

Like I said, I don’t blame Parvis per se. This is the biggest interview in the entire poker world. I don’t know if any current poker media journalist would have been better prepared for it. It’s a tough gig and you have to know going in that nobody is going to be 100% satisfied with what you end up getting out of Howard.

Would a 60 Minutes reporter be better prepared? I think so. A lot of investigative journalists would have had the money and resources to do all of the background checking before they sat down. But, our industry hasn’t matured to that point yet so Howard had a bit of an edge since he already knew what he was going to say and Parvis had to try and keep up. Howard had a year and a half to anticipate the most burning questions while Parvis had no idea what Howard’s responses would be.

Lederer is a smart guy. It was never going to be easy to pin him down. 
I mean, what color would Howard have turned if Parvis had known Howard had intended on throwing Juanda, Perry, and Ivey under the bus and interviewed them first so he could counter Howard’s one-sided view of events? 

What’s that one rule they teach to trial lawyers, “don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.” That seems like a pretty good rule of thumb for journalists as well.

I'd like to expand on what Bill said here. Plenty was missing from the Lederer Files but I'm not sure many of Matt's peers could have done much a better job (Other than asking the distributions question, which I'll get to),  I know I couldn't have. The poker media is too immature to do a job this big justice. Back when Matt and I started the only thing we reported on was "man wins poker tournament" and "wow look at that PartyPoker bonus". All of us were suddenly thrust into grown-up news reporting when Black Friday happened. 

This is the first time a 60 minutes style interview has happened in poker. It was never going to please everyone. I'm glad PokerNews did not go too far down the other road of going in all guns blazing, calling Lederer a prick, and screaming at him asking for our money back. At least the way it was reported this way around allowed Lederer to be himself (Or at least the Lederer he wanted to portray).

Earlier this month I blogged about how poker media sites make money, and this is also a telling factor into how something like the Lederer Files was reported. There is no budget for investigative journalism and little opportunity to make much money from such a big exclusive. PokerNews probably made a loss on the interview as a whole, the traffic it brought in was unlikely to have compensated the expenses and man hours needed to produce it, so it was unlikely they had much time or resource to research ahead of time. 

Back to the subject of missing out one of the most important questions; why didn't Howard give back some of his personal FTP distributions to help the site? I actually assumed that Howard had some editorial control over part of the interview and what was asked (In exchange for giving the interview in the first place). I was surprised to hear in a blog post just released by Matt Parvis that this was not the case, they had full control and it was just a sheer oversight by him. 

If I had been charged with the task of interviewing Howard the first thing I would have done is give the job to someone else and helped out behind the scenes instead. Matt is one of the bosses at PokerNews, he doesn't actually produce the content day to day, and this is perhaps the reason why he should have delegated it elsewhere. But hats off to him for taking on the toughest job in poker journalism and no doubt protecting his own staff in the process.

I personally would have invited a real expert in this story to do this job, possibly bringing in a partner from outside the company. A Diamond Flush, a Noah SD, the guys at PokerFuse, or my PokerStrategy colleague Matt Kaufman. If that wasn't possible I would have at least crowd sourced my questions and research with industry experts outside of my company (which I am sure is what happened to some extent). 

If Howard does do his proposed follow up interview with 2+2 we might get the interview we wanted (I have a feeling that won't happen, hope I'm wrong). Even though it was flawed we still got something from PokerNews here. We know a lot more about Howard and the FTP story than we did a week ago and other than the one key question (at least for me) that was missing, I'm not sure many of my peers would have done a significantly better job. 

6 comments:

Robbie Strazynski said...

Barry, I've got a media question for you, as you recently posted about "taking credit and giving credit"...

I had an idea to post a review-type article on the Lederer files to help my audience digest the immense amount of content being produced ...went ahead and did so late Saturday night on my website Cardplayer Lifestyle. This morning I wake up to see that Pokerfuse's Nick Jones went ahead and did something similar yesterday (100% was done after I published). I also imagine that other sites and blog might go ahead and do something similar in the coming days.

Now I'm on good terms with Michael Gentile (Pokerfuse's chief and editor) he knows about me and my site and I regularly comment on Pokerfuse. I know that strictly speaking an idea cannot be copyrighted... but what can a "small time" poker site/blogger like myself do to try and get credit for being the first to do stories like these rather than essentially "get scooped" by larger sites with more eyeballs pointed at them?

Your advice as someone with great experience in poker media is greatly appreciated.

Barry Carter said...

Fantastic question, possibly worthy of a blog post in itself.

Ultimately if they want to, a larger site can pretty much get away with stealing your ideas. They cannot straight up plagiarise what you write, but a basic idea or story they can take and not give credit.

It has come up a lot before as you can imagine, I've had plenty of instances of this, in fact one site in question were so shameless in how much they were stealing my stuff when I worked at PokerNews that I almost printed a fake story to see if they stole it.

Twitter is your friend here. Lots of people use it to name and shame sites that take your ideas and don't give credit for it. The poker media tends to rally around for each other to help put pressure on people.

It wont stop people from taking your content ideas as their own, but it does pressure them into giving linked citations, which is great recompense especially if it is a larger site.

As for your particular article, I'm sure you would agree that this is such a big story that other sites would come up with the idea of aggregating the HL stories too. But if a site seems to take ONLY the links you provide and a similar style etc, you probably have grounds to name and shame them.









Barry Carter said...

Oh but I should add, the first port of call should be email the guys in question and ask for a citation - that should work 99% of the time.

Robbie Strazynski said...

Thanks Barry for being so kind to respond so quickly. Yes, I agree with you that the story is definitely huge and my aggregation idea wasn't exactly "sliced bread"...
Funny but sad story about your time at PokerNews...the one difference obviously is that you were at PokerNews, the #1 site, which will always be #1 regardless of imitators, whereas site's like mine are very much working from the ground up.
Many of the links I posted were also used by Nick Jones, though obviously I also included a couple internal ones.
I'm going to take your advice and see what they say...if they also had the original idea on their own or if they happened to use my site for inspiration in any way. We'll see what happens.

Robbie Strazynski said...

Just to follow up, I contacted Mike and he replied very quickly, honestly, and convincingly that it just so happened to be a coincidence. He and others like him and yourself are definitely among the "good guys" in the business.
As you noted in your original reply to my comment, if you ever want to write up a blog post related to my question, I'd be happy to help in any way I can.

Thanks Barry!

Barry Carter said...

Thanks very much Robbie.

Yes the PokerFuse guys are the best, real stand up guys.

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