Marroquin disputed my suggestion that initial Register coverage of the stadium lease situation had been soft, saying that three reporters—he, Martin Wisckol, and Sarah Tully—are now digging into the stadium lease negotiations and that reporting on them is “definitely a priority.” And early in November, about two months after the city agreed to its negotiating framework with the Angels, the Register finally did weigh in with an important in-depth piece on the stadium.
In the article, Wisckol, who covers politics for the Register, turned a city-commissioned report on the Angels’ economic impact on Anaheim—a report that some city council members have used to support their efforts toward a new stadium lease—into Swiss cheese. The report claimed the team generated $204 million in new spending in the city and $4.7 million in annual revenue for the city treasury, Wisckol wrote, but it “is so replete with unsubstantiated assumptions that it can’t be used as a reliable indicator of the team’s financial impact on the city, interviews and public records show.”
An email seeking an interview with Register Editor Ken Brusic about coverage of the Angel Stadium lease was answered by Eric Morgan, who is listed as a communications manager on the Register’s website and who wrote, “we’ll cover this story in the same way we cover all of our news stories—we’ll report the facts in a fair and objective way, with perspectives from the parties involved and report this Orange County-based story with team coverage and in great depth.” Morgan said he would pass along an interview request to Register Publisher Aaron Kushner, who did not contact me.
It’s unclear to me whether the Times’ minimal coverage of the Angel Stadium lease negotiations is a reflection of conscious choice or disorganization.
Shaikin said he was asked on short notice to provide news coverage of the Anaheim City Council’s vote on the lease negotiations. His editors approved his column on the lease, he said, and if they had wanted something different, they would have said so. When asked about future coverage of the lease, Shaikin said, “If you’re asking what our long-term plan is for covering this, I’d have to refer you to the editors.”
Times sports editor Mike James said Shaikin was assigned to the new Angels lease story because he had experience covering the Angels current lease, and because “the metro staff has not jumped on this one.” Shaikin will probably continue covering the lease situation, James said. But when he was asked about the column Shaikin had written—in which he gave his opinion on lease negotiations he had covered as a news reporter—James said, “That’s a gray area, and we don’t do a lot of that.” In fact, James said, he’s “not positive” he’d allow Shaikin to do it again.
The business side of big league sports is often a tough cover for local media. In a telephone interview, Neil deMause, co-author of the book Field of Schemes: How the great stadium swindle turns public money into private profit, said the unquestioning initial coverage of the Angel Stadium lease negotiations by the Times and the Register is “very typical.” In general terms, he said, news outlets tend to cover professional stadium and arena issues with either sports reporters “who don’t know anything about economics” or news reporters “who tend not to bring all their critical faculties” when confronted with the pizazz of professional sports.
Several days after the interview, deMause made a point of emailing to note that Wisckol’s piece eviscerating the city-commissioned report on the Angels’ economic impact on Anaheim, published after we’d first spoken, was “pretty excellent”—a verdict with which I and others (including the Voice of OC’s Santana) generally agree. I also know that Shaikin is a quality journalist and anything but an economic naïf, and that he did yeoman’s work covering the complex, soap opera-like financial saga of former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. I suspect that if he were given the time and directed to do so, Shaikin would bring light to the proposed Angel Stadium lease negotiations in fairly short order.
Clearly, though, overall coverage of the Angel Stadium lease has so far been insufficient to the import of the subject. Fortunately, there is time to do better. The Anaheim city staff has said they expect an appraisal of the land around Angel Stadium to be finished by January. But a Nov. 6 story by the Register’s Marroquin paraphrases Anaheim City Manager Marcie Edwards as saying that the appraisal will not be made public until just before the City Council votes on the lease, to avoid undercutting the city’s negotiating position.