An Interview with Peter Abraham
“If Buster links to one of my stories invariably it will be one of the most read stories on our site that day. If Buster likes one of your stories that helps your website, too. He’s creating value for espn.com, but also for boston.com and whoever he links to. There’s a lot of getting in bed with one another in this business that we didn’t used to do.”
“Buster is fair in what he does, but let’s say he wanted to promote the career of some writer – he could link to that guy every day and people would say this guy is great…Every day I get four or five e-mails pleading with me to link to their site. A lot of it is commercial – ‘please include me on your list of sites’. Obviously the paper won’t let me link to anything commercial.”
Peter Abraham: Interviewed on March 29, 2008
Position: Yankees beat reporter, The Journal News, The LoHud Yankees blog
Born: 1964, New Bedford, Ma.
Education: University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 1986, journalism
Career: New Bedford Standard-Times, Watertown (NY) Daily Times 1986; Norwich (Ct) Bulletin 86-99; Journal News 99-
Favorite restaurant (home): Pasquale Rigoletto, Little Italy, Bronx “authentic NY Italian not too far from Stadiumz’
Favorite restaurant (road): Foley’s Back Street Grille, Stoughton, Ma. “my brother-in-law’s place – best clam chowder ever – I liked it before he married my sister”
Favorite hotel: Harbor Beach Marriott, Ft. Lauderdale “like being on vacation – you hate to go to the games – and I like going to games”
Posted by Peter Abraham on The LoHud Yankees blog, March 27, 2008, 10:06 p.m.
It was a nice scene today as George Steinbrenner, surrounded by his family, saw the field renamed in his honor.
People lined up to say what a great man he is and how much he has done for charity. By all accounts, they are exactly right. He has put kids through college, helped wounded servicemen, donated to countless organizations, etc.
I had people tell me today that there are literally hundreds of good acts he has done that have gone unpublicized. In Florida, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, etc. Do you know he donates thousands to the Jimmy Fund, the official charity of the Red Sox?
But there were also hundreds of people who heard about today’s ceremony and were probably sick to their collective stomachs.
Steinbrenner is also the same guy who has fired dozens of employees for no reason. He has made life miserable for some people who worked at his stadiums, his horse farm and his hotels. He once fired a dozen people who worked for the team because he was upset with a new CBA between the owners and the MLBPA. Jokes are made about it now, but it wasn’t funny for the people who ruined their marriages or had to uproot their families.
Steinbrenner gave illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon and hired a small-time crook to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. Those offenses got him suspended from baseball. Hank Steinbrenner has said many times that he wanted nothing to do with the Yankees for years because he couldn’t stand working for his father.
He’s an infirm old man, so he’ll get a pass from most of us. I suspect all of the stories tomorrow will reflect well on him, as they probably should. Fans tend to overlook the past because Steinbrenner spends money on the roster. They tend to forget that he charges high prices for tickets and concessions and that next season only the wealthy will sit anywhere close to the field. Or that the Yankees were mismanaged for years under his watch.
There’s no easy answer to this. He’s been a good guy and he’s been a bad guy. As with most things in life, there is no absolute right or wrong, only shades of gray. Those he did right by will love him. Those he tormented will hate him.
But nobody will forget him, that we do know.
Q. How successful is your blog?
A. Beyond what I could have imagined. When I started it in the spring of 2006 I don’t think we had a comment posted for a week. I wasn’t sure who was reading it beyond me and my editors. Now on a given day I receive 1000-plus comments. On a given month our page views will be around 1.5 million and it’s going up steadily.
In terms of our website, my blog often outdraws all other pages on the website.
Q. How do you differentiate the blog from your print stories?
A. A lot go hand-in-hand. You’re out there everyday getting information that ultimately will be for the paper. That’s my priority – I consider myself a newspaper writer first. My secondary job is the blog. I’m not a person who does a blog but also happens to cover the team for the newspaper. Blogging is good for you. If you get information at 2 p.m., instead of waiting until 6 the next morning to present it in the paper, you can present it at 2:01. The days are gone of breaking big stories in the paper the next day – it’s almost impossible to do. If you have anything you should have it online as soon as possible, even if it’s just a few grafs to add to something. If it’s reported correctly you should get it online as soon as you can – then write a complete story for the paper the next day. For me the blog is a big part of that.
Every story you don’t have to present as news on the website. Even something like the lineup – one thing we do is put up the lineup every day as soon as the Yankees post it. I did it in 2006 to put something up there, and people loved it. If I don’t have it up when I should have it up I get questions. Lineups are posted (by managers) three hours before the game and most people don’t know what it is until they see it on TV before the first batter. For whatever reason people are consumed with lineups.
You use the blog for little things like that – this guy is on the disabled list – or this guy got flu and won’t play for a day. People seem to hunger for information. I jot it down in my notebook anyway, so it doesn’t change how I go about my work.
Q. How do you know if something should be a blog item or a news item?
A. I talk about it with my editors. If it’s a significant move – like Pettitte on the DL – we do a blurb on the website. The Journal News is determined to make Lohud.com an important outlet. Anything we have we try to get on the website, then we add a blurb, ‘for more on this see the Journal News tomorrow’. We’re trying to have it be integrated. Lohud.com has done very well. A lot of times editors will take things off my blogs and turn them into short updates that will on the main page of the website. We might have two or three updates during the day along with what I have on my blog.
Q. Does updating go on all day?
A. I’ve studied traffic closely. Most traffic is between 9 and 5, especially on weekdays. People are reading in their offices. Once 5 or 6 comes along it seems to drop off a bit. The blog is different – people seem to have it going during the game. They chat with each other in the comment section if something goes on during the game. If Damon left with a sore knee I throw that up to let people know what’s going on. It’s tough to do during a game if I’m writing a story to make the first deadline, but if I can I throw things up on the blog, too.
Q. You mean you’re writing for the print deadline and you’re posting on the blog at the same time? That’s like a circus act.
A. Another thing we do – and I don’t know how many around the country do this – they’ve given me the ability to put audio up on the blog. I can take the manager’s post-game press conference and upload that after a game. We’re the only ones in New York doing that.
It’s funny. When I had the blog in 2006 I was the only beat writer in New York to have a blog in any sport. People thought I was crazy. My fellow beat writers were like, ‘how can you do this – it won’t work out’. Now, there’s not a beat reporter in this market who doesn’t have a blog.
Q. Do you keep up with all those blogs?
A. The Yankees blogs. I keep up with my competition.
I have a folder set up on my browser with basically everything I want to check, and I go through it one by one. When I get up in the morning I start with Buster Olney’s blog on ESPN – he has a ton of good links.
Q. Why is Buster’s blog up first?
A. He does his outrageously early – he’s an early riser. I know him personally – he was raised on a farm and he’s used to getting up early. Rarely have I got up and his blog wasn’t updated.
Then I look at the coverage in other papers that cover the Yankees. In some cases I’ve read it the night before. The Times tends to post stories right away, and Newsday does the same. The tabs don’t post until 6 in the morning, so I don’t see those until I wake up. I usually check the Boston Globe – their guys throw Yankees news up there. It’s always good to keep up with the Red Sox – Red Sox news is Yankees news. I check Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America for the amateur draft stuff. Baseball Musings – I like what David (Pinto) does. I can’t say I look at every Yankee blog in terms of fan blogs. Some I check in with – like Alex Belth’s Bronx Banter. I found a good Yankees stat blog – Replacement Level Yankee Weblog – ‘replacement level ‘ is a SABR term – they do good SABR stuff with the Yankees. A lot is contingent on the news of the day. If the Yankees are looking at a trade with Seattle I look at the Seattle papers.
It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to cruise around. I’m not reading every single word – a lot of times it’s the same stuff I know I have. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
Q. Do you read the magazines?
A. Sure, absolutely, especially if it’s Yankee or AL related. That’s how I got to like reading about baseball in the first place. If (Tom) Verduccie has a story in SI I will read it. In airports or planes or subways I do try to have things to read – especially SI stuff and espn.com’s longer form things – the e-tickets. I try to get to that as much as I can.
Q. How did your blog start?
A. In 2005 I did a story in spring training about bloggers and became intrigued with what these guys were doing. Alex Belth (Bronx Banter) is the reason I started the blog – he was the centerpiece of the story. I was jealous of what he was doing – he had a great platform to do whatever he wanted. That led me to try to convince my paper we should try – they were against it for the longest time. I finally convinced them during the winter meetings. But it was Alex and some other guys who inspired me.
Q. There are so many blogs – how do you find the good ones?
A. If you find somebody whose blog you like, that person will have a blogroll on his blog, which is a list of blogs that person likes. It correlates that those other blogs are decent. If I’m reading Alex and he’s linked to some other blog I’ll check it out.
Q. What’s the difference between a blogger and an aggregator?
A. Most of my own stuff is original. I don’t spend a lot of time with links – every once in a while you throw in something you find out there – it’s really your own discretion. That’s what Buster is doing – he’s deciding what is the news – he has a sense of that. What I’m doing is writing what I find out in my job as Yankees beat writer.
Way too many people are saying what they’re doing is a blog when it’s not a blog. By definition a weblog was supposed to be a journal kind of thing. What Buster is doing is not a journal – it’s a collection of links. But there’s no term for that, which means it just gets lumped under the blog label.
The Post puts up the first couple of grafs of a story somebody sends in and calls it a blog, but it’s not a blog. The word ‘blog’ has come to man almost anything that is online – people use the term because it’s catchy.
Q. So Buster is an aggregator?
A. Yeah, but there’s no catchy term for that. What Gammons (espn.com) does is sort of a blog and sort of isn’t. Jason Stark (espn.com) does more or a blog – it’s random stuff he’s finding out. Peter’s blog is like his column of that day – it’s not much different than what he was doing for the Globe 30 years ago.
I put a time element on my items because I’m updating items as I go along. It’s more of a web log – which is what the term originally meant. A lot of people think anything online is a blog but it’s not really.
At the same time Buster does provide some of his own information. He throws in stuff, usually at the beginning. I guess there’s no one definition to cover all of this – it’s so new.
Q. So he’s creating value for his outlet by aggregating the stories of other outlets?
A. Sure. And he creates value for them, too. If Buster links to one of my stories invariably it will be one of the most read stories on our site that day. If Buster likes one of your stories that helps your website, too. He’s creating value for espn.com, but also for boston.com and whoever he links to. There’s a lot of getting in bed with one another in this business that we didn’t used to do.
Q. The value created by linking – how do you get a handle on what it’s worth?
A. I don’t know. A link on espn.com is valuable because it’s so well read and has a lot of credibility. Buster is fair in what he does, but let’s say he wanted to promote the career of some writer – he could link to that guy every day and people would say this guy is great.
I have a lot of readers on my blog and if I link to somebody it will drive a lot of readership – it could drive 50,000 readers. On a given day I could make that guy’s readership. Every day I get four or five e-mails pleading with me to link to their site. A lot of it is commercial – ‘please include me on your list of sites’. Obviously the paper won’t let me link to anything commercial. I explain to them that I can’t promote products.
The whole thing is very interesting.
Q. Where does your love of baseball come from?
A. My parents subscribed to the Boston Globe and New Bedford Standard Times when I was growing up. The Globe came in the morning and the Standard-Times in the evening. I loved the whole idea of reading about the Boston teams. The Globe had Bob Ryan covering the Celtics, (Dan) Shaughnessy or (Peter) Gammons on the Red Sox, Will McDonough on the Patriots, and Fran Rosa on the Bruins – these were the best guys in the country in my mind. I thought, ‘that’s what I want to do.’
Q. How did you get into the industry?
A. My dad was a high school guidance councilor – he had me join a Junior Achievement club in high school, much to my chagrin. One of the first things they did was tour the local paper, the Standard Times. They showed us the loading dock and the printing press and in the newsroom the Sports Editor was at his desk.
I knew who he was, and I went up to him and said, ‘the high school swim team is doing well but you haven’t done any stories’. He said, ‘they never bring the results down’. I said, ‘too bad, there’s a big meet Friday and you should have the results in the paper’. He said, ‘you get them here and I’ll put them in the paper’. So I did, and lo and behold, it was in the paper the next day. My friends thought that was pretty good. The conference meet was a couple days later. I told the SE, and he said, ‘bring those results in, and while you’re at it get a comment from the coach’. I did that, and the next day there was a story with my name on it – identifying me as a Standard-Times correspondent. A few days later I got a check for $10 and I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. It’s the only job I’ve had since.
Q. How do you like the Yankees beat?
A. Very much. I used to cover the Mets for this paper. I enjoyed it but I enjoy the Yankees more. There are more Yankees fans in our area – Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties. I get more feedback covering the Yankees. To me if you’re cover baseball in the New York area, the Yankees are the team to cover – they seem to have the most attention focused on them. Even if the Yankees lose it’s a bigger story than if the Mets win.
Q. Is it the most competitive beat in sports?
A. I think so. I used to cover Connecticut basketball, which I thought was competitive, but it’s nothing like the Yankees beat in New York.
I started doing baseball in 2000 for the Journal News. Just from traveling and seeing different papers I can’t say that all the good baseball writers are in New York, but in terms of a concentration of a lot of writers who know what they’re talking about, and columnists who are baseball-centric, it’s extremely competitive. It’s not just the people in the pressbox – it’s the columnists and national baseball writers and national websites. Everybody has a stake covering the Yankees if you cover baseball, so there’s always somebody out there trying to break something.
Q. Are you at a disadvantage as a suburban paper?
A. We’re based in White Plains, which is a suburb, but it’s not far from Yankee Stadium. I live in White Plains and I’m at the Stadium in 25 minutes. Our coverage of the Yankees goes back a lot of years – we’re established on the beat.
The disadvantage is at home games. The major metros can send five or six people while we send one or two. In terms of them flooding the zone and talking to everybody I’m at a little disadvantage. It’s better on the road. They send one or two except during the playoffs or for a Red Sox series – so the numbers are more evenly matched.
The Yankees, to their credit, don’t treat the metros any differently than my paper or the Star-Ledger or Newsday or Bergen Record, in terms of access. Brian Cashman treats everybody the same, the organization treats everybody the same. It’s not like you wake up and wonder why they gave the New York Times a story.
Q. What does it take to be competitive on the beat?
A. It takes a tremendous amount of time, and with that comes a tremendous amount of effort. I have a list of people I try to talk to every day during the season. It starts with Girardi and Cashman and it goes on to the scouts and agents and people from other teams. I try to get a sense of moves they may make, and to find out the teams Cashman is talking to. Just on a day-to-day basis, being at the park, the clubhouse opens 3 1/2 hours before the game, and I’m there early and often quite late. The Yankees tend to play late games – AL games take forever. During the games you’re updating your story and your blog.
It’s a major commitment of time but that’s what you have to do.
Q. How much time?
A. I never thought about it and probably don’t want to think about it. It’s usually 10 to 12 hours for any given day. If you have a road trip and you’re working five games it’s probably 70 or 80 hours a week. I cover every road game. When they’re at home I take time off. I probably cover about 125-130 games a year.
Q. Where are you now?
A. Miami. I’m waiting for the Yankees-Marlins game – the last exhibition game of the year.
Q. Are you ready to leave Florida?
A. I don’t mind spring training. I hear it’s cold and nasty in New York.
Posted by Peter Abraham on The LoHud Yankees blog, Thursday, March 27th, 2008 at 9:02 pm: |
If you’re interested in the minor leagues and you’re not reading Chad Jennings of the Times-Tribune in Scranton, well you should be.
The beat writers all read his blog
because he’s on top of things.
As somebody who once covered the Double-A team when it was in Connecticut, I know how hard it is to extract information from the people who run the Kremlin in Tampa. But Chad finds out plenty.
So while we treasure your loyalty, it’s OK if you sneak off to check out his blog. Just come back.
Meanwhile, here’s your Scranton lineup as far as I can tell:
2B: Castro and/or Green
RF: Porter and/or Lane
Starters: Horne, Igawa, Marquez, Wright, White
Bullpen: Britton, Veras, Albaladejo, Ohlendorf (unless he makes it), Patterson, Phillips.
(SMG thanks Peter Abraham for his cooperation)