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Browns won’t comment on removal of Grossi from Plain Dealer beat

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Though the Cleveland Plain Dealer still has not acknowledged the move on its website (other than to finally remove his name and face from the roster), Tony Grossi no longer covers the Browns as a beat writer, following the accidental publication of a private Twitter message that called Browns owner Randy Lerner  (pictured) “pathetic” and an “irrelevant billionaire.”

Browns spokesman Neal Gulkis tells PFT that the Browns have no comment on the situation.

There’s still no evidence that the Browns pressured the Plain Dealer to make the move.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, however, both Lerner and president Mike Holmgren refused to accept calls from Grossi after the message was posted and deleted.  We’re also told that a meeting occurred Wednesday between Plain Dealer publisher Terry Eggar and Holmgren.

The Plain Dealer has been nearly as silent as the Browns.  Managing editor Thom Fladung called the Kiley & Booms radio show on 92.3 The Fan this morning to explain the decision, and Fladung’s explanation was less than persuasive, in our opinion.

The decision to remove Grossi from the beat was driven by this “determining factor” articulated by Fladung:  “Don’t do something that affects your value as a journalist or the value of your newspaper or affects the perception of your value and the perception of that newspaper’s value.”

That’s a pretty broad — and vague — rule.  And that’s the kind of standard that gives a news organization the ability to do pretty much whatever it wants whenever it wants, because there’s pretty much always something to which someone can point as proof of “something that affects your value as a journalist or the value of your newspaper or affects the perception of your value and the perception of that newspaper’s value.”

Making Fladung’s “determining factor” even more confusing is the fact that he admitted that Grossi could have deliberately expressed a strong opinion about Lerner in a column published and printed in the Plain Dealer without conseqeuence.  “Let’s say Tony had written that Randy Lerner’s lack of involvement with the Browns and their resulting disappointing records over the years has made him irrelevant as an owner, that’s defensible,” Fladung said.  “That’s absolutely defensible.”

What’s indefensible is the failure of the Plain Dealer to acknowledge the fact that Grossi never intended to make the statements available for public view.  He fell victim to the subtle but significant differences between a “direct message” (which is private) and a “reply” (which is public) on Twitter.  It was an accident.  A mistake.

Let’s go back to the days of typewriters and shorthand, and let’s say that Grossi’s editor has two boxes on his desk.  One is for article submissions and one is for proposed topics.  And let’s say that Grossi scribbled out a scathing column about Lerner as a proposed topic, but Grossi accidentally put it in the box of actual submissions for print.

That’s the low-tech version of what happened here.  Grossi accidentally put his message in the wrong box.

So when Fladung says he “felt very strongly” that the Twitter message “was inappropriate and unprofessional and . . . it’s not the kind of opinion a journalist covering a beat can express,” Fladung presumes that Grossi actually intended to articulate that opinion to the world.  He didn’t.  It was inadvertently blurted out, like a temporary case of Twitter Tourette’s.

Some have suggested that the Twitter blunder provided the Plain Dealer with a vehicle for addressing pre-existing concerns regarding Grossi’s overall job performance.  Undercutting that theory was Fladung’s assertion during the radio interview that Grossi is a “very good” and “very successful” beat writer.

I’m continuing to write about this because it’s the kind of mistake that could happen to anyone, and everyone should be entitled to the benefit of the doubt in a case like this, especially when newspapers and other media companies want their writers to engage with the audience through various new technologies and platforms.  It also just “feels” like an unjust result, whether because the Plain Dealer is being obtuse or because the Plain Dealer is cowering to the Browns or because the Browns are remaining deliberately silent in order to secure the preferred outcome of having Grossi removed from the beat.

Regardless, we’re disappointed in the Plain Dealer, in Fladung, in the Browns, in Lerner, and in Holmgren.  And we hope that one or more of them will snap out of it and do the right thing, or at least let the rest of us know in far more convincing fashion why they believe the right thing was done.

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41 Responses to “Browns won’t comment on removal of Grossi from Plain Dealer beat”
  1. daveyjones1 says: Jan 26, 2012 3:13 PM

    What happened to the right of free speech? Every time a somebody says something that a powerful person doesn’t like they have to start worrying about there job?

  2. nflmademetweet says: Jan 26, 2012 3:14 PM

    don’t care if intentional or not, once it happens, it happens. once that sentiment is out, his credibility is tainted. plain dealer doesn’t need to explain their actions. it’s reasonable to expect that to be the necessary action, regardless of whether it’s an accident.

    it’s the same thing as email. double-check the recipients before clicking send. otherwise, your disparaging remark about an exec, to that exec, could lead to your termination. nothing new here.

  3. Kaz says: Jan 26, 2012 3:15 PM

    If Lerner only cared as much for the Browns as he does about people talking badly about him or his family. The Browns may actually be competitive. Really how much pull does he have? I better shut up before I get called in to the office by the boss.

  4. mjbulls45 says: Jan 26, 2012 3:21 PM

    i missed the part where Grossi was wrong?

    if i’m not mistaken ,

    Browns have never reached a Superbowl…

    I’m not trying to diss, Browns fans are legit and real,

    but someone in the organization is not getting it done for these people…

  5. blantoncollier says: Jan 26, 2012 3:24 PM

    My problem with this post its support for Mr. Grossi’s lack of accountability. After almost 30 years he should understand he has a position of influence. Whether by accident or not he made a very PUBLIC personal attack on the owner of the Cleveland Browns. It 100% “affects his value as a journalist.” Mr. Grossi is being held accountable for his acctions.

    Nothing wrong with that!

  6. captainspaulding22 says: Jan 26, 2012 3:32 PM

    Whether it was a mistake or not is “irrelevant” and a “pathetic” argument on Grossi’s behalf. If you are going to use twitter, or any other social media for that matter, you ought to understand how it works. Grossi found out the hard way that spouting off one-liners on twitter (without supporting your claims in an intelligent and professional manner) is not the way paper companies would like their writers to “engage the[ir] audience through various new technologies and platforms.” Grossi has been consistently biased and bitter in his reporting and his interactions with fans; this demotion should have happened a long time ago. The PD (finally) got it right.

  7. rastacc says: Jan 26, 2012 3:32 PM

    As a previous poster noted, intention of making it public or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that he DID type that message and that it was made public. Making a personal attack against the owner was crossing a line. Remember, this isn’t ‘Nam, there are rules. The Plain Dealer most likely felt that the relationship between the Browns and Grossi was permanently damaged. How is he supposed to be a “Browns Insider” if they won’t return his calls? All of this belly-aching is making you and Grossi look worse, not the Plain Dealer.

  8. elvoid says: Jan 26, 2012 3:45 PM

    Sorry for the guy – yeah it was a mistake, but here’s the thing:

    A bell can’t be unrung.

    And when he called the owner “pathetic” and “irrelevant” he pretty much took a sledgehammer to that bell.

  9. chadmurdigan says: Jan 26, 2012 3:51 PM

    In our digital world, here’s an excellent rule to follow:

    Never, ever, put anything in writing that you don’t want the entire word to see, read, or share with others during your lifetime and beyond.

  10. ohiodarin says: Jan 26, 2012 4:04 PM

    “Regardless, we’re disappointed in the Plain Dealer, in Fladung, in the Browns, in Lerner, and in Holmgren. ”

    But not Grossi? The opposite of blame is responsibility. About time more people learn this…..

  11. nflofficeadmin says: Jan 26, 2012 4:05 PM

    If you don’t understand the technology, don’t use it.. Get with it or get gone, ya boner.

  12. jackblackshairyback says: Jan 26, 2012 4:06 PM

    nflmademetweet says:Jan 26, 2012 3:14 PM

    don’t care if intentional or not, once it happens, it happens. once that sentiment is out, his credibility is tainted. plain dealer doesn’t need to explain their actions. it’s reasonable to expect that to be the necessary action, regardless of whether it’s an accident.

    it’s the same thing as email. double-check the recipients before clicking send. otherwise, your disparaging remark about an exec, to that exec, could lead to your termination. nothing new here.

    Yep. Ask Phil Savage about that.

    Once someone can prove the Browns pressured the PD, then I’ll listen. Otherwise it’s just speculation. The Browns dont need to comment. If they do, then they give the appearance that they can in fact decide who covers them or not. This isnt the first time Grossi has been removed from the position of beat reporter for the Browns, he has a track record of losing objectivity. That Twitter account was set up for him by the PD, he represented them. He’s the idiot who made it public.

    Last week, Lerner gave an on-air interview to Mike Trivosonno, not Grossi. Grossi was of the opinion that when the owner of the team he covers speaks publicly, especially one who does so as rarely as lerner, it isnt his job to cover it. Or, he was miffed that HE didnt get the interview.

    This isnt rocket science folks. Grossi’s replies to Tweet questions were snarky, sarcastic, and sometimes downright rude. Grossi’s lack of professionalism has been on display quite a few times.

  13. jimbobobjr says: Jan 26, 2012 4:07 PM

    The picture is very symbolic of the Browns franchise. He’s throwing his hands up in utter disgust/defeat, tossing away the helmets.

  14. sabeybaby says: Jan 26, 2012 4:17 PM

    Wasn’t Grossi the same hack who got all righteous about the Phil Savage email? I seem to remember him calling for Savage to be fired. What goes around…comes around Grossi. CPD made a big mistake by not firing this clown.

  15. haroldoftherocks says: Jan 26, 2012 4:23 PM

    “I’m continuing to write about this because it’s the kind of mistake that could happen to anyone,”

    Since I don’t have a Facebook or a Twitter account, it’s not going to happen to me! Stay away from Facebook, Twitter, and most other social media and you don’t have this problem.

    I genuinely don’t understand the fascination with Twitter. I think it’s one of the worst forms of “communication’ ever developed. You couldn’t pay me to get a Twitter or Facebook account.

  16. captainspaulding22 says: Jan 26, 2012 4:23 PM

    @mjbulls45:

    No one is saying Grossi was wrong; we’re just saying it was incredibly dumb if he wanted to continue working as the Browns beat writer and that the PD had no choice but to remove him from his post. Whether or not he wanted to continue working as the Browns beat writer is certainly debatable, however, given his history of lazy, uninspired, unprofessional coverage of the team.

  17. cliverush says: Jan 26, 2012 4:24 PM

    You screw up, you lose. Just like everywhere else, except Washington DC.

  18. willyalistentothis says: Jan 26, 2012 4:30 PM

    If his job for the paper is to cover the Browns, and the Browns will not give him access, what value does he have to the paper?

  19. arrowmint says: Jan 26, 2012 4:40 PM

    I completely disagree with the PFT take here. Let me preface by saying I am not in Ohio, not a Browns fan, don’t read the paper, don’t have any vested interest.

    What the reporter said was absolutely unprofessional. Reporters, even sports reporters, covering a beat, have to be objective. The content of the tweet was clearly not objective, it revealed utter contempt for one of the key people on his beat.

    You also have to question this Grossi fellow’s professionalism and ability to use the basic tools of the trade, for him to make such a horrible gaffe that he is publicly insulting one of the very people he is supposed to be objectively covering.

    The managing editor on the podcast was correct: there are certain professional standards required and a certain level of objectivity is required. He is also correct saying the tweet was just a flat out, unprofessional insult, not an opinion.

    Imagine if a White House pool reporter, for say NBC, who is just supposed to cover what happened on the beat, tweeted that “the President is a despicable and irrelevant front-man for Goldman Sachs.” Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant – he would be destroying the perceived objectivity of NBC. NBC would have to remove him from covering the White House.

    This is not a First Amendment issue, anyone who says that is sincerely confused about the Constitution. This is solely about professional conduct a journalistic code of ethics. If Grossi had said this in an opinion column and backed up his statement with facts, that’d be fine. But there is a longstanding tradition in journalism to separate the editorial pages from the beat reporters. One provides opinion, the other facts.

    It’s interesting and not noted in this story that PFT itself, as a football blog, frequently and in fact constantly weaves opinion and editorializes on the news even as it reposts. But the vast majority of stories PFT is linking to are of the straight reporting kind, from the beat writers.

    So PFT certainly blurs that line all the time and it’s not surprising it is itself confused over the difference between reporting and editorializing. Or more likely they do know the difference, but also know that they receive more traffic precisely by blurring those lines.

    But in a traditional newsroom environment like the Plain Dealer, the two are different beasts.

  20. hpac1337 says: Jan 26, 2012 4:45 PM

    Randy Learner IS an irrelevant billionaire, and the Browns have been pathetic under his tenure as owner. And one of the reasons is that the puffball media in Cleveland never holds the organization’s feet to the fire for their inadequacies.

    If anything, the Cleveland media should be more vocal and public with their feelings, instead of being lapdogs for the front office.

  21. fumblenuts says: Jan 26, 2012 4:50 PM

    Take a good LONG look at that picture and think about the last decade….

    I think he called it like he saw it. Sometimes in life the truth hurts, but at the same time sets you free.

  22. dcpowergator says: Jan 26, 2012 5:02 PM

    no wonder the author is so vehemently defending tony grossi… they both hate the browns and they both love trying to make something irrelevant into something bigger.

    grossi would be perfect on this site, he is biased and he is a great cutter and paster.

  23. hikohadon says: Jan 26, 2012 5:14 PM

    Randy Learner IS an irrelevant billionaire, and the Browns have been pathetic under his tenure as owner. And one of the reasons is that the puffball media in Cleveland never holds the organization’s feet to the fire for their inadequacies.

    If anything, the Cleveland media should be more vocal and public with their feelings, instead of being lapdogs for the front office.
    ______________

    Yep. That’s the problem. If the Cleveland puffball media just resorted to personal insults, then the Browns would finally try to win.

    Makes perfect sense. Can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier.

  24. slowclyde86 says: Jan 26, 2012 5:20 PM

    Grossi was due for a change regardless of the tweet. He had grown jaded and bitter, not that I necessarily blame him. He was also mean-spirited towards fans in his weekly Hey Tony column, for which I do blame him.

    The pity is that what he expressed is, indeed, accurate. If he had written a well-supported piece arguing that position with a more professional tone he would have been fine. That’s an article begging to be written, actually. But that would have taken effort.

  25. FU MAN JOE says: Jan 26, 2012 6:08 PM

    If you want to express your opinion, do it in an article and be prepared to back it up. You have no one to blame but yourself on this one.

  26. drbob117 says: Jan 26, 2012 6:22 PM

    Plain Dealer=Browns house organ.

  27. monkeesfan says: Jan 26, 2012 6:31 PM

    Here’s what’s wrong here – Grossi is being punished for apparently telling the truth about Randy Lerner. That the Browns have never gotten better since their 1999 rebirth outside of the 2002 playoff run and 2007′s nice season should say something about Lerner’s competence as an owner.

  28. tashkalucy says: Jan 26, 2012 6:51 PM

    What “truth” is it that Tony Grossi told about Randy Lerner/

    That Mr. Lerner is an “irrelevant billionaire”?

    People that do business with him and work for him don’t feel that way at all.

  29. panchi2131 says: Jan 26, 2012 7:02 PM

    no wonder terry pluto(another plain dealer sports reporter and probably the best) doesn’t use twitter.

    Now its only mary kate for twitter updates.

  30. coop16 says: Jan 26, 2012 7:20 PM

    I think the criticism of Randy Lerner is largely misplaced. Yes, the Browns have been terrible, but is it his fault? There are egomaniac owners who try to run the whole show, usually with disastrous results. Randy Lerner hasn’t done that; he’s stayed in the background, writing the checks and letting his football people make the football decisions. Sounds like a pretty good owner to me. His football people obviously haven’t done the job, so maybe he hasn’t made great hiring decisions, but you know, Vince Lombardi wasn’t available; he had to settle for what he could get. Randy Lerner grew up as a Browns fan and he’s spent a lot of money trying to get the team on track. I can think of a lot worse owners.

  31. pigbladder says: Jan 26, 2012 7:59 PM

    “Grossi accidentally put his message in the wrong box.”

    well, with that line of logic, he is lucky that he only was removed as browns beat writer. something like that could cost you your wife and family, your reputation, and a whole lot of alimony payments…

  32. Herb says: Jan 26, 2012 8:33 PM

    How he hell does Jerry Sullivan still have a job? He says worse every single week!

  33. corvusrex96 says: Jan 26, 2012 9:17 PM

    An opinion column would normally point to some fact as to why the writer believes the owner was ineffective , etc…

    The tweet uncovered his personal bias toward Lerner by stating he was pathetic and irrelevant billionaire . It was a personal attack whether it was sent on purpose or not, it was still out there.

    How could anyone in the Browns organization deal with him anymore?

  34. ernestbynershands says: Jan 26, 2012 10:18 PM

    Grossi got canned for saying the same things I have posted here on numerous occassions.
    Randy Lerner is a pathetic irrelevant owner in the NFL.
    Lerner’s passions are for art and English Football, not our football.
    Cleveland fans need to stop buying tickets, stop buying merchandise, stop spending money on the Browns. He doesn’t own the Browns because he is passionate about the team or the league. He owns the franchise because the the stadium sells out and merchandise flies off the racks. He keeps the payroll under cap, well under cap. He doesn’t care about victory margins nearly as much as profit margins.
    If Cleveland fans want change, they need to stop buying tickets, stop buying merchandise, stop spending money on the Browns.
    That will get Mr Lerner’s attention.

  35. couldntthinkofaname says: Jan 26, 2012 10:45 PM

    hpac1337 says: Jan 26, 2012 4:45 PM

    Randy Learner IS an irrelevant billionaire, and the Browns have been pathetic under his tenure as owner. And one of the reasons is that the puffball media in Cleveland never holds the organization’s feet to the fire for their inadequacies.

    If anything, the Cleveland media should be more vocal and public with their feelings, instead of being lapdogs for the front office.

    __________________________

    Pathetic and irrelevant describes Browns fans, not Lerner. You’re the ones who keep running everybody who tries to build something out of town. Then you whine and play the victims.

    Been seeing this crap in person for over a decade here in Loser Land.

    It isn’t Lerner’s fault.

  36. terryleather says: Jan 26, 2012 11:29 PM

    Randy didn’t buy the Browns, his father Al did. Randy inherited them. Rather than sell the team to a cheapskate or idiot, he keeps it. And since he doesn’t want to run the team like Jerry Jones, he brought in Mike Holmgren to do that. I could understand the insults if he was a jerk, but everything that I’ve ever read about Randy makes him sound like a good guy. Grossi’s comment was uncalled for, whether it was meant for one person or one million. His insult was public, his apology should have been too.

  37. joyjoy69 says: Jan 27, 2012 2:06 AM

    Come on, let’s be completely honest here! The fact is that he was removed from the beat because he is no longer in a position to cover it. Fair or not, he will never have access to the people that will give him the information he needs to do his job. Whatever the cause of the mistake, it is what it is. If a fighter pilot accidentally falls and pokes his eye out, he can’t do the job anymore. It has nothing to do with fair, it has to do with what it takes to do the job and whether he has that. The fact this effect comes out of something he chose to do rather than a pure accident is no reason to feel MORE sorry for him. His job is to get people in the Browns organization to talk with him and give him information that he can report. He can’t do that job anymore. So the paper is going to pay someone else to do it. End of story.

  38. CKL says: Jan 27, 2012 3:12 AM

    tashkalucy says:
    Jan 26, 2012 6:51 PM

    People that do business with him and work for him don’t feel that way at all.
    –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
    Not all people.

    Didn’t he 86 ch 19′s coverage of Browns preseason games after their news program presented what he considered a bad slant on his sister’s daughter dying due to her own negligence?

  39. rushbacker says: Jan 27, 2012 4:24 AM

    fumblenuts says:
    Jan 26, 2012 4:50 PM
    Take a good LONG look at that picture and think about the last decade….

    I think he called it like he saw it. Sometimes in life the truth hurts, but at the same time sets you free.
    ____________

    Absolutely. He told the truth as he saw it, and it set him free of his responsibility to cover the Browns beat.

  40. tednancy says: Jan 27, 2012 10:34 PM

    Randy Lerner broke off a local TV contract to televise Browns preseason games simply because the news division refused to treat his rich sister any differently than anyone else who was guilty of negligence in a child’s tragic death.

    Grossi’s biggest mistake it that he forgot that the Lerners are a bunch of twits who like to use their money to prove cheap points against their “enemies.”

  41. seldom1 says: Jan 28, 2012 1:54 AM

    This website is a disgrace. Shame!

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