Remember when LAT columnist Steve Lopez knocked on the gate leading to Sam Zell's Malibu estate, and Zell got all hot and bothered about "some guy named Lopez" harassing the staff? Well, the folks at Newsday ran into something similar a few days back – right before word came down that the Zell-led Tribune Co. was selling the Long Island paper. Instead of going with Rupert Murdoch's $580-million offer, Zell chose the $650-million offer by Cablevision - more specifically the Dolan family that controls Cablevision. Now understand, the Cablevision folks are not exactly press friendly (they own the NY Knicks and beat reporters have long griped about Kremlin-like restrictions). But hey, it's a huge business story on Long Island and it's your employer. Newsday business writer Ellen Yan went out to Oyster Bay Cove to search for the Dolans' house and try to get a comment. She even bought a flower as a little goodwill gift. As reported by the NY Observer's John Koblin, it didn't turn out very well.
Cablevision spokesman Charles Schueler spoke with reporter Mark Harrington, formerly the Cablevision beat reporter who was working this story, and business editor Eli Reyes and “screamed at them” and “was very pissed off” for sending a reporter to look for their house, and for dropping phone calls to the Dolans, according to several staffers (though Mr. Schueler disputes this account—he said he didn’t scream).
“I did call the reporter and reminded him as I would any press outlet that it is the company’s practice that if you would like to speak to the Dolans or any other executive, you call the communications department, and we will be happy to arrange it if it’s possible,” Mr. Schueler said. “From time to time, I have had to make that call to News 12, the Post, The Times and others. It has nothing to do with Newsday—it’s the practice of the company and the same rules apply to everyone.”
But when the time finally came for the officially sanctioned interview of Chairman James Dolan, it appeared not in Newsday but on the Cablevision-owned News 12 channel. “Dolan did a 10-, 15-minute interview with News 12, which is what we had to use in the story, and that’s a slap in the face,” said one reporter. “They could have made him available!”
The irony is that companies taking over other companies are often very receptive to media requests in the hours after a deal gets done. It's frequently the one time you can get a CEO on the line. It’s also the one time a company gets to spin its unfettered rationale for doing the deal. But a Zell or a Dolan do not want to be grilled - even if it's by one of their own reporters. Especially if it's by one of their own reporters. So does this mean that one of James Dolan's buddies can get a story spiked by just putting in a phone call? Maybe. But even if it doesn't, how many Newsday reporters will be willing to take a chance?