Russell Westbrook is a lot of things—amazing basketball player, excellent fund-raiser, fashion connoisseur—but a media relations master he is not.
A recent interview following the Thunder’s 127-115 win against the Golden State Warriors was no exception.
Instead of commenting on his amazing game, which consisted of his ninth career triple double, contributing 17 points, a career high 17 assists, and matched his career best rebounds with 15, Westbrook chose to repeatedly give the same answer. He said the team “did a good job executing.”
Westbrook continued answering every question with some version of the “executing” phrase until local sports reporter and columnist Berry Tramel asked him if he was upset with something. That’s when Westbrook gave perhaps the only real answer in the entire interview. He told Tramel, “I just don’t like you.” Check out the interview and full transcript if you haven’t already seen it.
Sadly, the news that followed Westbrook after the game wasn’t his fabulous performance, but his interview response.
Westbrook may not like Tramel, and that’s ok. I should admit here that I know Berry, worked with him, and I think he’s a damn good journalist. I also recognize that Tramel tends to divide people with his sports views. He previously angered pretty much every Thunder fan by headlining a story about Kevin Durant “Mr. Unreliable.” Westbrook isn’t the first person not to like Tramel, and he won’t be the last. But Westbrook making a negative name for himself in the media helps further many people’s opinions that he’s just arrogant. It looks bad on him and the Thunder organization. Someone get this man some media training before his ego gets even more out of control!
That’s PR fail No. 1.
But The Oklahoman, where Tramel is employed, was not to be outdone.
Tramel published a column on The Oklahoman’s website, NewsOK, expressing his views about his conversation with Westbrook. The column was up for a couple of hours before it was removed. When the column, I’m Not the Only One Russell Westbrook Doesn’t Like, was republished, the original last line was missing. The line read:
When Russell Westbrook says ‘good execution’ to every question, what he’s really saying to the fans is, ‘I don’t like you.'”
I guess the editors didn’t think anyone would notice the change. Perhaps they don’t understand the Internet. It doesn’t allow for unringing bells.
That’s PR fail No. 2.
Once readers in the social realm began talking about the conspicuously missing sentence, NewsOK editors apparently felt they needed to respond. Erik Horne, web editor and producer for NewsOK sports, posted this on Twitter:
1. We collaborated as a team and decided to remove the graf. Editors make edits 2. Thunder did not call/contact us 3. Link was truly busted
— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) January 19, 2015
It’s good that Horne responded to readers, but at least some of them wouldn’t know what he was talking about without context.
I understand problems online, and apparently there were some with this link. That really can’t be helped.
But the editors should have edited the column as they deemed fit before they posted it the first time. Yes, editors make edits. And they do so before publication.
If, for some crazy reason, they saw major problems with the last sentence after the column was posted, they should have included an editors’ note explaining why the change was made. But they didn’t then and they still haven’t. So, it just looks like they censored the last sentence after it already had been released, which automatically makes people think they were getting heat from somewhere. This clearly is where the second point in Horne’s tweet comes from.
That’s PR fail No. 3.
I’m a huge Thunder fan. I also worked as a full-time reporter at The Oklahoman and have a lot of respect for the editors and writers there. But this is the second time in recent memory that I think editors have done the wrong thing on the sports page.
The first was when editors apologized for the Mr. Unreliable headline. But, at least in that example they publicly explained and apologized for the mistake, perhaps because it was in print and they couldn’t just remove it? This time they just removed the information like no one would notice.
Bottom line: Westbrook needs to learn media relations and the editors at The Oklahoman/NewsOK need to think more critically about what they publish before they put it out there.
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
What do you think about the changes to Trammel’s column and how they occurred?