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How a bad take is born: A play in one act

Scene: Meeting room inside the offices of the largest newspaper (by distribution) in the southeastern United States.  Tyson Patterson, a soon-to-be-middle-aged man with slick hair and an expensive suit sits on an overpriced chair at the end of a long oak table scrolling through his phone.  Next to him is his assistant Carlie Young. She is college-aged and is typing on a notebook computer.  The man sighs deeply, glances away from his phone and looks at the obnoxiously oversized watch on his wrist.

Tyson:  Carlie,  what time did I tell them the meeting started?

Carlie: [without looking away from the computer screen]: Four o’clock, Mr. Patterson.

Tyson:  It’s 3:55, why aren’t they here yet? Don’t they know that on-time is late?

Carlie:  Not sure, sir.  Mr. Jones sent you a text five minutes ago saying that he was trying to get the general manager on the phone so that he could comment on the story. Not sure about Mr. Connolly.

Tyson: [once again sighing] These newspaper people.  Is it too much to ask them to be on time for once? Why didn’t Jones just text the guy?  Much better way to communicate. Fast and informal. Gets responses right away.

The glass door to the meeting room opens and Fenton Connolly, a gray-haired gentleman in a colorful shirt and khakis, ambles into the room.  He is carrying a notepad and pencil.

Tyson: Fenton Connolly!  How are you doing?  [He rises and shakes the newcomer’s hand, never taking his eyes off the phone in his left hand.]  Tyson Patterson, Vice President of Branding and Online Presence.  I’m sure you’ve seen some of my emails about boosting your presence on Snapchat. Great to finally put a face to the name.

They take their seats.  Patterson still hasn’t taken his eyes off the phone. Connolly sits halfway down the large conference table.  Carlie offers him a quick glance and a tight smile before returning to her laptop.

Fenton:  Uh, yeah. Good to meet you too. Working on that Snapchat thing.

Tyson:  Good, good.  That will boost your social presence.  Can’t post that stuff enough in my opinion.  Have you seen Jones?  We need to get this meeting started. I got a Facebook Live video to chaperone over at the Metro section in 30 minutes.

Fenton: Yeah. He was heading this way.  Looked like he was on the phone. Guess he’s following up on some story.

The door opens again. Bill Jones, another middle-aged man in a rumbled golf shirt, pokes his head in and then gestures with his hand that he’ll need another minute.  Patterson looks briefly annoyed before flashing a too-bright smile and nodding. The door closes.

Tyson: Ahh, there he is.  The hardworking reporter digging hard at his sources.  Almost looks like a real reporter.  Gotta love it!  So what have you been up to, Connolly? Working hard?

Fenton: Trying to. Kind of a slow season with the Lightning being out of the playoffs and no football.  Not to be rude, but is our editor joining us too?

Tyson: Nah. No need for him.  This is just a quick meeting. We’ll get started as soon as Clark Kent out there is done scooping some news.

The door opens again.  Jones puts his phone in his pocket as he walks in.  He’s not carrying anything and looks anxious to leave.

Bill:  Hey Fenton.  Tyson.  Good to see you Carlie, hope he’s not keeping you too busy.  [she smiles and shakes her head while rolling her eyes. Tyson doesn’t notice] Don’t want to be rude but can we make this quick? I just got off the phone with Yzerman and need to update my story.  If this is about Snapchat, I got your email and I swear I’ll work on it.

Tyson: No, no, no.  It’s not about Snapchat. Although I would appreciate it if you both try and get on board with it.  No, what brings us together today is the Kruschev situation.

Carlie: Kucherov.

Tyson:  Kucherov?  Are you sure?

Carlie: Yes, sir.  Kucherov is the hockey player.  Kruschev was the Soviet Premier who banged his shoe on the podium at the United Nations.

Fenton: She’s right.

Tyson: Kucherov. Kruschev. Whatever.  The point is, this story seems to be taking off.  Like you said earlier Fenton, there isn’t much going on in sports and this seems like too good of a story to let go.

Bill: Well, I think we’ve covered it pretty well so far.  We posted a story about the initial interview and I’ve already talked to Kucherov’s agent and just got off the phone with Yzerman.  Honestly, I think it’s a non-story.  Just a frustrated player blowing off some steam.

Fenton: Yeah, he’s right.  This isn’t anything new.  He’s over in Russia and not playing playoff hockey for the first time in his career.  Plus, who knows, maybe there were some liberties taken with the translation.

Tyson: Look guys. You’re not seeing the bigger picture here. I’ve just been looking at some of the coverage of this story.  Everyone seems to be taking his side.  Even all of those unpaid randos who post things on the internet.  They’re getting a ton of traffic online. Traffic we should be getting. Carlie, if you type in “Kucherov comments” to Google what do we get?

Carlie: [she types into the computer and then spins the laptop around to show the results] First is Mr. Jones’ article and then two posts from some site called “Raw Charge”.

Tyson: That’s what I’m talking about!  Why are a bunch of kids in their mom’s basement getting multiple articles at the top of the search results?

Carlie: Actually I believe their editor is actually a mom.

Tyson: What? Really? So does she live in her own basement?

Carlie: And one of their writers, the guy who did the 91 Days of Stamkos, is pretty old. Like 40 or something.

Tyson:  We’re getting off topic. The point is, if we support Kucherov we’re going to get lost in the noise.  We need to generate some traffic and I think we need a different spin on things to do that. If this had happened in Toronto or Montreal, they’d be tearing him to shreds.  Don Cherry would have an aneurysm nailing him for what he said.

Bill:  I don’t really see a way to do that.  He’s just speaking his mind. And he really didn’t say anything that we haven’t said already.  Some players didn’t play up to their abilities. Besides, he’s already wary about talking to the media in the States. It was like pulling teeth during his exit interviews.  If we flame him on this he might totally shut us out.

Fenton:  Yeah, I’m not sure there is really a story here.  Maybe I could whip up something about this causing some discord in the locker room, but honestly, by the time the team gets back together this will probably be forgotten.  There’s the draft, free agency, expansion. Heck, whoever he’s talking about might not be on the team anymore.

Tyson: [getting visibly angered]  You guys aren’t getting it. This isn’t about the team. It’s about getting people to read our site. Of course, it’s a non-story.  We can make it a story. We just need to fan the flames a bit.  If you won’t write it, I’ll get somebody who will.

Fenton: Not sure there is anyone else here. Everyone else is off covering the NFL draft in Philadelphia.

Tyson: I’ll find someone. Hell, ESPN just laid a bunch of people off. I’m sure they’re looking for work and would be happy we called them up.

Bill: [starting to get agitated as well] With all due respect I don’t think they will.  They’ve been covering hockey from a league wide standpoint for decades. They’re not going to jump at a chance to freelance for a sunbelt team a day after they were fired. Pretty sure they’re going to get better offers.

Tyson: Ok, fine. Carlie, who’s that guy on the web I like with the alliterative name?

Carlie: Derrik Donaldson?

Tyson: Yeah, him. He seems quite popular.  Granted I can only read two paragraphs of his stuff at a time because I’ll be damned if I’m paying for content on the internet. Why is he charging for it in the first place?

Carlie: I believe he’s trying to feed his family, sir.

Tyson: By blogging? If he wants to make a living at writing he should work for a newspaper.

Carlie: He did.

Tyson: Which one?

Carlie: Ours, sir. He was let go last year during the merger.  Right in the middle of a playoff series.

Tyson: Really?  In the middle of a series?  We must have saved some money on that move. That’s besides the point.  You guys are writers. Here. At this newspaper.  If there’s a story to write one of you two is going to write it. And fast. I don’t want some other clown grabbing the spotlight with the contrarian opinion and stealing our traffic.  We have to lead the wave on this, people.

Bill: Look, this isn’t my field. I’m working a beat, dealing with facts and quotes. I’ll throw an opinion in every now and then, but this is too far for me. It’ll hurt my ability to talk with the players if I try a hot take column without getting a chance to talk to him first. We’re a god damn newspaper, not some online company chasing viewers with slideshows and clickbait headlines.   Shouldn’t we be concerned about writing what’s right and not what’s going to get the most hits? The truth still matters.

Tyson: Truth?  Facts? You’ll talking to me about facts? Have you not been paying attention over the last year? Truth is just a matter of opinion now. Facts don’t matter anymore.  People don’t care about facts.  We can make our own facts now. Just as long as we repeat it enough, people will start to buy into it or wear themselves out arguing and give up.  Fenton. What about you?  You’ve always been there for us when we want to throw something controversial out there. Heck, that “most disappointing season in Tampa history” column isn’t even a month old!

Fenton; I don’t know.  Even for me this is a bit of a stretch. I’d like to keep a little bit of credibility. I mean this guy was the best player on the team. If he wants to call a player out, he has more of a right to do it then anyone else.

Tyson: Credibility? Who cares about credibility? Did credibility save any of those folks at ESPN?   I don’t care what people think about you or about what you write. Hell, I don’t even care if they read what you write. Just as long as they click on it or send it to all of their followers to click on it.

Fenton:  I don’t know.

Tyson:  Look, I get it.  There isn’t much to argue about what he said.  What about if you write about where he said it?

Fenton: What?

Tyson: He said this in Russia, right?  Well, why couldn’t he have said this to one of our reporters? As a matter of fact, what’s he doing in Russia in the first place?

Fenton: Well, that’s where he’s from. Pretty sure that’s why he’s there.  Kind of like all of the Canadian guys that go home in the summer. He’s probably more comfortable talking in depth in his native language. If Stamkos says this to some reporter in Toronto people would be talking about what a great leader he is and how he’s holding his teammates accountable.

Tyson: See. You’re letting facts get in the way again.  Russia is on everyone’s mind now. It’s all over the news. We can use that. Carlie, are we friends with the Russians right now?

Carlie: Kind of, but we’re nervous that they’re spying on us and influencing elections all across the world.

Tyson: See, that’s good for us. People will be inclined to not to trust Russians. We can demonize the Russians just like it was in the 80s with Red Dawn and Rocky IV. It’ll be just like the 80s. They just need someone to say it first. We can be that someone. Maybe drop a little a derogatory cliche in there as well. Maybe, “Kucherov is full of borscht”. That might be a little blunt, but you’re creative, you’ll come up with something.

Bill: I’m out of here. I have actual reporting to do.  [gets up and walks out, slamming the door as he leaves.]

Tyson: Ignore him.  Look, you can do this. You’re a columnist.  In a way guys like you were the original bloggers.  Your opinions drive traffic. Stats and recaps are nice people read them, but nobody re-Tweets those links and says, “I can’t believe what he just wrote!”  When you knock out one of those ten sentence columns about some nonsense, people get excited. It gains traction. Anyone can write a recap.  I can hire some intern to write five paragraphs about who scored a goal and what goalkeeper made a save.

Carlie: Goaltender.

Tyson: What?

Carlie: Goaltender. In hockey they’re called goaltenders. In soccer they’re called goalkeepers.

Tyson: Whatever. See, we could get Carlie to go cover the games.  Carlie, do you want to go write game recaps?

Carlie: [She stops typing for a moment. A wistful look comes over her face as she imagines not having to sit next to him for 10 hours a day.] Whatever is best for the brand, sir.

Tyson: Let me think about it. Fenton, trust me, people will agree with you. These days half the people will agree with any opinion put out on a reliable platform. Especially if it’s tied to an athlete. I mean, people believe the earth is flat. In the year 2017, people actually believe that. Not only believe that but will literally threaten your family if you disagree with them on line.  All you need to do is find something to pick on. Just write it and you’ll be surprised how many people agree with you.  And if they don’t, who cares? As long as they click on it.

Fenton: [with a decided lack of commitment] I guess I can come up with something. Maybe I’ll criticize his leadership skills as well.

Tyson: Awesome. I knew you were a team player.  Plus, it’ll help show the organization that one of their biggest sponsors has their back. Don’t want them ticked off because we sided with a player.  I have one more favor.

Fenton: What now?

Tyson: Make sure to Snapchat about it when you’re done.

End Scene