April 22, 2005


Stained by permanent ink: Bestselling writer and beloved Detroit sports columnist Mitch Albom finds himself in an odd position: under fire. (David Lyman, April 22, 2005, LA Times)

There's a new chapter being written in the Cult of Celebrity handbook — one with no spoiled athletes, playgirl heiresses or adulterous movie stars involved.

It's taking place in the unlikely world of newspapers, a field with so few national superstars that it is usually hard-pressed to come up with a decent scandal. True, there were the Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair affairs. But they were just promising up-and-comers, unknown to the general public until they went bad.

This one involves an honest-to-goodness luminary: Mitch Albom.

He's won every award that sports journalism has to offer. But what elevates Albom's indiscretion into the realm of celebrity scandal is that his fame goes way beyond the world of newspapers. This is the guy who wrote "Tuesdays With Morrie" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," both inspirational mega-sellers. He's a playwright, a syndicated radio host and a regular on ESPN's "The Sports Reporters."

And he's one of Oprah's pals.

So when parts of one of Albom's columns turned out to be fictional, people took notice.

Two thoughts about the incident: (1) It's 2005, can't the Free Press let a big-timer like Albom file electronically just before they go to press instead of two days earlier? It's not like anyone edits him anyway. (2) Sports columns have always been even more fictional than the rest of the paper--why change?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 22, 2005 9:19 AM

Couple of points here:

The column in question runs (ran) weekly on a Sunday features page. It's a general-interest column, as the LA Times writer noted. The Free Press, like many papers, prints its big Sunday features editions in advance. Thus the seemingly funky deadline.

Albom rarely writes (wrote) about sports at all in this particular column; to present "live" sports coverage in that space is rarer still.

The bottom line: In this instance, Albom was like any other features writer -- turning in a regular column that is not intended as live-news space. In that regard, it's no different from the food writer's restaurant review or what have you. Technology in 2005 doesn't have anything to do with it.

Posted by: SP at April 22, 2005 10:36 AM

Albom's self-importance has grown leaps and bounds in the past decade, not only because of "Morrie" but because of his radio show on WJR, which MSNBC picked up for a while, and ABC tried to syndicate and distribute over satllite radio.

Neither national effort was successful, but he had still been fetted with such adulation in his own world and has so many different things going on that it's not surprising he would dash off a florid column (sports-related or not) with imaginary descriptive prose and not think anything bad would come of it. He should have compared notes with another former frequent face on MSNBC, Mike Barnicle, on what happens when you juice up your column with imaginary info.

Posted by: John at April 22, 2005 10:41 AM


Yes, that's the point. If they used available technology they wouldn't need his column two days early.

Posted by: oj at April 22, 2005 10:42 AM

But I don't think this is so much a technology issue as a manpower/workflow issue.

Like most big papers -- and the Sunday Detroit News-Free Press is one of the biggest in the country -- the features sections are run on the presses in advance. In this case, I believe, on Friday nights. Again, it's a time/labor/workload matter, because the Sunday papers and Sunday circulation are both bigger than the rest of the week.

The presses do involve "technology," certainly, but not the kind you're talking about.

Posted by: SP at April 22, 2005 10:52 AM



Posted by: oj at April 22, 2005 11:00 AM

I think this is more evidence that the Sports sections are the only serious parts of the paper. This happens all the time in the rest of the media, and it's never been that big a deal.

Posted by: Timothy at April 22, 2005 11:19 AM

I don't know if we're just talking past each other here or what, but if we are, I think part of it is because of my vague writing earlier.

In your original post, you wrote: "It's 2005, can't the Free Press let a big-timer like Albom file electronically just before they go to press instead of two days earlier?" Subsequently, you wrote, "If they used available technology, they wouldn't need his columns two days early." (Emphasis mine.)

Here's what I've been trying to say: His column WAS submitted "just before they (went) to press." The column was submitted on a Friday; the sections went to press that evening. The "technology" issue here is one that has nothing to do with 2005. It has to do with the way printing presses work (and have worked for ages): They inherently have limited capacity.

That's why for the big Sunday paper, the features sections (such as entertainment, opinion and the lifestyles section in which Albom's column appeared) are printed in advance. That way, the presses are freed up for the big Saturday night run of the Sunday paper's "live" sections -- e.g., national news, local news, sports, etc.

Giving Albom an extra day to file his story wouldn't have mattered, because the section in which it appeared was already printed and stacked on loading docks.

Albom's Sunday column -- which occupies the same piece of real estate each week -- is not meant to be a "live" column. He's typically used that space to opine (ignorantly, for the most part) on politics and social stuff. His screwup here was trying to use that column for live news, when he knows that the only way such a feat can be managed is by faking it.

OK, wow, that's a long explanation for a pretty simple matter.

Posted by: SP at April 22, 2005 7:13 PM

It isn't that big a deal. The mechanics of the situation seem to make it clear that the error was not malicious- the column revolved around Cleaves' and Richardson's nostalgia for their college days, based on interviews that actually occurred. Their attendance, or non-attendance, is incidental at best. A regrettable accident, but it appears that Albom was writing in good faith, given that both told him they planned to be there.

I might not be the most unbiased opinion, seeing as I've been reading the guy since I was 10 years old and I have autographed copies of a couple of his books, but the LA Times article seems more than anything else like an oppurtunistic smear job.

Mr. Albom posts a non-apology apology in his column. Not particularly gracious, but fairly accurate.

Posted by: Noel Erinjeri at April 22, 2005 7:17 PM

First of all, what does anyone expect from a paper whose name is "News-Free Press"? The title says it all. Secondly, another sportswriting icon also got nabbed this week: Peter Gammons cribbed a story from the LA Times and then apologized for "inadvertantly and mistakenly" not giving credit to the original reporter. http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-simers20apr20,1,5578610.column

Posted by: Foos at April 22, 2005 8:28 PM


Ah, thank you, I see what you mean.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2005 8:37 AM
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