In the eye of a media storm
October 17, 2007
The other day, I picked up the November issue of Outside magazine and saw a full-page photo of a good friend of mine, totally wasted.It was that obvious. His eyes were blood-red, mouth half-open, baseball hat (with company logo loudly displayed) perched a little too high on his head, like a mushroom cap. It was a photo better-suited for a grocery store tabloid than one of the largest outdoor sports publications out there, but when Outside magazine wants to make a point, they’re going to make it – no matter what the real story is.The photo appeared on the opening spread of an article called “The Wendy Syndrome,” about how pro ski “stars” struggle to afford to live in overpriced ski towns once they are washed up and their sponsor money dries out. The focus of the article is Jackson Hole, where the writer hangs out with a female pro skier who has stayed financially afloat by buying rundown real estate, fixing it up and flipping it. It details the sacrifices she’s made to do this, literally living in ratholes with rat poop (the description of which, while funny, is something I could have done without). She shares these dumps with an endless surplus of male ski bum roommates who also are overeducated and underpaid. And her name, oddly enough, is not Wendy.I know. I was thinking the same thing: old news, right? I mean, who hasn’t done all that?The article suggests that the days of flipping property and building equity may be over, and an overall snide tone suggests these people are total idiots for thinking otherwise. The photos are not of the ramshackle houses and rats that inhabit them, but of a generation of pro skiers who still are partying like rock stars, even though their time might be up.Thus, the photo of my buddy looking super-“hacked” (as they say in Jackson).So what’s the story?Before I get to that, let me tell another little story of my own.In January 2005, I found myself at the center of my own little media maelstrom. For at least two weeks, a tremendous amount of media attention was focused on me, including a story about me written by The Associated Press that went nationwide.A close friend of mine, who was a public relations executive, offered this advice: “Whatever you do, don’t talk to the press.”Keeping your mouth shut is the only way to avoid further incriminating yourself, she explained, lest they make mincemeat of you.And mince they did.The Associated Press paraphrased, extrapolated little bits and condensed for the greatest shock value. It wasn’t inaccurate, so much as totally taken out of context. I think every journalism student should be – as an exercise – written about, so they can get a sense of what it feels like. It was very educational indeed.Throughout the entire ordeal, I was steadfast about never coming to my own defense, even as the criticism and attention mounted.When it comes to dissenters, my credo from Day One has always been: If they took the time not only to read my column, but to sit down and write a response, then I’ve done my job. It’s that simple. (It’s OK if I cry, as long as no one knows about it.)I’m also a firm believer in the old saying, “There’s no such thing as bad press.”But I wasn’t about to tell that to my buddy in the Outside article. He is one of the strongest, most assured people I know, bulldozing through his career with his blue eyes blazing like he was lit up from within, the steam of his determination coming from both ears. His belligerence is nothing new. Since we met 10 years ago, he’s partied his way through every continent in the world, started more than a few bar fights, and destroyed his fair share of hotel rooms. One night at a dive bar in a tiny town called Smithers, British Columbia, I watched him punch his best friend in the face for no reason. They laughed, hugged and then fell on the floor, like a scene out of one those lamebrain comedies – the kind boys watch 100 times over and still think is funny.He’s also one of the most fearless people I know – always on the edge whether it’s hanging out of a helicopter to get the best angle or skiing out the slab of a full-bore avalanche without falling. So I guess you could say getting attention kind of goes with the territory. He is, after all, a bit of a public figure, and there’s no denying his reputation as a party boy.What bothered me is the degree to which Outside exploited that to illustrate a story angle that has nothing to do with my friend. He’s the anomaly: He has made a career from skiing by building a company from the ground up that continues to grow and thrive. He moved out of Jackson for the very reason the article indicates, settling over the pass in Victor, where he and his posse are essentially establishing the small Idaho town and helping it grow. He has a beautiful wife and son, and has been out there making some of the best action sports productions there are for both film and TV, taking on major corporate clients while staying true to the core community from which he was bred. He’s also hardly mentioned in the article, and he’s definitely not quoted or given any opportunity to represent his point of view in any way.I guess the point of my little story is the media really is a double-edged sword. Even though some of us might have thicker skin than others, it still hurts when the knife goes in – especially when you’re getting stabbed in the back.The Princess realizes this little rant probably won’t help her freelance career. E-mail your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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