Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Well hell, here's a quick blip of a post. I was waxing philosophical about old work world and new poker life world with an old buddy and co-worker of mine when he sent me this interesting editorial about the new Jim McManus poker column gig at the NY Times.

By the way, my buddy is one of the finest Public Relations practitioners in the country and writes a fine PR blog at Strategic PR. I'm making him buy me an expensive dinner in exchange for finally linking him up.

But this essay is well worth the read:


The N.Y. Times discovers poker
Commentary: The game has now achieved a 'market top'
By Jon Friedman

The New York Times introduced a weekly poker column, written by James McManus, on Saturday.

This is a sure-fire sign that the card game has at last achieved a "market top."

It isn't that McManus is unworthy. After all, the man wrote a book describing how he once won $250,000 at the 2000 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. So, you know that the dude has ample street cred.

Giving McManus the benefit of the doubt, maybe he will go down in history for writing the greatest, most timely column in the history of journalism. Even so, there is no stronger certifiable signal that a fad has reached its zenith than when a national media organization -- and there is no more prominent brand name in journalism than the Times -- tries to exploit it.

As if the newspaper gives a hoot about my carping, though. Give the Times its due this time. The idea is nothing short of brilliant from a financial perspective.

The poker column gives the paper (NYT: news, chart, profile) a terrific business opportunity, following its successes in establishing a brand from its niche-oriented features about bridge and chess. The Times has also claimed a virtual patent, or at least the industry's most authoritative platform, when it comes to such newspaper staples as book reviews and crossword puzzles.

Now, the poker column can help the Times expand its franchise once again and tap a big audience during a wretched period for the newspaper industry -- and quiet the din of the naysayers.

The Times seems to have Saturday on its mind.

Perhaps that's because The Wall Street Journal is preparing to unveil a much-publicized Saturday edition and the Times is determined to fortify its own Saturday paper. (The Journal and MarketWatch, the publisher of this report, are owned by Dow Jones & Co.)

For instance, the Times recently shifted Maureen Dowd's widely read column to appear on Saturdays as well. The editors insisted that the move was a part of a typical rotation of columnists. But conspiracy theorist that I am, I presumed at the time that the Times had wanted to build interest for what is usually considered the quietest publishing day in the newspaper industry.

I'd be amazed if the new poker feature fails to find an audience. If nothing else, it was ingenious of the Times to place the poker column in its sports section. This gives it a tool to woo gamblers from the city's rival tabloids, the New York Post and the Daily News. These have long been more aggressive than the Times to printing waging information and commentary.

So, the latest innovation makes abundant sense. And in his first try at writing the "Poker" column, McManus presented a scholarly, historically-rich, well written article.

And one more thing about the piece: I hated it.

No action

McManus declaimed about poker's "risk-loving bravado" and how its "frontier spirit ... has echoed the way we'd done battle and business." (Huh?)

McManus then suggested America's "Puritan strain" accounts for our unease with the game's popularity. I beg to differ. We're nervous about poker's runaway appeal because the game has been glamorized by ESPN (DIS: news, chart, profile) , Bravo (GE: news, chart, profile) and other cable TV outlets to the point where teenagers are avidly gambling with their friends. Of greatest concern, poker has become a staple of the booming online gambling industry.

McManus's column was reported from the Rio Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, where thousands gathered to square off in 44 preliminary events at the World Series of Poker.

I kept waiting for McManus to lighten up and for the column to explode into drama, too. Uh-uh.

The column was so simplistic that I half-expected the author to explain how players could deal the cards without bending them at the corners; how to cheat without getting caught; how to detect if your opponent is cheating; what finger food should be served so you don't get the cards all sticky and how to stare like Mike Tyson and intimidate your foes.

My biggest gripe is that McManus didn't offer any of his own special experiences. He wrote a primer about poker, which I could have obtained anywhere else. I'd like him to write for people who understand poker and love to play it. He settled for reaching novices, which was too bad.

Hopefully, he simply had a case of opening-night jitters.

Let's hope he loosens up in future columns. I'm guessing he will.

Want to bet?


Also, here's my latest favorite Tom Cruise site, showing Tom attacking Oprah with his superpowers.

Who the hell knows if this is real or not. Looks fake to me.

I present Jennifer Tilly.

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