Every newbie watching the Bruins on NESN since 2008 has shared the same ‘wait whut?’ moment: when did NESN start participating in MIT Job Fairs? Who’s this Bruins locker room reporter speaking in a tone like she’s in the tower at Augusta and conducting interviews as though she knows the game? Why are the players smiling and unguarded when she talks to them, do they know and like her or something? And there doesn’t seem to have been the slightest attention paid as to whether or not my fourteen year old nephew is downloading her. Something is amiss.
Yeah, no, that was Naoko Funayama. NESN fired her last week, wanted to go in a “different direction.” And since Funayama was already doing informed, smart interviews with players who liked and respected her… we’re not sure what that ‘different direction’ is but we’re pretty sure boobage will factor.
Liked/loved/respected by all. This is who you hire and try to keep. This is not who you fire.
Hey NESN: nobody likes organizations who are pricks to their employees.
And also, nobody likes prickish orgs who are also simultaneously stupid and transparently greedy. And finally, when your organization isn’t a real ‘self-built’ business but a pre-funded manifestation of the local teams’ fans’ affection… in that uniquely gifted instance… the first bullet on your mission statement should read: “Don’t be pricks.”
But no. It turns out the execs at NESN are too smart to be constrained like that. Smart like WEEI was before they had competition. Smart like if NESN execs were reviewing this post they’d tell me to change that last sentence to ‘wicked smaht’ you know, because Boston types like to be provincial, and also shouldn’t I have a cheerleader poll in the sidebar cos page hits?
Sadly, the firing of not-hot/flirty-enough Funayama is no surprise. A quick look at the Red Sox side of the house is instructive.
NESN’s Red Sox female hiring record.
NESN started pursuing its lowest common denominator brand building with Hazel Mae doing some sort of sports news show and Tina Cervasio as the first Fenway sideline reporter. I wasn’t at the conference table but think I’ve figured out the internal pitch: “If we have ten minutes of Sox highlights read by some-girl-with-cleavage we’re sure to get ratings; add in another five minutes of interviews done by another-girl-with-cleavage and I think we can really hurt Bristol.” I doubt Hazel looks back fondly on her decision to jump from Toronto (where she was popular) to Boston. She’s back in Toronto now working at Rogers Sportsnet where she started.
Tina Cervasio came to NESN with some WFAN experience did the Sox sideline till 2008 when she went back to NYC. The reason given was that she wanted to travel less, but.. on the other hand…
Cevasio was replaced in 2008 by Heidi Watney. Watney’s a pretty girl of course (first runner-up 2002 Miss California!) and gained celebrity in Boston quickly. What I found interesting about Watney was how she comported herself so seriously in interviews in a bid to be more journo. It didn’t work for me, but I was entertained at how nervous she made Sean McAdam and Dan Shaughnessy when they had to sit next to her for extended time during rain delays. It became clear that they didn’t talk to cheerleaders in high school and watching them become puddles in front of Watney was good TV. Don’t know if NESN programmed it that way, but train wrecks get page hits too.
Watney left at the end of the 2012 season and NESN just went ahead and jumped the shark.
Meet Jenny Dell. ‘nuf ced.
Meanwhile, over on Causeway…
Kathryn Tappen studio hosted Bruins games from 2006 to 2011. Can’t say she’s not pretty, but like Katie Witham, that’s incidental. She was a D1 jock (Rutgers track, Academic All-America); she knew her sports. From the fan-side she gained respect as knowledgable, very capable of holding her own with Jack Edwards, Dale Arnold, and Andy Brickley. When she left for the NHL Network (i.e., a smart career move), NESN stuck with Brick and Arnold in the booth; Naoko at ice-level.
The difference between the Bruins’ and Red Sox’ approaches is pointed up neatly with these two Olympia Sports local commercials. Here’s Kathryn Tappen’s local Olympia sports ad (Bruins):
Haha, scrunchies. Salty with the cabbie.
Meanwhile, Heidi Watney’s local Olympia sports ad (Red Sox):
Geez Watney. Kind of stuck-up there, no?
Funayama’s background is interesting. Williams/BU grad, nice when you can pull that off. She started as a free-lancer so that NESN had someone to interview Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima. She’s been doing Bruins work since 2008.
I can’t say I’m really a Naoko fan. She was holding the mic, getting me info, and fading into the background. But something clicked when NESN fired her because, wait: holding the mic, getting me info, and fading into the background IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT MY REPORTERS TO DO. It’s greatly appreciated when an on-air person understands that it’s not about them.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Plenty of expressions of dismay linked here and also at the Globe. If you’re not at NESN you can say what you want. But if you are at NESN, there are certain things you can and cannot say. Jack Edwards learned this yesterday.
NESN is not pleased with Jack Edwards
The NESN voice of the Bruins blurted out his thoughts on the Naoko move on twitter Friday.
Sadly and not surprisingly, Edwards’ tweets have been deleted. I’m a little peeved Jack didn’t dig in his heels… I really don’t think NESN would be stupid enough to fire him. But if ever there’s been a person doing what he loves, it’s Edwards. Hard to play a game of chicken with that on the line.
But… couldn’t help notice that while NESN forced Edwards to delete his tweets, his co-worker, NESN anchor/reporter Leah Hextall can tweet this.
Lol. Nothing like an abortion debate* in 140 characters.
I mean — seriously? Is this what it is taught in sports journo school? That someone gives a [crap] about what you think? Because you read sports news on a local cable broadcast?
Other than the overall bad form to do abortion talk on twitter… what about some common sense? One presumes that Hextall has been in town long enough to know that Boston… well it’s kinda Irish and with no lack of Italians. Also in the viewing area, Rhode Island… Italian/Portuguese. Both states are about 50% Catholic, that’s 7,500,000 MA/RI population, x 50%,,,, so that’s at least 3,750,000 people you’ve [crapped] upon because even pro-choice Catholics don’t want to hear about your views on the moment of conception.
I never knew Naoko’s views on abortion and that was a nice little understanding between us.
And who is Leah Hextall?
Leah Hextall is your probable Naoko Funyama replacement.
Way to speak sports.
I was going to write something about her, but it’d probably just get [more] catty. I don’t mean to be unfair toward her… don’t know her. But damn… not seeing where this improves the product over Naoko.
Here’s a link to a Bring Back Naoko petition. Naoko Funayama : Bring Naoko back to NESN
Yes, it’s a change.org petition; yes I gave them my email and home address. Yes, it was painful for me. But I’m in for Naoko.
And if online petitions should ever magically happen to work, the next one is to tell Hextall to get Bobby Orr off of her twitter avi.
One more thought: you know how we complain about our reporters who just spew back whatever they’re fed at press-conferences? That the canned locker room interviews are zero value-add? Funayama was a throw back to old-time beat writers. Bruins players love-love-loved her. They were happy to talk with her. In her way she was one of the most effective sports journos out there.
The more you think on it, the worse it gets.
Also, found this interview with Tyler Seguin. Tyler doesn’t give her a lot to work with, but you get an idea on her style.
Out of the hundreds of the sympathy tweets, this one got me. There is a family element to the Bruins community that I haven’t addressed in this post. Don’t quite know where that fits but it fits somewhere and this tweet expresses it.
* Texas SB5 was an abortion bill successfully filibustered (defeated) on June 25. SB5 sought to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require that abortion clinics are able to access a hospital in case of emergency, and required abortion-inducing drugs be prescribed by a doctor.