Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sports Illustrated to welcome Paul Finebaum (amid controversy)

image According to his official Twitter feed, Paul Finebaum, host of the nationally syndicated Paul Finebaum Radio Network, is set to debut his first column for the venerable Sports Illustrated magazine on Thursday.

There’s no questioning Finebaum’s journalism credentials. He joined the Birmingham Post-Herald more than 30 years ago and worked as an investigative reporter and a columnist. He also had a twice weekly (later weekly) column in the Mobile Press-Register for nearly 10 years, discontinuing it in 2010.

It looks like the writing bug has bitten him again.

The move comes at a very interesting time, indeed. Finebaum’s radio show has been a focal point of controversy in recent weeks. USA Today Sports Analyst Danny Sheridan has appeared three times since the kickoff of SEC Media Days last month, claiming to have direct knowledge from a source inside the NCAA that the league’s enforcement staff has identified the financier, “bag man” and a witness in connection with allegations that former Auburn Quarterback Cam Newton’s father received cash in return for his son’s signature. Sheridan has refused to divulge the name(s) of the persons he’s been told were involved.

Sheridan’s comments on Finebaum’s show and a Friday appearance with Danny Sheridan on ESPN’s Outside the Lines has sparked a tit-for-tat public relations battle between Sheridan and the NCAA.

Finebaum is also in the midst of a heated, ugly legal battle with WJOX parent company, Citadel Broadcasting over a contract dispute. And, we also learned this week that Cox Media Group is launching a new 24-hour sports talk radio station in the Birmingham market. The new station, 97.3 The Zone, will feature content from Yahoo! Sports Radio and include the popular Tim Brando Show.

Since Brando’s show will compete with WJOX’s morning lineup, WJOX has forbidden Finebaum from having Brando make his regular Monday appearances on Finebaum’s show. Brando explains here and again, here.

As an outside observer (I live on the Gulf Coast), it appears that Finebaum has outgrown WJOX and the station’s ownership is behaving like a spoiled little boy whose sandbox has been invaded by a bigger kid.

There is—obviously—a great deal of speculation that Sheridan has shared whatever information he has with Finebaum. Sheridan has also used the likelihood of litigation against him as the reason why he won’t name names. Some have argued that as an employee of USA Today, Sheridan enjoys protection against litigation as a journalist. However, most serious legal analysts dispute that notion since Sheridan doesn’t file news reports or produce content that a reasonable observer would consider “journalism.” Finebaum however, is a bona fide journalist and would enjoy complete protection, so you can probably guess what the exit question is…

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