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  Sep 22, 2000



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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: SLAM! responds to J.R.
By JOHN POWELL -- SLAM! Wrestling

A few weeks ago, SLAM! Wrestling's John Molinaro wrote an editorial that sent rumblings throughout the wrestling world. Molinaro's controversial piece - "The WWF's war on Internet sites" - made public the World Wrestling Federation's exclusionary policy directed towards all "rival" Internet sites. As you might guess, the reaction was staggering.

Fans from all over the globe sent their honest and open messages to us. Those who supported our stance termed the WWF's approach as "absurd", "hypocritical", "Machavellian" and acting like "Big Brother". Others faithfully sided with the federation citing their right to control their image in the media.

What was really troubling though was that some took it one step further and made it personal calling us a bunch of whiners throwing a collective hissy fit because we didn't get our way. What these readers fail to understand is that they don't have the whole story upon which to make such condemnations. As fans on the fringes of the industry, they don't know all that has gone on behind the scenes. They see the image the WWF projects on television and not the way they do or do not do business on a daily basis. Molinaro's candid editorial revealed a bit of that and for some, the criticism of their beloved federation was just too hard to take so they lashed out. I understand that reaction. Many of my fondest pro wrestling moments can be attributed to the WWF's talent and bookers too. That being said, I can be honest enough to admit that not every decision they have made is a good one and that for every great achievement there has been a great failing too, just like in any other promotion.

If it was just SLAM! Wrestling that WWF Stamford was restricting, we would have kept it as a private matter. That, however, is evidently not the case. In his communications with other wrestling journalists, Molinaro discovered how wide-spread the problem was. Everywhere he turned, he heard stories similar to our very own.

Whereas other sites without the backing and prominence that we are fortunate enough to enjoy didn't wish to jeopardize their business relationships by going public and taking a stand, we felt we had a responsibility to do so. Not just for the media but more importantly for you, the fans, who have e-mailed us time and time again complaining about the recent lack of WWF interviews on our site. You deserved a straightforward answer. Being fans ourselves, we understand who REALLY is responsible for pro wrestling's success and it assuredly isn't a bunch of suits locked away in a boardroom somewhere. It's you. The people who tune into the television shows, buy the merchandise, log-on to the Web sites and attend the house shows. That is something that SLAM! has never and won't ever forget, unlike the WWF offices in Stamford who proved as much by instituting their anti-Internet policy.

As most of you are aware by now, Jim Ross responded to our editorial in his Ross Report on the official WWF site. I used to respect the WWF Vice-President and on-air commentator. Since jumping to the World Wrestling Federation from World Championship Wrestling, he has strengthened the company immeasurably. Behind the scenes, he has supported hard-working and deserving talent like Mick Foley and Steve Austin so that they could ascend to superstar status following years of struggle and strife. He gave them a second chance when others had written them off. In front of the cameras, his masterful play-by-play commentary is peerless adding excitement and credence to the matches we watch.

Jim Ross is a great commentator but as evidenced by his comments, he's an appallingly bad spin doctor. The one advantage of having a Web site is it gives the WWF a forum to put forth their take on contentious issues. With the WWF Stamford's confidential policy becoming common knowledge, J.R. tried to nip the criticism in the bud. His comments did the opposite digging the hole deeper for himself and the WWF.

Cryptically referring to Molinaro's editorial as an "internet report", J.R. sought to devalue our status. He respected our position in the industry as a wrestling site which is owned and operated by one of the largest media organizations in the world and run by professional journalists enough to address the issue but under no circumstances was he going to give us any sort of credit like he would USA Today, Rolling Stone or The Kansas City Star newspaper.

His mindset in this instance is indicative of the WWF's ignorance when it comes to the online media. They lump the imaginative 12-year-old fan running his Rock site out of his basement with media professionals. People who have no background in journalism but a lot of enthusiasm with people who have experience dealing with far more important and influential organizations in their journalistic careers than the WWF, like federal government offices and courts. They don't bother to find out the difference and therefore fumble meaningful business relationships by underestimating the people they are in contact with.

Ross goes on to say that he doesn't understand SLAM! Wrestling complaining about their policy of "encouraging" superstars to "get Talent Relations approval before doing non-WWF interviews." We here at SLAM! Wrestling have no problem with going through the "proper channels". Though it is hard to take J.R.'s invitation seriously knowing the WWF's stance on Internet sites. Approval is always denied by their lack of a professional response (ie: returning a phone call or a fax just to say yes or no) once they figure out you represent a Web site. The process Ross describes is an exercise in futility and fundamentally a sham that wastes everyone's valuable time and effort including that of his own employees.

J.R. continued with an outrageous statement that truly boggles the mind. He wrote "...my office has yet to speak with any internet Web site outside our company who want to interview any of our superstars". Of course, his office hasn't. As a source within the WWF told us, J.R.'s department doesn't deal with media requests. According to the source, Ross is only made aware of the high-profile ones that have been scheduled. Maybe J.R. needs to reacquaint himself with the WWF's corporate structure and spend less time developing his own brand of barbecue sauce because apparently, he's out of the loop.

As far as not a single Web site contacting the company for interviews, that's not true at all. In the past SLAM! Wrestling has followed the WWF's policy towards obtaining interviews on our readers' behalf . Recently, both Greg Oliver and I have tried to do just that.

A few months ago, I called Taz up, reminded him of the previous interview we did with him through ECW and he was more than happy to take our questions and yours. He gave me the number of the WWF Public Relations Department (which I already had) saying that all Internet-related interviews had to go through them. I called and left messages on three separate occasions. I have yet to hear back regarding my request.

In another case, Greg Oliver contacted WWF Stamford to set up a chat with Kurt Angle and Mark Henry for his series of pieces on Olympic athletes turned wrestlers to coincide with the opening of the Olympic Games. He sent a fax and left several messages. So far, no response. You'd think the WWF would jump at the opportunity before the Games end. That was weeks and weeks ago. Greg is still sitting by the phone in hopes his calls will be returned.

Both of these occurrences exemplify our five-year-long experience with the WWF offices in Stamford. You are asked to call. You do. They ask for a fax outlining who you are and what you'd like to do. You send it off and that's the last you ever hear from them, unlike the WWF office here in Canada. Even if it is just to nix the request, WWF Canada President Carl De Marco and his experienced staff are always accessible and responsive. They could sure teach Stamford a few lessons in proper and polite media relations.

To follow-up his editorial, Molinaro did contact WWF Stamford in an attempt to speak to Jim Ross about his written remarks. Molinaro was told by an influential source within the company that if he did get an interview with Ross he might as just as well just "put a bullet" in his head because "that'll be the end of trying to work with us at all in the future". Again, this curious pronouncement points to the WWF Stamford's puzzling view of the news media. What's more bizarre than that statement is that WWF Stamford bars us from interviewing their talent, however, they continue to fax us press releases concerning such things as their election campaign to register voters and their deal with Viacom. As a former WCW Public Relations employee told us..."The WWF is exercising what they feel is a prudent media policy. For them, control is the issue". It sure seems that way. When WWF Stamford wants publicity through press releases and press conferences, they are accommodating. When it's the press who takes the initiave and therefore has "total control" (as if there is any such thing), they are automatically uncomfortable and wary.

The WWF mistakenly assumes that hoarding their talent will lead to an increase in their own page views. There are many things wrong about that reasoning. People don't surf the Web like they buy magazines or newspapers. They visit many different sites to gather information and they always will because it doesn't cost them anything but their monthly Internet provider fee to do so. You can't "corner the market" like you do in other traditional mediums. The WWF doesn't understand that, yet.

Also, their official site's main objective is to promote the federation. WWF.com is not an exercise in professional journalism or independent news gathering but another arm of their public relations department. Any "news" they do report is tainted by the company's vested interest. You won't find any revealing inside information there. It's not beneficial for them or their product to disclose storylines, recent hirings and the happenings behind closed doors. They are not going to tell you that Vince McMahon didn't really fire Steve Austin, give you a detailed background of their talent's accomplishments in other federations or post an objective review of their recent pay-per-view. The site is an online informercial for the WWF and should be viewed as such.

Ironically, the WWF's position on outside Internet sites is the lone blockade. WCW, who once had a similar policy but later became aware of the importance of online media coverage, has a mutually beneficial relationship with us. They are helpful, courteous, prompt and professional. ECW is as well, inviting us to their next CyberSlam extravaganza in Philly and even linking to our recent chat with Cyrus on their site to cross-promote it. The WWF is the only holdout and stands out as such.

Since Molinaro's editorial was first published, we have had on-going discussions with WWF Stamford. To their credit, they expressed the possibility that it might be time to review their policy and admit that they may have dropped the ball when it comes to separating the credible sites from those who aren't. Though any future relationship we would have with WWF Stamford may be in doubt following the publication of this editorial, it is our hope that by having brought this issue to light that the situation will improve for the many genuine wrestling reporters out there and that you the fans will benefit from that as that's what sparked this debate in the first place. You desire to see more WWF content and we as always, will deliver it as best we can.

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