Monday, July 18, 2011

Media Muddle: Terry Lanni Edition

When someone like ex-MGM Grand/Mirage CEO Terry Lanni dies, it ought to be a fairly major news event. Here is someone who had his hand at the helm of two of the most significant corporations in the history of an industry, oversaw the two important mergers in the business, brought Wall Street respect to a Mob-tainted business, personally helped elect numerous key Nevada politicos and was pivotal to adding high-end shopping and dining to the Vegas menu. He's also a contemporary figure, with countless people still around who knew him, who owe their careers to him, whose city and state have been transformed by him. We're not even talking about someone long removed from his legacy; he only left the business in late 2008.

It's a huge, important story with many facets. Just imagine what the Seattle papers will do when Bill Gates dies. Or even, I would expect, what sort of feeding frenzy would be set off here when Steve Wynn or Oscar Goodman passes. A one-day story for either of them? Uh, no. It would be team coverage, the sort of thing that requires tearing up the front page for at least a day or two and sending journalists out to flesh out and document a singular force of history.

Yet, bizarrely, thus far both Vegas newspapers have treated Lanni's death as a one-day affair and, to add to the indignity, we're talking about a one-day affair on a Saturday, the least-read paper of the week. I'm sure there'll be more to come as he is memorialized, but I was looking forward to the Sunday or even Monday take-outs that would add color and shading to the legacy of this key figure. Instead, all I got from the mainstream media was an appropriate, if boring, Jon Ralston column on Sunday. Nothing at all today, not even a letter to the editor.

What surprised me most, though, was how tepid the Review-Journal's effort was for Saturday. Liz Benston of the Las Vegas Sun wrote an extensive obituary with additional reporting from Amanda Finnegan and Rick Velotta. It was well-written, comprehensive and multi-faceted, and it provided some terrific detail. That was a good start, appropriate for the first day. I'm still waiting for the rest, though.

The R-J? They burdened already-swamped Howard Stutz, who has been putting in hundreds of hours tracking the World Series of Poker and keeping tabs on every move in the MGM-Perini tussle over The Harmon, with also handling probably the most significant local obituary of the year. And the results are what you would expect from someone with barely enough time to blink, a formulaic and dull piece that largely strings together quotes from the statements issued by luminaries across the gaming universe.

(Aside: It's clear the R-J didn't have a pre-written obituary ready to roll, knowing Lanni was ailing. It's standard practice as most newspapers to have something available in the event of the death of most major local figures whether they're ill or not.)

There were real problems with the R-J's Lanni piece, too. It's written in such a way that it's not indicated that most of the quotes came from media statements, instead leaving readers to believe that Stutz had actually interviewed Kirk Kerkorian, Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson. It's unclear if he spoke to Caesars chief Gary Loveman, as those remarks were not found in other stories or on other sites. Intriguingly, I see the Associated Press' Oskar Garcia did the same thing. When exactly did it become OK for reporters to let their readers believe they had spoken to people while quoting from, essentially press releases? Seeing how reclusive Kerkorian never gives interviews, for him to step out to honor Lanni would have been a pretty big deal. He didn't.

What's worse, the editing of the R-J story was shockingly abysmal, too. It's MGM Resorts, not MGM Resort, R-J copy folk. Thus, it would be MGM Resorts', not MGM Resort's. They made this error twice, too. It wasn't even corrected on the Web. Sloppy. Yuck.

Mostly I'm disturbed that the R-J did not feel the need to get Stutz some help. Could it have to do with the fact that the paper's new editor, Michael Hengel, and new business editor, Jim Wright, have been in Las Vegas for a combined 18 months? I'm quite certain former editor Thomas Mitchell, with all his institutional knowledge of Lanni's long and monumental Vegas career, would have peeled a few writers off of whatever they were doing to get some more material for Stutz. How longtime managing editor Charlie Zobell didn't step in to command more resources and coverage is beyond me, but maybe he was too busy simply explaining to Hengel and Wright who Lanni was in the first place.

Meanwhile, a few more Lanni bits to take stock of or check out:

* Wall Street Journal: Pulitzer winner Alexandra Berzon did something novel; she actually did her own interview with Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the American Gaming Association. The R-J, the Sun, the AP and Ralston couldn't be bothered. Also, the WSJ put a second reporter on the story to help Berzon. Weirdly, though, the WSJ obit did not reference the scandal that accompanied Lanni's departure from MGM Mirage regarding his dishonest resume, a story the WSJ broke.

* The Los Angeles Times: Despite Lanni being a local who died in Pasadena, Ashley Powers got just this little bit of ink in which she drew from Murren's press statement and dug back into archives for a quote from Gary Loveman. At least she didn't mislead her readers into thinking she personally spoke to Murren.

* Jeff Simpson at RateVegas.Com:
A thorough and personal essay about Lanni from a major Vegas business journalist veteran that included discussion of Simpson's own role in pressuring MGM Grand/Mirage/Resorts to be transparent in its diversity initiatives.

* David McKee:
Over at Stiffs & Georges, McKee indicates that he favors Stutz's R-J obit over the Sun's. We disagree, obviously.

* New York Times:
A perfunctory effort, but there it is.

Chatted with Stutz this morning. The audio isn't online yet, but when it is, it'll be here.

* VegasTripping.Com:
Referred to Jon Ralston merely as "a local blogger," a very enjoyable slight to a media figure whose stock-in-trade is slights. Nice.

* TheStripPodcast.Com: In case you missed it -- and judging from the robust download data, few of you did -- we reposted our April 2008 conversation with Lanni. Check it out.


Anonymous said...

My preference for the R-J was based on Friday morning's quick-and-dirty Lanni piece in the Sun, short on background information, not the more extensive article that supplanted it on Saturday. It seems fair to say that neither paper had a Lanni obituary ready to go when the long-dreaded news broke late last week ... although MGM itself clearly did.

David McKee

Jeff in OKC said...

As I have whined about elsewhere, Brian Greenspun's "Where I Stand" on Sunday was about social media in the Middle East. I find that saddening because Ralston and Simpson's pieces both portrayed a man who was genuine and likeable. Praise that is usually thrown around like manhole covers by these grizzled Las Vegs writers. Hopefully, Greenspun knocks the cover off the ball when the Lanni family has a Las Vegas memorial service. Lanni seemed like the kind of man that Hank Greenspun would have a genuine respect for.

Anonymous said...

When the sleazy Henri Lewin kicked the bucket, Brian Greenspun found space in his Sunday column for a lengthy *apologia pro vita sua.* But for a class act like Lanni, nothing? That's disgraceful.

David McKee


I'd give Greenspun until this Sunday before you crucify him. Lanni's death hit the news on Friday. I suspect the Sunday Sun is pretty much set in stone by then. I'm sure Greenspun writes his pieces days ahead, unlike Ralston who reacts to the news. And Greenspun has not become a blogger, as Shermy or Mitchell are, so he doesn't use the immediate tools at his disposal to pontificate about much of anything. Frankly, I'm kinda grateful about that.