Interview with Newsday's Neil Best

In the wake of his Mike & the Mad Dog scoop that came to fruition earlier this month, I thought it was a good time to conduct an e-mail interview with Neil Best of Newsday. I feel a bit of a kinship with Neil since he and I started our blogs on the same day.

Neil is the sports media writer for Newsday and has been covering the beat since 2005. Before that, Neil was the New York Giants beat reporter for the paper for ten years. His other assignments for Newsday have included St. John’s and Big East basketball and New York City high school sports.

In an exchange of e-mails that spanned much longer than I had planned, we finally finished the interview on Friday. Here is what transpired over this past week.

Fang's Bites: First, congratulations on the Mike & the Mad Dog scoop. Without going into specifics, what led you to believe that the duo would split up before Labor Day?

Neil Best: I was told by several people over the weeks from June 22 through the news finally becoming official Aug. 14 that this was almost definitely going to happen. I admit I got a little nervous at times as the weeks dragged on and no other papers followed up on this, but I kept getting reassured and just to be patient.

FB: How do you see Mike and Chris faring without each other? And who do you think will be more successful in their respective platforms?

NB: Mike will do fine as long as he makes good choices for his supporting cast. The WFAN brand - and the Francesa brand - are very strong, and only years of sustained mediocrity would drag down him and the show. Chris' success will be harder to quantify because Sirius isn't about ratings, it is about subscribers. How do you separate out what Chris is responsible for? I think he can pull off the national show format, but that doesn't mean people in Arkansas are going to care what he has to say.

FB: What makes Francesa and Russo interesting subjects to write about?

NB: Wow, that's a hard one. There was just something about them that compelled people to love and hate them, but most of all to listen. There is no easy way to put your finger on a phenomenon such as this. It just happens.

FB: I've heard rumors about Sid Rosenberg joining the Mad Dog Channel on Sirius XM. Have you heard similar rumors?

NB: He told me he won't.

FB: Moving to blogging, have you enjoyed it and do you now find it more to be a chore?

NB: Both. I enjoy it and it's a chore. The worst thing is feeling guilty when I'm not doing it. I'm in a weird position because I'm still a full-time newspaper writer and sometimes leave my house. But the access I get as a writer for a major newspaper also obviously benefits the blog.

FB: Do you feel that newspapers are embracing blogging or do you feel that papers see blogging as a necessary evil?

NB: Some the former, some the latter. Newsday has been extremely aggressive in embracing the Internet in general and blogs in particular. They still don't pay me for it, though.

FB: What is your assessment of blogging after doing it for 15 months now?

NB: I enjoy it, in many ways more than writing newspaper columns. But it certainly is a burden to juggle along with the column, family life, etc. I wish I could discipline myself to limit the number of posts per day to keep it sane, but so far I haven't.

FB: What blogs do you regularly visit?

NB: Deadspin, Big Lead, Awful Announcing, Fang's Bites are four most frequent. But I periodically check in on many others. I guess I should mention (Newsday football writer Bob) Glauber's.

FB: Thank you so much for the nice plug. Much appreciated. Now about Glauber, can you describe the dynamic between the two of you? He leaves snarky comments on your blog. He also makes references to you in his. Do you think he has a man crush on you?

NB: Clearly, he does. He and I shared a hotel room once when there was a mix-up with our reservations on a Giants road trip and there was only one room for the two of us. Separate beds. I promise.

FB: In your chat (August 6), I asked you about the Olympics and the amount of live streaming. You mentioned that this is a watershed event along with March Madness two years ago. We now have the NFL streaming Sunday Night Football this season. Do you see other sports leagues following the free streaming model or will they follow MLB's pay per view system? (Even I feel that was long-winded)

NB: The model presumably would be pay per view if leagues are going to put everything on line, as MLB does. But there is no question we will be seeing more and more of this over time.

FB: James Dolan recently purchased Newsday. How do you see his ownership influencing how Newsday's sports department covers the Knicks and Rangers?

NB: The intention is to cover them exactly as we always have. The concern is much more about self-censorship than direct censorship. We have been told to behave exactly as always, but will individual writers hit a mental delete button before ripping James Dolan? That's the real issue.
FB: What grade would you give to NBC for covering these Olympics? And with you and I being on the East Coast, do you sympathize with West Coasters for complaining about the "LIVE" graphic when the events shown in their primetime are not live?

NB: I'd give them a nice solid B-plus, I guess. The live/not live thing is really confusing, and I think as of 2012 it's time to throw in the towel and put everything on live, then replay the good stuff in prime time. The issue is not the LIVE graphic, it's the fact it's not live, graphic or no graphic. The women's gymnastics stuff last week ended after 1 a.m. live in the East. Why not have that on at 10 p.m. PDT!?

FB: What Olympic events do you feel NBC paid too much attention and what events did they pay too little?

NB: One of the biggest weaknesses of the prime time show is not at least giving people a flavor of the cool st uff being shown on the cable outlets and on-line. I guess I'd say too much beach volleyball, much as I enjoy the uniforms, and not enough team handball!

FB: In your last chat (August 20), I asked you if you thought Brett Favre would increase ratings on CBS's AFC package of NFL games. What is CBS' feeling of having Favre on their network regularly after him being on Fox for all these years?

NB: CBS is ecstatic.

FB: Will the NFL Network ever get on Cablevision and other big cable companies?

NB: Yes, but maybe not until DirecTV's Sunday Ticket exclusive expires in 2011.

FB: I have to ask a question about the sports behemoth known as ESPN. Do you feel they try to influence the sports agenda?

NB: Hmm. That's way too complicated and big of a question to answer here. Mostly they try to keep up ratings and subscriber fees and make money.

FB: Are there good things about ESPN? And what do you feel are the bad?

NB: Again, that's the subject for a college thesis, sir! The best thing about ESPN is the tonnage of quality sports stuff they provide for sports fans. The worst thing is their too-close relationship with the athletes, teams and leagues they cover.

FB: What story have you enjoyed covering the most since taking over the media beat at Newsday? What have you enjoyed the least?

NB: My best and most fun idea for a story, although the execution wasn't as good as I would have liked, was when I went to the home of the woman who does the closed caption typing for Francesa and Russo and wrote about her challenge in keeping up with a Russo monologue. The one I enjoyed least probably was the breakup of Francesa and Russo. Even though it turned out I was right, I was frustrated by having very little concrete to report for readers wanting more information for a solid two months.

FB: Everybody Loves Raymond vs. My Boys. Raymond Barone vs. PJ Franklin. Who do you think is the better sportswriter and which show better depicts sportswriters as doing the least amount of work?

NB: Both are good, well written shows, although I'd have to give the edge to Raymond. As far as the non-working sportswriter thing goes, at least Raymond was a columnist. PJ is a friggin' baseball beat writer and yet has endless hours to play poker and drink beer!

FB: Finally, do you think this e-mail interview can take any longer than the four to five days that it has spanned?

NB: It's a good thing I aced my ninth grade typing class.

Again, thanks to Neil for agreeing to do the interview. It's much appreciated.
Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.