Don’t Shoot!

by , Feb 28, 2012 | 7:12 am

Come in, sit down, and let me slide an analogy across the table. Imagine that two businessmen meet over a game of poker. During the course of that game, they hammer out a deal to create a brand new company. Should the poker media report it? I don’t mean morally. I mean, is that something you – our particular audience – would find interesting? I doubt it. Even if you happen to possess a particular partiality for late-night business deals, that interest is irrelevant to poker. To co-opt a bit of Latin, your interest in the story qua poker is nil.

Here comes the second half of the analogy. Imagine that two gentlemen meet over a game of poker. During the course of the game, they get into a disagreement that results in one player wounding his opponent by means of gunfire. Exciting right? Violence, crime, projectiles! I’m sure you’d be interested in that sort of thing. Hey, and it involves poker too, so that means that we can report it in the poker media. Win win!

But really, does a reader’s desire to learn about this violent crime have anything to do with the fact that it occurred next to an upturned circle of felt? Once again, your interest in the story qua poker is minimal. It’s unlikely that you’ll be asking what the stack sizes were when the shooting took place or whether the man with a bullet in his leg has ever won a WSOP Circuit ring.

At this point it’s fair to ask, ‘so what?’ If a story provides titillation, who cares that it only has a tangential relation to poker? If the audience enjoys it, print it.

There is a problem however and to expose it we can ask for a helping hand from one of the great thinkers of the Enlightenment. Scottish philosopher David Hume argued that we could never truly know when one thing caused another. Instead we could only establish that two events were regularly correlated. We can lay aside his intellectual musings for the moment, but his insight into the human condition is extremely relevant. Hume’s discovery was that when two events happen frequently one after the other it is a natural human tendency to assume that the former plays a part in causing the latter, even if their connection is just coincidence.

In many ways, the press have the power to curate your world view. So far as the poker media are concerned, what we choose to report makes a big difference to what information you absorb. Twitter and Facebook have broken down those barriers to some degree, but a written report from a major poker news outlet still highlights an event in a way that the burbling of social media cannot match. In other words, we can make certain correlations more distinct.

To quote another equally important thinker, “with great power comes great responsibility.” If we choose to regularly report on poker shootings, both ‘poker’ and ‘shooting’ become more commonly correlated in the minds of our readers. The knowledgeable sorts who bookmark Pokerati can see through such illusory causation, but not every site is blessed with such learned readers. The openness of the internet also means that anyone could pick up on a story at any moment, immediately highlighting it in even bolder lettering; adding to the weight of correlation. Not to mention poker’s many enemies, who will leap at the chance to trumpet any bad press they can find.

Let’s leave crime reporting to the crime blogs, except in cases where poker plays a tangible role. Focussing on stories of shootings at poker games adds nothing of interest to the general tapestry of the game and only serves to further denigrate the image of a pastime that is fighting for legal and moral recognition.

7 Comments to “Don’t Shoot!”

  1. Bill Rini

    I disagree with this.  As much as I dislike when sites like Gambling911 take some random guy who played 2 hands of poker in his life and refer to him as a “poker professional” in order to get some SEO juice, two guys who got into a gunfight playing poker is poker news.  

    What if Phil Ivey and Howard Lederer shot each other in the parking lot of the Bellagio?  Even if the fight didn’t even take place over a game of poker it’s of interest to the poker community.  

    And who are you to judge?  No, I don’t mean “you” personally.  I mean, if people are reading it, it must be of some interest.  There are a lot of things you probably like in the poker media that I can’t stand.  I hate reading the breathless analysis of every trivial piece of gambling legislation.  I hate reading ten different sites all doing live updates from the same event.  I hate the annual running of the poker media at the WSOP where everyone sits around for two months and tries to think of something interesting to report.  

    But maybe you like those things (or maybe you don’t).  Who am I to say that this should be reported and that shouldn’t?  

    If there’s a market clamoring for no-nonsense poker reporting, go start yourself a blog and make a killing filling that market demand.  Let the rest of us write whatever what we want.  

  2. Dan Michalski

    >>If there’s a market clamoring for no-nonsense poker reporting, go start yourself a blog and make a killing filling that market demand.  Let the rest of us write whatever what we want. <<

    this may be a matter for more internal pokerati talk, bill. lol

  3. Joseph Ewens

    Thanks for your comments Bill. I appreciate the debate. Allow me to respond, if I may.

    “What if Phil Ivey and Howard Lederer shot each other in the parking lot of the Bellagio?  Even if the fight didn’t even take place over a game of poker it’s of interest to the poker community.”

    I don’t think this contradicts what I was saying. My point was that we report too frequently on shootings in which poker plays no substantive role. Phil Ivey and Howard Lederer are such major figures that anything newsworthy they do will almost certainly be relevant to poker.

    “I mean, if people are reading it, it must be of some interest.”

    I agree that people may be interested in it and usually that’s a perfectly valid reason to print something, but I don’t think that upside outweighs the negative correlations these reports generate. That would be a moot point if these shootings were poker news – we would have an obligation to report them – but I don’t believe they are.

    That is likely to be a sticking point, I’ll grant. Where the line for what qualifies as poker news sits. I personally believe that something happening at or near a poker table is not qualification enough, but I can appreciate a position that holds a different view.

    “Who am I to say that this should be reported and that shouldn’t?”

    I’m not trying to get people to accept a conclusion on the basis of my own worth or lack thereof. I believe I’ve presented a logical argument. If you disagree with its content that’s totally fine, but my (or anyone else’s) qualifications are irrelevant when it comes to deciding if it’s right or wrong.

  4. Dan Michalski

    I joke “if it bleeds it ledes” … but at the same time, it’s not just for gratuitous bloodthirst or SEO advantage.

    many times these correlations reveal a PATTERN of activity that people of influence can still alter (or not). pre-poker i cut my teeth covering pedophile priests. each of those instances of abuse can be written off as a coincidence … or a bad egg. and for decades (if not centuries) that worked for the Church. but we eventually discovered this was a problem not of any one particular priest, but of something systematic from the top down. 

    in Texas poker, if people are getting shot and dying, that’s not inherently a matter of statistical variance … it could be a matter of policy!

    and even when the crime is something that happens to the population and just so happens to involve poker … well then that’s an opportunity for “our people”  — poker players — to understand something in their own vernacular. 

    I will never forget Barron Boutte. He was shot and killed ROBBING a poker room. many poker players feel he got what he deserved. but were it not for our coverage, we might have forgotten we were dealing with a real person with a real family affected by underground poker rooms crossing paths with other societal forces. 

    seriously … read the comments here — — and that is why it is part of my core that if it bleeds it ledes. 

    oh, and this case here, too … where we have actual pictures of the blood!

  5. Earl Burton

    I have to disagree myself with your thoughts, Joseph. I have read many a story where there were shootings after a pickup game of basketball, attacks by fans on coaches or officials, etc. Do these incidences have a detrimental affect on their respective games? No, they don’t.

    While we as journalists have a responsibility to our chosen expertise (in this case, poker), you cannot sugarcoat what will occasionally happen in a neighborhood game. What we have to do is accurately report the proceedings without hyperbole as a warning for others.

  6. Short-Stacked Shamus

    You seem desirous to make a specific point about gun violence and poker, a point that is critical of how occasionally some outlets are too sensational in their approach to reporting poker news, and thus become exploitative of such stories, the readers, and poker, generally speaking, in order to “sell” their stories more widely.  

    Okay… I hear you.  But to make that point you make a larger, much less persuasive one about the nature of journalism in general and poker news in particular.  That’s where you are getting some blowback, because you appear to be ignoring the distinction between journalism and advertising/promotion.  

    Reporters should never feel obligated to prop up or argue in favor of (or diminish the negative qualities of) whatever it is they report on.  If they do feel so obligated, then they are no longer reporters.  They are advertisers or promoters, selling something rather than reporting the news.

    I’m well aware of the tenuous world which is the “poker media.”  (In fact, it’s so tenuous I cannot help but use scare quotes when referring to it.)  There exists a kind of self-interest for reporters not to damage poker’s image so as to increase the likelihood of poker thriving well enough to ensure their own employment.  I’m also aware of the myriad conflicts of interest in “poker media” that all but ensure most reporting is going to be blinkered in some fashion so as to support the bias of whoever is writing the checks.  We gotta eat.  So sometimes we compromise.  It happens… a lot.

    But I’d never accept the idea that we must self-police ourselves to the point where we shouldn’t report something because of the potentially negative light in which it might show the game.  Indeed, it would be much preferable if reporters weren’t so easily manipulated into adopting such an attitude because of the need to get paid.

  7. Dan Michalski

    >>but I don’t think that upside outweighs the negative correlations these reports generate.<<

    who are we to judge positive and negative correlations? if full tilt had been busted or outed or whatever several years ago that woulda been really negative news. but if it put them out of business before black friday, preventing so many players from losing money … well then maybe it wasn't "negative" news after all. 

    my takeaway from your piece, joe, is we can't be gratuitous with the (sex and) violence. and that's a good reminder for writer/reporters to convey why what they are writing matters to the reader. 

    *** wow, how did we used to exist on the internet in more than 140 characters?