Bullying by Biertempfel, Trib will not be tolerated

Many of you saw a recent series of tweets from Dejan Kovacevic concerning an incident between the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and I that occurred during the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

It’s time to be completely honest with those of you who read my work. Many have asked me, and I owe you the truth.

In early September, Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review tweeted a story citing industry sources which stated that the Pirates may play games in Puerto Rico next season.

I had come across the story earlier in the morning through multiple sources of my own. Unfortunately, I could not write a piece, let alone tweet about it, as I was working at a different job where I was not permitted to use my phone or go on a computer.

I had enough to tweet this story at around 9:30 a.m. of that day, but the first opportunity I had to tweet was minutes after Biertempfel had already tweeted this story later than afternoon. I followed with a tweet of my own. Almost immediately Biertempfel sent a direct message. It read: “I’m not one of your sources am I?” Technically, Rob was the first to break the story as he was able to send out a tweet, so I gave him credit with being first on social media. It was the right thing to do.

I tried to explain how I came about the story to him, but it never really got to that point because immediately Biertempfel threatened to sue me, again via a DM. 

Saying I am a horrible writer is one thing. It’s an opinion, and while I may disagree with it, again, it’s an opinion. Calling my credibility into question is one of — if not the most — serious things a journalist can face.

His offensive direct messages, in addition to a very public tweet in which he attacked my character, demonstrated cyber bullying, something which I will not tolerate. Needless to say, I blocked Rob from my Twitter. There was no reason to take further abuse.

Rob, like myself, is a journalist, and our job is to communicate and to do so professionally. He covered the Pirates later on during the road trip, but getting my phone number and calling me, or even sending an e-mail would have been fine so we could address how we felt and possibly come up with a mutual understanding.

There was a precedent for this interaction. During spring training, Rob immediately followed me to send a DM. I had innocently failed to attribute a quote he had in a Pittsburgh Sporting News story I wrote. I immediately apologized to him and made sure it was fixed while communicating that the change had occurred.

If there is one thing about me, it’s this: If a mistake is made on my end, I immediately admit to it and will do what I can to ensure it is fixed. I am very critical of my own work and take a lot of pride in it.

The issue regarding the Puerto Rico story died down until the third day of a four-game series against the Brewers on Sept. 12. Just a few minutes before first pitch, Rob decided to approach me at my seat in the press box.

Instead of taking me off to the side, so we could talk this issue out, he confronted me at my seat. Again, I was not given the chance to plead my case. What he said to me was, “You realize what you did was wrong, right?” He still would not let this go.

I decided I did not want this over my head. I have a job to do and, for 79 home games and six road games, I wrote anywhere from two to five articles a day covering the 2015 Pirates.

Respectfully, I told him that however we both felt, things happened and that we should be professional about the situation, shake hands and move on. I extended the olive branch and he shook my hand and went back to his seat.

Fast forwarding to the end of the season, I found out that I was not credentialed for the playoffs. The reason given was that I had conducted myself unprofessionally, based upon a report that was given. Additionally, Rob had asked to be my Facebook friend and immediately went on there, presumably looking for damning evidence to use against me. 

Anyone who saw me in the press box and read my work knows I’m serious about succeeding. Not one media member was in the PNC Park press box more than me last season. I missed just three games, one due to space issues for the home opener, and two more because I was away covering the U.S Women’s Open golf tournament.

I developed sources and established trust among the Pirates players, communicating in both Spanish and English. 

My mission was to get stories that no one else considered, and a lot of that was a success. I managed to find out MLB executive Joe Torre was at PNC Park on July 4 and was the only one to conduct an interview with him that day.

My Pittsburgh Sporting News feature stories included Chris Stewart’s catching routine, where the responsibility for allowing stolen bases lies, catchers transitioning to becoming managers and Jared Hughes figuring out, with some help, what he needed to be successful.

Pirates media relations staffers said they respected my tenacity and willingness to try different things.

As it stands now, my Pirates credential for the 2016 season is very much up in the air. Why, besides the fact that someone could not let a simple grudge go? It is childish behavior, and in fact Rob is the one that is unprofessional in this case, hiding behind his computers with DMs and waiting over a week to talk, while giving me no chance to explain myself. 

That is not professionalism, that is bullying.

Only under rare circumstances should a journalist become the story. In fact, it is the writer’s job to accurately cover the scene and report accordingly. In this instance though, the repeated harassment and the potential effect Biertempfel’s accusation may have on my future compelled me to write something.

I talked with Tribune-Review deputy managing sports editor Richard “Duke” Maas about this issue a few days after it was made public. I was essentially blown off and told that everything was circumstantial and hearsay.

Maas and I agreed that Rob would call me so we could meet for lunch and discuss the issue. As of this writing I still have not heard from him. It has been over a month since the initial call to Maas was made. 

The Tribune-Review also alleges that I was the one who started the fight, which is also a false accusation. I was fine with keeping the matter private and finding a resolution,  the latter was something the Trib was clearly not committed to.

Bullying is shameful for the person being picked on, but more so to the one who decides to do it in the first place. It says a lot about a person’s character. It should not be allowed nor tolerated by anyone.

I want to finish by stating I am proud to be a part of both the Pittsburgh Sporting News and the DK Pittsburgh Sports families. These websites have great journalists and better people. It is a shame that this issue even needs to be addressed, but being silent is no longer an option.


5 thoughts on “Bullying by Biertempfel, Trib will not be tolerated”

  1. Great, great write Zac!! I’m proud to be working with you and have seen you become an INCREDIBLE Journalist over the years.

    The atmosphere at The Trib is TOXIC. Beyond toxic in fact. This will work itself out and you’ll grow from it and I’m sure flourish!! #TribBullying


  2. Since encountering you on the Pirates fan site, and, based on watching you grow as a sports journalist, I’ve been very impressed by your skills and candor, Zac! Good for you for standing up for yourself and acting professionally and honorably. Best of luck in the New Year.


  3. Every experience is a life lesson. People are not all as fair minded as they should be. So always speak up when something is not right…revealing truth is what deceptive people fear. Keep speaking up and writing….proud of you Zac.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Today, I cancelled my 7 day/week subscription to the Trib. I explained in specific detail that there sports department had become a local JOKE. Also, that if drastic changes are not made they can expect more people, just like me, cancelling.


  5. The way Biertempfel handled this and treated you is obviously problematic and I’m glad you put this out there.

    But what really angers me about this story is his ego and arrogance. He beat you to it by a minute, and in that minute, you were not aware that it happened. You gave him proper credit.

    You see this happen a million times. Say that Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal get a scoop around the same time but Heyman beats Rosenthal by a minute. Rosenthal tweets it out without realizing Heyman already tweeted first. Rosenthal will then send out a follow-up tweet crediting Heyman for getting it first. This happens constantly, be it with those guys or Jeff Passan or Jayson Starks or Jon Morosi, whoever. You don’t see those guys sniping at each other because of tiny semantics.

    To me, the way Biertempfel acted wasn’t only unprofessional and immature, but also deeply demeaning of your credibility as a journalist. To me, his mindset was “no way this young reporter could of possibility cultivating his own sources that would give him this story!” That’s an implication I also wouldn’t stand for. Not just the fact that he accused you of plagiarizing his work, but that he essentially accused of not being a good enough journalist to possibly break this on your own. I would be insulted, too.

    So I’m glad you gave him this public shaming. I know that wasn’t your intention, but sometimes people just need to know certain things.

    Liked by 1 person

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