I was breezing through one of my issues of ESPN The Magazine, and I found two articles whining about the state of the media today. You know what I'm talking about...the media is realizing that the Internet is providing as much information as the newspapers can provide, and in today's economic crunch, some of those media outlets are feeling the squeeze.
The idea of ESPN carping about it, though, is irony enough for me. Because, as far as I am concerned, the media has made their own bed, and ESPN led the way for the sports reporters.
In this particular magazine, Bill Simmons whined about the dwindling access for reporters and interviews. Mike and Mike complained about how athletes are giving their "interviews" directly to their fans through Twitter or Facebook, leaving the journalists on the outs.
Certainly, the Internet has changed the paradigm of how information is able to be communicated to the public. But the sports media has to take a long, hard look at why they have become less and less relevant in a Web 2.0 world.
When I was in high school, I strongly considered a career in journalism. I had a knack for writing and loved my expository writing classes. But when I looked at the starting salaries for a journalism major, I figured I could always find time to write on the side later on in life.
The big issue comes down to what I call "journalistic integrity". A journalist has the responsibility for interpreting what is happening in the real world for the general public to see. Face it: I am never going to sit in a press conference with Ted Thompson, I get no reports sent directly to me from the Packer organization as to who is being signed or cut, nor do I know how OTA's went today with my own eyes.
The media has the responsibility for presenting the world to us, and they have the responsibility to do so in a fair and balanced, unbiased way. There's not a lot of money in that, but that is what you sign up for when you become a journalist. You are the recorder of current events for the vast majority of us who can't see it ourselves. In its purest form, it is a noble profession.
Of course, sports reporters have long walked the line between white and gray. My favorite example is that of Robert Duvall's character from "The Natural", Max Mercy, who threatened to smear Roy Hobbs in the papers if he didn't "play ball" with him. Certainly, there have been reporters in real life who helped shape the news, and sometimes, public opinion.
For me, Jim Rome started it in 1994 when he publicly tried to humiliate quarterback Jim Everett on his show by repeatedly calling him "Chris". Everett knocked him over, but the public reaction to the event gave ESPN and other sports venues the idea that the athletes don't have to be the only "stars" of the show. Rome injected himself into the game, into the life of an athlete, became a part of the show. Whether it be positive or negative, it was a reaction that made people tune in.
And soon, we saw ESPN continue to try and promote its journalists as much as the sports they tried to cover. Anchors were encouraged to develop catchphrases and inject their personality into the show, so you were just as likely to tune in to see Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann perform their little comedy routine as you were to see what happened on the field that day.
Taking cues from "The Jim Rome Show", shows were developed that showed journalists "ranting" about the news instead of reporting it. Wilbon and Kornheiser developed a steady following on Pardon The Interruption yelling at each other for no apparent reason. When that wasn't enough, Stephen A Smith was brought in to yell-complain about anything that they missed.
The news was no longer being reported, it was simply the baseline for soundbites and rimshots, as ESPN marketed its own stars first. In 2001, Kenny Mayne was one of the "captains" for the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game, and the vision of him sitting in a huddle (with real athletes) trying to rally "his team" for the camera ranks a perfect 10 on the Unintentionally Ridiculous Scale.
Other media outlets have followed suit, with CBS Sportsline hiring a guy by the name of Greg Doyel, whose sole purpose appears to be to write something to inflame a group of sports fans each week, then make fun of them when they object. No journalism, no relaying of information...just trying to provoke a reaction under the guise of being in the media.
Even some of our local Packer outlets have gotten into the act, with somewhat awkward V-logs from the beat guys at the Press-Gazette.
And what of having reporters camp out at airports and outside athlete's houses 24/7, reporting anything they see as potentially viable news (whether it is or not)? They have to report something, don't they?
What is the result of our sports media trying to draw the attention onto themselves instead of the sports they cover? Oh, sure, it made some millionaires out of guys like Rome and his wanna-be's. But, they traded in their journalistic integrity for the easy money of infotainment, becoming little more than glitzy paparazzi and attention whores.
And, they have become less and less relevant. Oh, sure, we tune in for PTI and react to provocative articles when they affect us, but the trade-in for the extra advertising dollars in the short run has cost them today in the long run. We realize that what they do isn't really that hard, or that important.
Take a look around the Online Packer Blogosphere for everything you can get from the mainstream media. If you head over to PackerChatters, you can get much of the latest draft information, online chats with experts, and all the rumors you can ask for. If you're looking for today's news with some biting commentary or a rimshot, check out the boys at CheeseheadTV, who are just as insightful (and occasionally snarky) as anyone making seven figures at ESPN. And if you want journalism like it was meant to be, read the training camp reports at Railbird Central.
Today's sports media is aghast that their jobs as they knew them are in jeopardy, but in part, that is their own doing. Journalism was once a noble profession, because we trusted those writing for us to be noble, honest, and to have integrity. But when you go on AOL and the keyword to find Jim Rome's site is "rants", what integrity is that? How hard do you have to try to find something to rant about every day in the sports world?
Answer: he doesn't really have that much to rant about. He just chooses to because that's his shtick. That's what you tune in to listen to. And that's what he gets paid big bucks to do: make you listen to him rip others apart every single day.
Those in the sports media made themselves the show, and with that, they lost that level of trust we needed to have in them, everything they needed to make themselves relevant. And they are realizing that there are other outlets for the kind of infotainment that they have lowered themselves to...and in some cases, those outlets surpass what they are capable of.
As newspapers across the nation fall into dire straits, the sports media is simply a microcosm of why they got to the desperate points they have. Ideally, the media is responsible for reporting the news and allowing the viewers to formulate their own opinions. But when you have half the nation not trusting anything from FOX News, and the other half not trusting anything from CNN, you realize that you have media outlets doing more than just reporting.
So when Mike, Mike, and Bill complain in ESPN The Magazine about how reporters are having less and less pull in today's sports world, they have only themselves to blame.
Speaking of which, I just wrote three pages of rant. Take that, Jim Rome.