Whats’s going on at ESPN these days?? After Rick Reilly was caught pleading with Stuart Scott to give him credit on air for being the first to report Ben Roethlisberger’s injury Monday night, a number of people have been buzzing over the shift in focus at ESPN – from a previously news-driven program to one today that tries to balance between reporting the news — and creating it.
Reilly’s uncomfortable begging for credit story aside, the bigger issue really does have to do with the question of what ESPN is today? Is ESPN an objective, fact-reporting news channel, or has it morphed into an entity far more concerned about generating ratings, pleasing sponsors, and doing everything it can to get you and me to tune into whatever “story” they want to create? The creation of Tim Tebow as the story last year is a classic example others have called ESPN out for — while Tebow’s meteoric rise was noteworthy, was it so significant that literally every program (including Sportscenter) made him the #1 story all the time? In fact, some former ESPN employees have even gone on record reporting the ESPN did in fact look for as many ways as possible to keep Tebow in the news, as more Tebow = bigger ratings = greater revenues.
The problem ESPN has on its hands is similar to other “news” stations that often skew what’s factual reporting from their own subjective and deliberate bias. Gone are the days of the 6PM news that only objectively reported the stories of the day, and the evening entertainment shows that followed and put their own spin on those stories. The old way of reporting news and then viewing stories in an entertainment lens later has been replaced by media outlets that really are a hybrid between these two types of programs. So for example when ESPN reports about Tiger Woods (seemingly all the time), we must wonder is Tiger really the story (or a story at all), or is ESPN telling us he is a story because they know, similar to car crashes and other sensational stories, that Tiger gets ratings. It seems like with every major golf tournament on the horizon that ESPN reports far more stories about Tiger (even though he hasn’t don’t a lot since coming back from his marital infidelities) compared to other golfers in the field (many of whom that are more than worthy of mention).
Rick Reilly’s clamoring for credit move caught on camera was an odd, sad, and desperate move, and probably embarrassing for him since it was caught on camera and will be replayed millions more times on the internet — but I wonder if this is less about Reilly and more about the bigger picture? I mean, whats next? Is the race for ratings and being the first to tweet something such a driving force that it will continue to cloud the “reporting” at ESPN and other sports/news outlets? Will rumors more quickly be reported as facts since being the first to report something is seemingly very important (enter Reilly)? In fact, Reilly’s “breaking” of the story really wasn’t more than him reporting that he saw Roethlisberger leaving the stadium and casually nudged his shoulders to Reilly as if to say he didn’t know what was going on — that was it!
The last thing I have to say about this is that in this day and age of light-speed technology, blunders like Reilly’s not only don’t go away, but they quickly tarnish a previously well-received writer’s credibility. This morning alone I have read and listened to countless stories, interviews, and reports lambasting Reilly and speaking of him as though he is the second string sports writer for the local high school newspaper. Amazingly, his legendary status of being the back-page writer for Sports Illustrated all those years seems like a blurry water color while today’s young generation of sports fans will only know him as “that guy that caused that weird awkward moment on Monday Night Football who pleaded for national attention.”