ESPN Ombuds(wo)man Takes a Critical Look at Reporting of Speculation as Fact
A long and excellent article that gets a long title from me.
My family didn't have cable TV until 1998 or 99, so I didn't grow up with ESPN. I do remember being excited to get such a crazy, round-the-clock reporting on sports stories. I had friends who referred to ESPN all the time, particularly my more althetic friends, and I finally got to see what it was all about.
I gorged on ESPN for an entire summer and fall, in between binge sessions of MTV (which I had also missed out on for years). The gorging tapered off and I went to college shortly after, but I would usually fall into the same couch potato pattern when I was on break from school.
During one one of those breaks my older sister made the observation that the sports media was essentially the equivalent of the tabloids, and most of it was male gossip to be shared around the watercooler.
She was right. I knew she was right. It was one of those moments when she articulated a thought I had been having but struggling to phrase or struggling to cope with. It was probably both.
I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with water-cooler talk. I certainly enjoy the experience of discussing a common/shared story. It's a modern-day oral tradition. But my sister's off-hand remark crushed the already-depleted value of ESPN for me. Everywhere I turned I saw stories about Curt Schillng's sock, Kurt Warner's wife, Kobe's sex scandal or [insert black NBA player here]'s tattoo. And it wasn't just that I finally started seeing those stories for the first time - I was suffocated by their seemingly endless repetition and rehash that would later be recapped on SportCenter at 5:30, 7:00, 8:00, 10:00, 11:00, and 1:00.
It was an echo chamber, though I didn't know the word at the time.
I've become more selective of how I gather and read media. I thank Al Gore for the Internet regularly, even though it is another sterling example of the echo chamber effect, it also has amazing people who write applications and form communities to help me filter out the noise. And there is a lot of noise.
I'm glad someone at ESPN can hold their feet to the fire. I suspect that this article was buried on the equivalent of page 12 and will quickly sink beneath the mire but I'm heartened to see it all the same. I don't hold it against the ombusdman that this article has been years in the making, although I probably should. I'm just happy to see someone putting the points I've been thinking into print. Much the same way my sister popped the bubble for me.
I don't watch ESPN anymore and haven't had cable for a year and a half but I'm heartened to see someone starting the criticism I can only hope others have been wrestling with for years. My sister never cared much for sports media, she was never going to help them reform or improve. But the people who write sports stories, who devour sports, who report on sports should be the one who are most concerned with the effect of their own footprint.
It's a great piece, I hope you enjoy it.