Sports Media Journal

It’s Long Over Due…SMJ Has A Facebook Page

I signed-up for Facebook personally about three years ago.  I check in, at most, twice a day just to see what some of my friends and family are up to.

I am IN NO WAY a Facebook junkie.  No Farmville for me.  It just seems that there is too much going on in Facebook for my needs.  I pass no judgement on those who live in Facebook.  Have at it.  I myself, would rather spend my social media time with Twitter.

I do realize, however, that there are over 600 million Facebook users, and I should reach out to them.

So today we are launching our SMJ Facebook Page, where all our posts, and hopefully our tweets will be posted.  I ask those of you who support SMJ to “Like” our Facebook page.  Thank you.

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What’s Right and What’s Wrong with Sports Media- Online Resources

In the final installment of what I think is good and bad with sports media I’ll take a look at how sports media is using online resources to get out information.

Not much has changed on how traditional media organizations have covered sports online.  The only thing that is new since 2007 is more of them are employing the use of multimedia (video, podcasts, etc) on their sites.  That’s a good thing.

I am disturbed by a trend I’ve seen develop that I feel is bad for sports journalism.  What I’m talking about here is the sensationalizing of sports news.  Those of you who have read SMJ know that I am a traditionalist when it comes to the coverage of sports.  There are more websites available today whose mission it is to find dirt on athletes.  I understand gossip sells.  Those sites have every right to conduct business.  (God Bless America!)  It doesn’t mean I need to embrace it or condone it.

I continue to maintain that everyone is entitled to privacy, whether they are in public or not.  Seeing a sports star in a bar with a beautiful young lady means little as to how that person performs on the field.  Criminal activity and/or league investigations of off-the-field indiscretions do warrant coverage.  Seeing Aaron Rodgers at a bar is meaningless to me.

What troubles me more than the sensational reporting is how traditional news outlets run with these stories for fear of losing its audience.  Even though he has since changed his tune, what Buzz Bissinger said in 2008 on HBO to me holds true today.  Many of these gossip sites cater to the lowest common denominator of our society.  There is no redeeming value in its publication.   My greatest fear is that the younger generations, when asked where they get their “sports news”, will reference one of these gossip websites.  How can this be good?  (Off soapbox)

There is no doubt that the biggest impact in the online coverage of sports is the use of social media.  The 24 hour news cycle is not partitioned into minutes and seconds by the use of social media platforms.  More reporters and the athletes they cover are taking their message to the people in short, consistent spurts.

Facebook has well over 600 million users.  However I don’t use it to get my sports news.  I use it more to get in touch with family and friends.

Twitter, however, is an information junkie’s elixir.  I get more information from Twitter than any other source.  With that said Twitter does have its drawbacks.

First, if you are a reporter and tweet as part of your job…get separate Twitter accounts for personal and professional use.  I must say that when I see a personal tweet from someone I follow professionally,  I cringe.  I have multiple Twitter accounts.  My SMJ account deals with sports media news.  I have a separate account where I tweet my personal thoughts and follow close family and friends.

I understand the usefulness of hashtags in categorizing tweets.  But I think the Twitterverse has evolved into hashtag overload, coming up with tags that are meaningless to the topic.  For example, let’s say I’m following a story on Twitter about the NFL labor negotiations and one of the hashtags is “#isntthisacrazyworldwelivein” (I made that up, but I’m sure it exists). What relevance does that have to to the story?

The last thing that I hate about Twitter, regardless of whether it’s my personal or professional account, is when people feel they’re the sole or most reliable source of information on any issue…including big sporting events.  Few things are as annoying to me as when I read “Jordy Nelson, TD Packers” during the Super Bowl.  Do people really think I’m monitoring your feed to get updates on football’s biggest game of the year?   The best use of Twitter play-by-play are of events that are not being viewed by millions of people.  Don’t be afraid to take a Twitter break every now and then.

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That sums up my week-long look at what I think is right and wrong with sports media in 2011.  It’s just one man’s opinion.  Shoot me some ideas as to what you’d like to see covered here at SMJ.  Thanks for listening

What’s Right and What’s Wrong with Sports Media- Television Sports News

Out of all the topics I discussed back in 2007 when I first wrote of what I liked about sports media, how television sports news is covered has not changed much at all.

The one thing that amazes me is that there are still sports segments in local television news.  I no longer know of anyone who watches local news for sports coverage.  As a matter of fact, many stations are asking their sports anchors to transition into the news side of the operation.   The local sports anchors today, even in medium-sized markets, are often young reporters right out of college.  Even when stations cover college and high school athletics, it appears that the information is old.  Regrettably it’s only a matter of time before local television sports news will be eliminated from the newscast or relegated to online only.

One change in television sports coverage has come in the increasing presence of regional sports networks (RSN).  In the Boston market both Comcast SportsNet New England (CSNNE) and the New England Sports Network (NESN) have launched daily sports shows within the last four years.  Each has also created niche news shows focusing on the teams (Celtics for CSNNE and Red Sox/Bruins on NESN) which they hold broadcasting rights.  Even though these RSN’s currently don’t have the market share of an ESPN, they’ll probably hasten the death of sports reports in local newscasts.

As in 2007 ESPN continues to hold the ratings edge nationally when it comes to sports news reporting on its varied television networks.  As I wrote four years ago, I watch these shows to get informed.  Not to get entertained.  There are still hosts at all levels of television sports reporting who feel the need to create catchphrases and other anecdotes to be seen as cool.  I don’t want cool.  I want authoritative reporting, where the respect of viewer is paramount.

It does bother me that ESPN tends to promote one sport over another, presumably based on the rights fees they hold.  My concern is ethical, not entrepreneurial.  It puzzles me that ESPN will choose an NBA early round playoff game as its lead story over, say, the clinching game of the Stanley Cup Finals.  But from a business standpoint, I understand.  With the choice I’d probably choose journalism over business in making that decision.

Although still a concern for some, I’m not bothered by a network (ESPN) having nearly every segment of its sportscast tied to a sponsor.  I have yet to see a time when that sponsorship has impacted the quality of the information presented during that segment.  When that happens, I’ll complain.

 

What’s Right and What’s Wrong with Sports Media- Game Coverage

In my 2007 post on what I like about sports media, I chose to break-up play-by-play into radio and television.  I think it’s best to lump them into general game coverage as I look at how things have changed since that original column.

Let me begin by asking a question…why do you watch/listen to a game?  Sounds a little silly, but when some are critical of those who handle play-by-play or analysis, they need to ask themselves that question.  I know I watch/listen to a game for the action on the field.  I really don’t watch for the play-by-play.  I’m knowledgeable enough to follow the action and deduce what it means.

When it comes to a play-by-play announcer and color analyst, the more  understated the better. That’s why I feel Joe Buck, Jim Nantz, and Al Michaels are great announcers.  They let the game speak for itself.  I don’t care for announcers who go over the top and get overly excited, like a Gus Johnson.  When I see Johnson call a game, I wonder how long he practiced what he was going to say.  It’s appears contrived.

I like to pay more attention to the color analyst and how he/she provides insight into what just transpired on the field.  Yes, I know that the Packers just pick-ed up a first down, but I want the analyst to point out the nuances as to how it happened.   Those with a firm grasp of X’s and O’s generally make the best analysts.

Networks need to stop catering to the lowest common denominator in game coverage, even during big events like the Super Bowl.  You’re never going to attract new fans if they’ve never been invested in the sport in the past.  Don’t take the rest of us for granted, educate us and let us handle the newcomers in our midst.

There is no need for a three person booth or for sideline reporters.  We all see when the extra man in the booth leads to everyone fighting for air time.  Sideline reporters rarely get any information that a competent associate producer couldn’t get.  We hear from them so infrequently that their talents are wasted.

The need to recoup money for rights fees has resulted in selling just about every part of a broadcast to advertisers.  Pre-game, post game, and such mundane events as pitching changes now all have their own sponsor.  That should bother me.  But it’s become so commonplace now that I rarely seem concerned by all these intrusions.

Technically, games have never been covered better.  There’s been no real trends set on the radio side.  But innovation has led the way to how games are broadcast on television.  Since 2007 just about all professional games are now telecast in high definition.  The placement of cameras in unique locations have resulted in seeing a play from just about every conceivable angle.  Audio enhancements have also positively impacted the viewing experience.  The only aspect to this innovation I’m not excited about is 3D.  There’s simply not enough 3D content available and most people who recently bought a television in the last two years will be willing to invest in another one just for the 3D experience.

What’s Right and What’s Wrong with Sports Media- Sports Radio

There really hasn’t been any glaring changes in the sports radio industry since 2007 when I first wrote of what I liked about sports media.

Living within the Boston media market, I now have two reputable choices for my sports radio listening pleasure.  Both have very knowledgeable hosts who, when they want to be, are very, very good.

What I said four years ago about what I like about sports radio holds true today…I like when hosts talk sports.  Novel idea, isn’t it?  But for some reason there are times when hosts think they need to expand their horizons and talk about topics not associated with the hometown teams.   Case in point…one of the Boston area sports radio morning shows last month spent its entire four hour show on two topics; Mark Sanchez dating a 17 year-old and whether the husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords should leave her side and command the last space shuttle mission.  That’s the kind of sports I love!

Hosts who delve into the non-sports realm say they’re bringing up topics that “guys” are talking about, specifically “guys” in the 18-49 or 25-54 demographic.  We may have interests outside of sports on our mind, but we tune in to sports radio to hear a discussion of sports.  If we want to hear about other topics we can find those elsewhere on the dial.

As much as all radio stations live and die on ratings, sports radio remains a niche format with low ratings.  That’s why in most markets sports radio consists of a blend of local sports shows and those from ESPN Radio or other national syndicators.  Boston is one of the only markets where sports radio has consistently scored high in the desired male demographics.

I tend to value local sports talk radio to national programs, because I get more information on the teams I follow.  The downside to this is because local sports shows focus on the regional sports scene, they tend to ignore other sports when in season.  Back to what I hear in Boston, sports radio programs focus exclusively on the four major sports teams and rarely, if ever, talk college sports or individual sports like golf and tennis. The nationally syndicated shows tend to give me more variety, so I’ll check in with them more during golf and tennis majors, etc.

The best sports radio programs are the ones where the hosts are knowledgeable and respect the views of the callers.  They are also the ones that include interviews of local and national newsmakers.  Unfortunately there are many hosts who feel that because they have control of the microphone, they are why people listen.  These hosts may have good ratings numbers, but not for the reasons they think.

Like newspapers, sports radio faces competition on other media platforms.  There are now satellite and online audio programs which focus on a specific sport or team that are gaining market share with audiences.   Some of these programs are better than others, but isn’t it great that we have these choices?  I like that.

What’s Right and What’s Wrong with Sports Media- Reporters and Columnists

In 2007 when I wrote this column on what I thought was the best and worst of sports media, the first category I explored was Newspaper and Magazine Reporting. Since newspapers and magazines are now just a segment of the platforms by which sports is reported, I thought I’d just focus on general reporting and opinion columnists, regardless of the platform by which it is delivered.  This will not be an indictment of any individual reporter or columnist, just an overview of what I think reporters and columnists do, or no longer do, well.

Today’s professional journalists are still the best at providing coverage of the world of sports.  Many sports bloggers are doing some great work as well, but if I had my choice of who I rely on for information, I will continue to choose those who are trained in the art of reporting.   Don’t get me wrong there are some bad reporters out there, but as a whole I value the work done by the professionals over the non-professionals.

What I said in 2007 still holds true today…I like when reporters report.  If your beat is to be the eyes of a specific team or specific sport, your job is to report the facts of what is happening, along with reaction from these involved.  You are not paid to offer opinion in your day-to-day work.  If part of your beat is to offer an opinion column every so often, that’s where you can let your thoughts on the facts come through.  Give us the facts and let us decide how to interpret them.

I see a greater disconnect between general sports columnists and the topics they cover.  There appears to be less research done on a topic but more reaction.  Maybe it’s because we sports fans are able to get the facts of a story from so many sources that the columnist feels he or she doesn’t need to delve into them any further.  That’s understandable.  But I do miss when a columnist mixes opinion with some reporting.

Reporters and columnists today seem to possess a general lack of humility.  There was a time, not too long ago, when sports radio and television hosts were trained in electronic media and reporters generally worked for newspapers.  Now many of those same writers host radio and/or television shows.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of modest reporters out there.  But there are a growing number of others who let their increased visibility go to their heads.

I really hate when those critical of professional sports reporters accuse them of being cozy with athletes, coaches and ownership.  For a journalist to do his or her work, there needs to be a respectful relationship established between the reporter and those he or she covers.  Without that access reporters do not have a job.  I disagree with many who say that reporters are often protective of the people they cover.  That may have been the case a few decades ago, but since the beginning of the sensationalizing of sports (a topic I’ll cover in another post) reporters today are more aware of the need to break news regardless of who is impacted.  Again the best reporters do this in a respective, professional manner.   That can’t be said for all those who cover sports.

The sports reporter of today is aided greatly by technology (another topic for a future post).  That technology has yielded what we now know as the 24 hour news cycle.  Reporters now work harder to gain/maintain readership.  The days of writing one game story a day is over.  These reporters now need to file multiple times a day for fear of being out-hustled by a competitor.   As a sports fan I like that I can get my sports news now.

What I don’t like is that the “get it out now” news mentality often means there is less time available for the production of unique content for readers.  Too much time is wasted posting the starting line-ups when the reporter should be working on investigative pieces and player profiles.

The reporters of today (and especially of tomorrow) are those adept at multi-tasking and have a firm grasp of all aspects of media production.  The pad and pen days are over.  Even the voice recorder and Microsoft Word days may soon be over.  Young reporters today are getting skilled in the art of writing, shooting and editing photos and videos, producing podcasts, and speaking in 140 characters or less.  I’m excited by that.  I’m not excited by the prospect that the cost of this well-rounded media education could come at the expense of quality reporting.

Maybe It’s Time to Come Back

Since I announced my intention to take time away from Sports Media Journal to deal with more pressing personal issues, I’ve been itching to get back into the fray.  As we prepare to celebrate our fourth year, now is as good a time as any to return, at least on a limited basis.

I wrote this column when I launched SMJ back in March of 2007 about what I liked and didn’t like about sports media.  As much as there have been some ground breaking changes in the last four years, surprisingly much has stayed the same.  So I thought it would be good for me to take a fresh look at what I feel is the best and worst of how sports is being covered in 2011.  Instead of posting one long column of my likes and dislikes, I’m going to produce individual columns focusing on one aspect of sports media.

Look for them to begin popping up sometime next week.  Thanks!