TBL has a really good interview with Rob King, the Editor-in-chief over at ESPN.com. (courtest Boston Sports Media Watch for the link) It’s arguably the most important job in sports journalism today as his editorial decisions can have a huge impact on not only the way stories are covered by the sports media at large, but the way they’re viewed in the long term. ESPN has been, for most of its existence, a TV-based outlet. But after the last few years when I hear “Oh, did you hear about so and so and the Rays? It’s on ESPN” I think ESPN.com, not the channel.
It’s a small change, but it’s a very important one because ESPN.com (along with Fox Sports and Yahoo Sports, to be fair) represents what will, most likely, be the long-term future of journalism: web-based outlets dedicated to one area of coverage where a few national sites are the sort of go-to for their subject, but who branch out and link to a wide array of diverse opinions to better cover their little part of the world.
On the subject at hand, however, King was surprisingly candid in his remarks about Rick Reilly and Bill Simmons as well as talking about ESPN.com as a whole. It’s refreshing to see somebody in such a position of editorial power to be so open about his job and what it entails.
As the media , and especially the sports media, has become big business it has become less and less common to see the real movers and shakers of the industry openly discussing the decisions they make — especially when they work for what is arguably the most-watched (and most-critiqued) media outlet in your business. Transparency, which should be the hallmark of a free press, now seems to come at a premium.
Honestly, it’s great to finally put a face on ESPN.com that isn’t a writer and that he’s so enthusiastic about where his business is going, unlike a lot of people who seem to be already mourning the death of journalism. Here’s what he had to say about just that topic:
I also consume a lot of news online, whether on individual sites, through feeds or via search. That said, when I hear phrases such as “Print is dead,” I know what folks are saying. Paper and ink and trucks are expensive. But writing and reading are priceless, and they will endure. Of course they will. That’s why you do what you do with this site, and why so many newspapers and magazines are working so feverishly to re-imagine their futures. That’s why mobile devices aren’t just telephones, and why they have to feature (for now, anyway) full keyboards. That’s why the online versions of the NYT, The Washington Post, USA Today and many others enjoyed such dramatic growth in 2008. And I have every confidence that systems built to deliver what is commonly referred to as “print” will continue to emerge, whether they’re things like the Kindle, or the iPhone, or something else altogether.
It’s important not to lose sight of the human toll of this transition, however. Pension plans suspended or abandoned, furloughs, buyouts, layoffs and shuttering of newsrooms … These developments are exacting a terrible price on the energy and commitment that have always driven American journalism. That’s why examples of work such as Eric Nalder’s Polk Award-winning series on malfeasance in military housing contracts, work generated against a backdrop as worrisome as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s, seem more courageous than ever before.