ESPN, Debates on TV, and the Trouble With “Journalism”

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by Kolby Solinsky

Editor, White Cover Magazine

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Every week, Stephen A. Smith says something stupid, and it gets regurgitated across the digital tundra. Skip Bayless follows it up with something just as baiting, and then one of their guests even says something so confusingly racist and offensive that we can only sit back and say, “Well, I guess he’s fired now.” Then, they bring on someone else from another corner of that massive (I’m going to assume it’s big) building in Bristol, Connecticut and they debate it. To Hell with highlights and analysis and news and all that other junk. No, ESPN seems determined to become the BuzzFeed of the sports world, even though BuzzFeed is already the BuzzFeed of the sports world.

Last week, Screamin’ A. Smith made a farce of himself yet again when he said the Chicago Blackhawks point streak was tainted because it had three ties, forgetting the whole (or just plain now knowing) that hockey hasn’t had ties since 2004. So, naturally, they then brought hockey analyst Barry Melrose on to debate him, although all it showed was that Melrose knows far less about basketball than even Screamin’ A. knows about hockey.

Last fall, Liam Neeson was hanging around ESPN. So, naturally, they brought him on SportsCenter to talk about the New York Jets and Tim Tebow. The result was the greatest and most awkward news blunder of the year.

Just yesterday, Seattle’s Richard Sherman attacked Bayless because Bayless so often attacks him, and the ESPN vet wisely backed away into the shade like a gopher afraid of a golf ball and waited for his popularity (negative or not) to skyrocket once again.

(*It’s why I haven’t included ‘Stephen A. Smith’ or ‘Skip Bayless’ in the title of this post. They want notoriety. I’m not so sure they deserve any more of it.)

Every week, something dumber and less legitimate happens. ESPN has become the sports world’s version of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I’m not hating on Kim and Co. That’s their gig, and I get it. In the words of Vito Corleone, “It makes no difference to me how a man makes a living.”

But, if you’re ESPN, something tells me you should stop calling yourselves The Worldwide Leader in Sports.

It’s come to the poin that, if you want real sports and actual insight, you’re better going to the network’s affiliate site at Grantland, and even they seem more preoccupied with reality television and Lana Del Rey than they are with Bill Simmons’s previously beloved Celtics.

(*This, though, is good…)

The worst part, though, is that ESPN lies.

Every show on its waves of air that doesn’t begin with the acronym “PTI” is bombarded with Twitter falls and mentions of the personalities’ social media presence, and they routinely talk about how “Twitter is blowing up” with news of whatever they’ve been talking about. First Take is Public Enemy No. 1 with this, where Screamin’ A. and Skip refer to their own Twitter followers and comments surrounding them.

Yet, I’ve visited Twitter during their shows, and I’ve never once seen anything they’re talking about cracking the United States’ top trends, or even my own feed. It’s not until hours after something happens and somebody else realizes just how stupid those two (or many more) anchors were.

To me, it’s a shame, and it’s disappointing as a sports fan.

Much like CNN and their squandered-all-the-time coverage of almost anything, ESPN has more resources than any other company in their industry and they have the most talented sports anchors and reporters in the game (pun absolutely intended). The network could do anything it wants, and it reduces itself to the athlete’s equivalent of cat videos.

Morning coverage on ESPN has become fluffier and more self-serving than the Today show’s.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed is moving from memes and NSFW-type content to actual journalism, and Deadspin cracked the biggest sports story of 2013, so far.

Go figure.

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Of course, maybe it’s not just ESPN.

A couple days ago, my friend and an editor for Canadian Business, Trevor Melanson, wrote a piece about Toronto and its population, which has grown to eclipse Chicago in metrics. Melanson’s piece was concise and accurate and it dove into the details of an issue that is pretty boring in reality but still merited some discussion.

The result has been a tongue-in-cheek attack from the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Neil Steinberg. Steinbergs’ piece has then attracted responses from the Toronto Star and Yahoo, all of them leeching and spitting up mud and dissecting and dissolving and just plain contaminating the original piece and (worse) the actual story… that story, of course, is that Toronto is kind of a little bit bigger than Chicago.

(*For a full list of this “issue’s” hyena-like reporting done by various media outlets, check out this Google search…)

Yup. Steinberg is now bigger than the story itself. Just how it should be, right?

Steinberg then responded that he only wrote the article in good fun (which he did, although it’s certainly surprising that any of these trained “journalists” at their respective and dying print publications couldn’t figure that out) and that he doesn’t want to be seen as the “Ann Coulter of Canada”.

Naturally, that deserved a story, too.

And, only the Star‘s article mentioned Melanson by name. They critiqued and praised him and they no doubt see themselves as real-life professional journalists (“Wow! Run and tell Mom!”), but they couldn’t even extend him a little well-deserved occupational courtesy.

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Canada, just in case you thought this was an American thing, don’t worry. It’s happening to us, too.

Here’s a screenshot from TSN‘s video player, taken at 9:30 a.m. PST on Friday, March 8.

Self-indulgent doesn’t even begin to describe it, although I’ll admit it could be cool to meet Larry King. Or, have 500,000 followers. Or, win a Kia.

TSN's Video Player Lineup - Bob McKenzie Twitter Followers