I’ve used the discussion thread to solicit media stories, but I’m interested in something more specific here: What are your media gripes in sports or otherwise? Curious as to what readers want more or less of from the media hivemind…
One thing that has bothered the past few years about sportswriters on twitter is their compulsion to answer trolls and then act like the trolls are a significant portion of the fan base. 40 idiots in your mentions do not represent the entire fan base.
There’s also this thing where they pick out the dumbest idiot’s reply and “dunk” on them to look cool and get a few likes.
My main gripe is the ideological conformism. There's often no point in reading media takes on an issue anymore. I know what the "correct" opinion is so why bother reading (or listening in the case of NPR)? And I know in the past writers sometimes strayed too far into "both sides-ism" but I think we've dramatically overcorrected to the point that many journalists feel their primary job is to carry water for a specific cause and thus never criticize it, question it, or present any info that makes it look bad.
The amount of deference former players get as analysts is really weird to me. It's like a weird kabuki where everyone at ESPN has agreed that Kendrick Perkins and Jalen Rose are just as insightful about the NBA as Zach Lowe and Kevin Pelton, when any functioning adult can see that's not the case. It's really weird!
My biggest gripe is the hive mind. Everything seems performative. NBA twitter is almost sickening. It feels like a bunch of 12 year olds at the cool kids table.
Where do I start Ethan!
1. Media are outraged that fans turn on players once they leave team as if that’s not the very point of fandom - support your team, hate the enemy. (Players dont get this either and yet this is how fandom is everywhere in the world except the US apparently)
2. Let’s be honest, there’s a ton of NBA media that always wanted to be liked by jocks in school. Now famous rich athletes call them by their first name in the locker room and they finally feel fulfilled (ok Im being an a***hole, and it’s not a question, but rather part of the reason we have such unbalanced pro-player media sentiment).
3. Woj/Shams are PR media monitoring services. (Gorkana etc) Not actual journalists.
4. The decline of sports writing - as in, people with Twitter following are getting hired with no talent to write but people that can - you know - actually write get overlooked often.
5. How sports media in the US have covered gambling and sports. In Australia, gambling is grossly saturating the advertising during games and has long had a strong culture there. Ask how gambling has destroyed families and created toxic cultures in some local sports there… The lack of critical analysis of NBA and gambling from US media was disappointing from my perspective. (I’m not anti- gambling in ever form but there can’t just be this “let’s goooo! attitude from across media)
NBA media as Hagiography.
Gambling has become so mainstream and accepted in sports. It is probably the biggest advertiser in sports today. Would a story on the "elephant in the room" fixing of a game or series of games be buried or have sunlight as the Donaghy stories had. Its a different world whereby losing gambling revenue can be a deciding editorial decision.
This is really timely because I wanted to complain about the floating Sarver story. I think media hyping their stories pre-release is increasingly common and VERY shitty. It lets media entities put whatever spin they want on a story totally and completely uncontested while dodging any and all fact-checking. It's the total anthisis of good reporting and I'm frankly surprised how few complaints about it seem to exist.
The twitterification of news media, in multiple ways:
1. Social posts are now substance for "News", and articles are made out of a tweet, an Instagram post or even *shudder* a tiktok.
2. It seems unbiased journalism is no longer an ideal to strive for. Captions are loaded with adjectives from a spicy tweet to tell the reader how to interpret the information. The information is no longer the subject, it's the reaction to the information which is the story (which is a very Twitter problem)
3. The success of news on Twitter is it's immediacy, yet other news websites and news TV which are not built for immediacy have collectively decided that immediacy is the currency of all news. Hence they become glorified aggregators, and ever eager to publish a story quickly, accuracy and quality are sacrificed.
Coverage and commentary on labor issues can get kinda ridiculous. Yeah sports team owners are billionaires, but players make tens of millions of dollars, more or less. Sports media (especially baseball media) portrays these players as if they're factory workers or something.
Hey Ethan ! Great stuff here - just subscribed after your Megyn Kelly interview. I listened to Jackie MacMullan a while back talking on the Ringer about how she has to counsel young writers on feeling comfortable criticizing players. It’s very obvious to me that some journalists tip toe around players because they are afraid to lose access to players for “criticizing” them. I don’t know what’s more ridiculous, the journalists for being afraid of oversized divas or the players themselves that don’t seem to think they have room for improvement. Bad behavior never arises out of a vacuum, there are always several people enabling its perpetuation. Media is supposed to work as a check and balance for the fans and this whole unconditional positive regard doesn’t do anyone any favors. But I love the new NBA Mix channel on my League Pass !
NBA media personality often act as if they are moral authorities on topics they have no expertise on.
More generally, the way fact checking works in media is totally twisted. Updates to pieces don't get nearly as many views so there are essentially no consequences for getting something totally wrong.
The partnership between big tech and media orgs is disturbing. Best illustrated by YouTube banning non-consensus information throughout pandemic then having to change this repeatedly as new information comes out. What was ban-worthy 6 months ago is often plausible today.
The Joe Rogan-CNN thing illustrates a lot of problems with media more generally.
more voices in north america coverage like rory smith, less adam schefter characters.
NBA coverage in general feels like a race to the bottom - chasing social media clout or league office stamp of approval.
I feel like there’s a culture in sportswriting that when something negative off-the-field/court happens, sportswriters feel they MUST comment or MUST share their opinion on said occurrence. I get it in the sense that they cover the sport and that’s part of their job, but at a certain point, it’s just reading the same thing over and over again.
To share a recent example, the whole hubbub about the Atlanta Braves nickname in MLB. Now I personally don’t have an opinion on it, but some MLB writers felt compelled to “take a stand” on why using the Braves nickname was bad and offensive and all that. And I haven’t read a sportswriter write a thoughtful article about why they’re okay using the nickname; it’s all, “oh I’m taking a stand by not using Braves and here’s why.” It’d be nice to read thoughtful articles about both stances on an issue like that, not just the “correct” stance.
I hate that the lines separating investigative journalist and conversational pundit have blurred so much in an age where misinformation and speculation can amplify so quickly. When a media member talks, that carries weight, whether the stuff they're saying comes from sources or comes from conjecture.
There's so many opportunities for reporters to go on a radio show or podcast or 24 hour sports network that needs to fill time. Those shows have listeners and viewers that want to be entertained and are demanding instant answers, and hosts will ask their guests questions that prompt speculation or prediction or opinion that might not be backed by the same level of rigorous sourcing that they put in their articles.
And then reporters will say things casually in conversation that then get reduced to Twitter-sized chunks to promote the show and it gets retweeted until fans take those casual remarks as gospel. By no means do I think this is intentional on the reporters' parts. No human being operates on a level of 100% guaranteed truth at all times during all conversations. But nonetheless these conversations still shape narratives, and players get defensive about narratives (as you know all too well, Ethan).
I'm not saying reporters should never go on shows or never say anything that isn't on the same level as their hardcore investigative articles. They're people too. They're allowed to have those things and show their personality a little bit. But I definitely appreciate it a lot more when a reporter on one of these shows just says "I just don't know right now" or "it would be irresponsible for me to speculate" or "I want to make this clear that this is just my own speculation" or "This is the fan in me talking, not the reporter" or something like that.
I think over-politicization is a symptom of what I think is the true gripe I have with sportswriters (though it's a feeling I can understand!), which is that a lot of them seem desperate to talk about anything but the game they actually cover.
There's also over-gambling, which is about 60% casino advertising, 35% conventional sports talk with gambling terms thrown in, and 5% from sharps (many of whom are line manipulators or similar munchkins, not handicappers) complaining about being banned.
Lots of potential topics, but the mainstreaming-of-gambling comment below gets at something that bothers me in sports media. I'm not stridently against this development, necessarily but it seems like it has been accepted with so little reflection, pushback, analysis of the potential downsides -- just treated as if it's inevitable in a way that it simply isn't. And, for instance, all of those David Purdum articles that frequently show up on the front page of espn.com, which in my experience are disproportionately about how sportsbooks took a bath on some game (or are at risk of doing so) -- these seem so transparently to function to pump interest in gambling (maybe not written for that purpose, but highlighted / pushed to the top for that purpose, anyway), since it's good for business when people think they can beat the house. I'd just like to see a little bit more criticism / reflection on all of this in sports media, rather than shrugging and treating it as inevitable.
I watch a lot of English sports and English sports coverage, and the wokeification of things over there is more prevalent than anything currently experienced in America.
I was watching Sky Sports News yesterday and they showed these three stories in succession:
* International praise for Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo for coming out as gay (this is a good story!)
* South African cricketer Quinton de Kock apologises for not taking the knee in the T20 World Cup, and subsequent reaction
* F1 driver Lewis Hamilton is excited to remain in the sport and be a voice for change and diversity
Ok, these are all stories. But they are all personal interest. Where are the fucking scores!
I'm not a politics and sports don't mix guy. Or a stick to sports guy. But for all the criticism that American sports coverage faces, they are still - for want of a better term - a result-based business.
As previously mentioned by Ethan, the NFL has got it the most right in that, yes there are other things going on in the sport but the game is the game. That's why we're watching.
In sports: It’s kind of amazing how small the ecosystem is. ESPN has 4,000 employees, and I know many work in production or behind the scenes areas - but it’s amazing how much the same faces appear. If there’s a trade or contract, Bobby Marks is really the only person who can comment on it? I think it just makes the whole thing really repetitive. Not just that they run the same hits throughout the day on the á la the traffic report on local news, but it sprinkles into the podcast and twitter worlds where guests go on five different shows to make the same points as if it’s a book tour. I think it pushes people to really limit the number of sources they pay attention to, because it’s pointless and repetitive otherwise.
In general: both sidesism. The media is not an apolitical entity, that’s fine. It’s impossible to explain what is happening with politics without having some sort of political leaning. But it’s far worse on one end of the political spectrum than the other, yet we act like CNN is the exact same as OAN. And the media as a whole is so afraid of that that they spend so much energy publishing horrific stories that give credence to lunatic fringe ideas for what can only be fear of being labeled as political. (I say “what can only be” because if these companies think they are going to peel away Fox News diehards with these efforts, they are absolutely clueless)
One of my biggest gripes is the lack of coverage for small market teams. I understand what Kevin Arnovitz said years ago about the Heat Index, the most exciting teams should be discussed. However, I think that the focus on star players has gone much too far.
I am a Thunder fan who writes and edits a website covering the team. If you look around at our local media landscape, there is only one professional beat writer who earns a living covering the team. Everybody else who covers the team is unpaid or receives small compensation for their time. There is no national writer covering the Thunder at all. Nobody from The Athletic, ESPN, USA Today or whoever.
The problem with the lack of diversity in the space is that two duelling narratives have emerged. Locally, people are excited by the young guys and believe that the team has a lot of promise. Nationally, all I seem to hear is that the Thunder are a disgrace and that rebuilding is a sin that should never be committed. There is no convergence between either viewpoint, it is simply two different stories. There has to be some coverage from national publications so that they can actually understand what is going on a local level.
As a media member myself, I've often wondered when home broadcasts really started to become "home" broadcasts. I've always heard stories of Bill King, and how he told it like it was, despite being employed by the team he spoke on. That's certainly changed, as anyone who pays attention would acknowledge. Always love any insight on this. Keep you the good work, and continued luck.
I got a notification from The Athletic a couple of days ago “Rick Carlisle thinks Kevin Durant should of been ejected” and I thought to myself… Really? This is what we’re doing now? Seems like nuanced and thoughtful articles offering interesting critiques of the sport or culture/discourse around it are few and far between. It’s all just quick easily digestible clickbait. I always look forward to your articles as I know they will be interesting and whilst I may not always agree It will make me think. Very few people in the media seem prepared to take risks or go against the grain on any hot button issue. Perhaps twitter has all these people brainwashed. That rolling stone NBA anti-vax article for example that everyone lapped up on “NBA Twitter” was one of the most bizarrely written pieces I’ve ever read. Yet no one seemed to even raise an eyebrow as far as I saw.
I wouldn’t mind if you went even deeper into “woke ESPN” than you already have, or into the equivalent reaction to same that’s pushed people into reading Barstool or out of sports media entirely. And it would also be interesting to check in with The Athletic and try to understand if it’s working or not, and if so, why.
First, I want to note that I am not blaming journalists nor am I blaming editors who are chasing dollars/clicks. If I have a gripe, it's that we are missing true reporting on the sports side. Lots of it is commentary and hot takes and reaction to what everyone just witnessed. It's harder to find stories you cannot see for yourself. The reporting that does get done often tends to just hit on polarizing topics vs. interesting, unique angles. I say it's not the journalists fault because those stories probably don't receive the attention (clicks) they deserve because most people aren't as interested as I am.
What I want more of: the game. Big thing for us Australians was being able to see the coach's huddle broadcast live on TV during the timeout in NBL games. You'd catch Brian Gorjian passionately dropping F bombs on his team or Phil Smyth calmly talking through the game plan. Would be amazing to see that in the NBA, showcasing the in-game talk, strategy and mind games of coaches and players.
Quite simply I don't think the truth matters anymore. Narrative has become more important. It seems to me media has become pick your side then tell your audience how bad the otherside side is.
This is specific to boxing and problems that go much deeper than its media, but the beat writers never really acknowledge the politics at work between the major promoters of the sport and why the best fights never get made. Some will lament that the sport is suffering in a more general way as years go by and guys like Terrence Crawford and Tank Davis continue fighting B+ talent, but promoters never get named and the inner workings of the industry are never revealed. They know exactly what is going on and why, but there is an aspect of false naivety in boxing writing that has always made me hope someone would come along and write about what is really going on with Haymon, Hearn, and Arum and how the business really works.
Any interest in being the guy that blows the lid off the sport? Even some honest reporting into the details of fighters’ contracts would be a revelation at this point.
Funny - I listened to Nate Jones and Ethan and Amin say lack of reporting in the bubble hurt engagement. Now we are criticizing. It’s like anything, good and bad. I have so many reporters , and writers I enjoy. Bontemps, McMahon,Slater, Thompson - the list is long. Obviously Ethan or I wouldn’t be paying money here and I bought his book. Hone in on the people you trust and learn from and avoid the others. I’m old - I’ve followed sports for over 50 years- I’ve seen the changes . Obviously breathless speculation about trades, possible trades and free agents are tiresome. On the other hand film breakdowns and things to notice on teams, players who are breaking through ( I.e Miles Bridges) are enjoyable. Also people like Greg Cosell, Andrew Brandt and Michael Silver opine on sports with no agenda. I was raised on SI and I grew to love the written word on Sports from people like Jenkins,Nack, Gary Smith and locally like Bruce Jenkins , Scott Ostler and Tim Keown made my enjoyment of sports through the media enriched.
Ethan - I think for me the lack of options when watching live event broadcasts in 2021 are the most troubling. The Manningcast isn’t perfect but it’s more enjoyable as someone who has the game on in the background while doing other things than the tradition broadcasts. With people having their home setups these days, I would like to see at least offerings from networks to hear alternate commenters on broadcasts.
Golf in particular is something that lends itself to an alternate broadcast, especially with gambling being so prominent. A cut sweat broadcast on Friday afternoons is something that I have enjoyed from people I respect in the gold community.
People like LeBatard/McAfee/Duncan are knowledgeable/entertaining enough to give viewers alternate viewing options.
I vacillate between being entertained and annoyed by the Stephen As of the world, but I guess I don’t have a legitimate gripe about that sort of coverage because I do tune in. I’m puzzled though as to how somebody like big perk gets elevated to the top of the analyst game. Mainstream NBA media takesmen are extremely mediocre at covering the actual sport when you add in the TNT guys. I suppose there isn’t sufficient demand for a Nate Duncan type, but maybe somebody in between those extremes? They exist but they typically don’t get airtime on the most popular shows. It’s weird.
As for the broader media, where do I even start? I actually think Trump was right when he called them the “enemy of the people”. He probably said that for his own narcissistic reasons, but it was true nonetheless. You alluded to this in your discussion with Megyn Kelly (you were great btw). Do they actually care about this country and it’s citizens? I think the answer is a resounding NO.
Ethan, I read your interview with The Hub yesterday and enjoyed it. I got the sense that perhaps you or your previous employer got a nudge from somebody in the upper echelon of the NBA to dial back your observations on the ratings decline that began in 2020. True, or is that a reach?
Woj and Shams are both very good at breaking news, and both very very bad at speaking in front of a camera. Woj especially. This dude just cannot put a sentence together without multiple long pauses, he thinks we're hanging on his every word for even his most uninteresting thoughts. I cannot listen to the guy, it drives me insane. Shams is the opposite, he talks so quickly that he trips over his own words. I get why things are the way they are, but it's just stupid to me that a news breaker becomes popular and now needs to be shoved down our throats in all other areas, even when they are very obviously deficient in those areas.
I listen to wayyy too many basketball podcasts each week, and the amount of times I hear the exact same point, explanation, or even opinion spread across multiple platforms and voices is becoming inane. One of the reason's I was drawn here (and to your work in the past) is the general assumption that I will NOT be getting the exact same spiel. Also a lot of the prominent media figures today talk too much and don't do enough listening or actual engaging in their interviews. Pablo Torre's recent Bob Voulgaris interview was a splendid recent outlier.
Media "reporters" in sports are frequently just PR for leagues. Take this WFT 'scandal' that exists. It sounds like an employer / CEO was actively taking nude pictures of employees, hiring and overseeing a workplace that fostered sexual harassment/assault, casual racism/bigotry, etc. Aside from a couple of amazing investigative journalists at ESPN, I see almost zero actual journalism trying to get to the bottom of what's transpired in this instance. More generally, media does not cover sports entities in a critical manner, and I think there's a ton of fascinating stories that might be uncovered if there was thought/mobilization put around this.
I'm interested in reading HofS, but it may be worthwhile to consider your pricing. Reading ES costs as much per month as The Athletic now charges for a year. It's about the same as getting NFL Pass. I am no business maven, so it's just a thought.
TV Blackouts, the last gasp of air by the old linear TV model. But which sport is gonna be brave enough to shred that model and end local blackouts on their streaming service, and how can the public at large reward that effort?
Sports coverage entities, leagues, and players all seem to have conspired to make everything boring. Which is understandable. But is there an audience for this? More importantly, is there any way back once the screen protecting fans from the behind-the-scenes BS has been lifted?
I would really love to see some push back from media when in press conferences players/coaches act super entitled or as if the media person doesn't "know anything" because they didn't play that particular sport professionally. I just wish that media members could "clap back" sometimes, even though I understand why they cannot because of the power dynamic. It bothers me that the conversation is often so one-sided.
I’m sure you’re looking for something like “There’s not enough Pansexual Melanesian representation among Sportscenter anchors!” to fuel the next stop on your “Roll your eyes at the left tour” with “friend” Ben Shapiro, but I’ll stick to some more tangible gripes. 😉
I wish NBA media would stop saying stuff like “ There’s more to the story, but I don’t want to get in trouble” or “I wish I could say more, I really do.” Either say it or don’t, but cease the surreptitious teasing. Or better yet, admit that you enjoy the tease! Admit that you derive pleasure from holding leverage over other dorks who care about the information you have access to. I’m impish myself, I get it. Just stop the charade!
More a podcasting thing, but the snark and dismissiveness in evaluating players has become intolerable. Before the 2020 draft, Nate Duncan (whose content I value/subscribe to) said of 22 year old Obi Toppin “I think he’s terrible.” Terrible? The guy hasn’t played a second of NBA basketball and you’re publicly declaring him “terrible”? Nate’s not alone. These players are the top 1% in the world at what they do. “Stinks” and “trash” should never be uttered after their names. There’s a way to honestly evaluate their games without the type of overwhelmingly negative language that’s frankly embarrassing to hear from pundits and blog bois. I don’t want them to “eat crow” later. We’re all smart enough to realize you’re not going to bat 1.000 Just be less of an asshole when you swing.
Perhaps more than anything, I wish you guys could experience a slight electric shock every time you declare “everyone is saying” or “No one is talking about.” If you believe in whatever it is you’re saying, there’s no need to preface it with something so insecure and uninteresting.
Really thoughtful and well-considered comments. Glad I’ve subscribed. Cheers.
I would like to hear your views on claims of media bias. Is it an organized effort or is it just the clubby nature of the business. Bias by omission in daily reporting seems clear but is contrary reporting discouraged?
In Australia there was a big scandal around the Olympics because Liz Cambage, half Nigerian WNBL player and Aus national player, sensationally quit the national team citing racism, and then was accused of saying some racist shit to a Nigerian player in an Australia vs Nigeria game. Later Andrew Bogut said he’d heard what she said and that it was racist and “absolutely disgusting”, but what she said has never come out.
If you know or find out what actually happened it could be interesting not only to break news for Australia, but also for the conflict between someone who until then had come across as super woke (she’d criticised the Australian Olympic promo photos for being too white) saying some racist shit to a Nigerian player when she is half Nigerian.
Also, then during the olympics she then posted on instagram that she was going for Nigeria instead of Australia who she’d played for for years.