Friday, July 30, 2010

LeBron Again?

There was a time when people actually liked LeBron James.

TigerBlog was one of them. He admired the way James played hard, made everyone around him better, actually passed the ball (perhaps as well as anyone since Magic Johnson). TB especially liked how grounded he appeared, given that he had been fawned all over his entire life, and that he had single-handedly turned around his hometown team in Cleveland.

That time when people liked him seems like a long, long time ago. If you do word association with the next person you see and ask him or her to say the first thing that pops into their mind about James, you'll get words like these:

* narcissistic
* spoiled
* selfish
* self-absorbed

All of this, of course, came about because of the way James handled the announcement of his decision to move from the Cavaliers to the Miami Heat, on a made-for-ESPN event that was called "The Decision." The way it's worked out, perhaps a better name would have been "The Decision To Destroy All The Good Will I've Built Up."

ESPN's ombudsman ripped the show and his home network's role in it, citing so many of the obvious reasons why it was an awful decision to run "The Decision."

Even when it seemed like the hits to James had started to decrease, along comes another mess between the star player and the network.

For those who didn't see this, James spent a weekend in Las Vegas, and apparently an writer was in attendance by James' invitation. The writer then filed a story about the experiences, and his story plays to the self-indulgent "I am king" side of James.

The story was on briefly earlier this week before being yanked away. Eventually, ESPN put out a statement that said that the story shouldn't have been up and that the reporter never identified himself as such to James and the people he was with.

This being 2010, the story can be found in any number of other places online, including at Deadspin, which is where TB read it.

When you read the story, you'll realize that there's nothing to it. A 25-year-old with all the money in the world goes to Las Vegas and does what you'd expect. So what?

It would have been forgotten five second after it was read had ESPN not pulled it.

Instead, it becomes another reason to rip on James and even more of a reason to rip on ESPN, which appears to now have an investment in James and is killing a story to protect its investment. The idea that ESPN is simply a news organization, particularly as it relates to James, is gone all together.

Meanwhile, there are all kinds of questions left to ask about the issues raised by the James situation with ESPN and how they apply to the world of sports media in general in the present. What are the rules today?

When TB first started at the newspaper business, rule No. 1 was this: The news is the news; your covering the news is not news. In other words, people care about the game or the off-field news; they don't care about what the reporter had to go through to write about it.

The late Marvin Bressler used to talk to TB all the time about how amazed he was that sportswriters would write about themselves and how this player didn't talk to them or how the press box changed from a central location to one behind the end zone. Why should I as the reader, Marv would say, care about any of that?

Fast forwarding to today, the number of old-fashioned newspaper stories continues to dwindle, replaced by the less-formal blogging. Even TB has become what he hated most as a sportswriter and for much of his athletic communications career, during which he almost never would speak in first person or talk about his own experiences covering Princeton teams. TigerBlog is basically doing those things on a daily basis.

In fact, the very thing that ESPN says it pulled its story for - not being clear about being on the record - is something that TB violates pretty much every day, when he tells his anecdotes about people who never said they were on the record. Still, it seems fairly standard practice these days.

There are a handful of sites that TB likes to go to on a regular basis, and only one of them - the website for the New York Post - is for a traditional newspaper.

The one site that TB likes to think has embraced the world of new media the best is Inside Lacrosse, which recently finished with blanket coverage of the World Championships in England. There was everything you could want on IL's site - video, audio, in-game blogs, first-person FlipCam accounts of the off-the-field experience by players on various teams. What more could you need - except perhaps a traditional 1,200-word game story, and hey, it's one of TB's well-established beliefs that the last thing anyone reads anymore is a game story.

One thing that was obvious from IL's coverage was that they sent their in-house guys to cover the event, as they were everywhere on the site. They also spent much of their time writing about what they (the reporters) did while they weren't covering games. This violates the "your covering the news is not news" tenet, but TB in 2010 doesn't object as much as he used to (though certainly more than most people probably do).

TB also is a frequent visitor to Jon Solomon's, which has some original written content - mostly in the form of postgame recaps - as well as links to any and all things Princeton basketball.

TB is also a fan of Bruce Wood's Dartmouth blog, Big Green Alert, even if he's not an actual Dartmouth fan. TB just likes the way it's all presented, with its mix of original commentary, links to other sites and straight news. Like IL and Solomon's site, this site gives a pretty good indication of where niche coverage (the sport of lacrosse, Dartmouth sports) is going.

There are other blogs - youth sports, politics - and such that TB goes to regularly. Like IL and the two Ivy sites, these are ones that are updated for the most part every day, which is important in getting people into the habit of going there.

TigerBlog, too, is updated every day. The habit of going to a site can be broken quite easily, after all, and the No. 1 way to make that happen is to not keep the content fresh.

Maybe the No. 2 way is to become so out of control with crossing the line between traditional rules of journalism and doing what ESPN has done with James. In just the last few weeks, for instance, it has paid for the right to have James make his announcement on its air, it has distorted the coverage so that it was all James all the time and now has killed a story that wasn't even that unflattering.

Lessons to be learned? Media might not be what it used to be, but some ways of doing things are still wrong. Thankfully.

No comments: