Dwight Howard and the Media: A Mutual Ruining of Credibility
Yet more Dwight trade talk—stop me if you've heard this one before. This time, it's from top NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
Orlando and the L.A. Lakers are engaged in 4-way talks with Denver and Philadelphia on a Dwight Howard blockbuster, league sources tell Y!
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 9, 2012
Much blame has been foisted on Dwight Howard and his wishy-washiness, probably for good reason. He has appeared bumbling, manipulative, frivolous, annoying—sometimes, all in the same press conference.
Media members have been quick to make light of this, quick to make light of him, but they have not mocked what he's done to them. Dwight has lost a lot of credibility with fans, due to his false declarations of "loyalty" and Stan Van Gundy's subsequent ouster. It's hard to bounce back from this:
Since that point, and likely a bit before it, the basketball news media has been losing credibility on account of their constant reportage of Dwight trade rumors.
There is such a competitive want to be first. While there is absolutely no value in actually being the first person to report a trade (we will learn about the deal eventually, obviously), sports reporters are in a cutthroat mission to be that guy.
Dwight rumor after Dwight rumor has filtered through the Twitter timelines of respected reporters. The Lakers are clearly a Dwight option, and their interested fanbase is legion. The mere mention of a Howard possibility makes for great linkbait.
The league is rife with executives and players who want certain rumors out in the world, rumors that can further an agenda. Sometimes it's just about the power of suggestion. If the media considers the possibility of a trade you prefer, then the trade can become all the more feasible. Sometimes it's about back-biting or putting blame at the foot of a rival. Sometimes, it's a simple smoke screen, designed to throw people off the scent of secret intentions.
As these power players attempt to turn journalists into pawns, the journos are under pressure to release a lot of unsourced information. And there is little to no punishment for being wrong.
I believe that Wojnarowski is telling the truth about this complicated-sounding trade that involves 13 percent of the league's teams. I'll give Marc Stein and Chris Broussard doubt's benefit when they report on heard information. But the hypothetical question is: How would we know when they're wrong?
When these rumors don't pan out, there is no culture of accountability. The writers themselves rarely explain why the trade didn't come to fruition. It's just on to the next rumor, in perpetuity.
So we have a moral hazard here. Anonymous-sourced trade talk gets clicks, but you can still be respected while spreading false or ultimately meaningless rumors.
The Dwight situation has been a caricature of the faulty rumor-mill process. Readers are growing weary and distrustful of the constant Dwight teases (Brooklyn? Los Angeles? Orlando?). They'll still click, though. We're all part of the problem.
I don't see much of this changing, as social media demands an ever unflinching gaze at the present. Our hyper focus on right now renders us less able to remember anything past right now. Reporters will keep goose-chasing rumors, and readers will continue to click.
The sports media will lose credibility, but credibility does not pay the bills. Being first or being interesting is more important than having a great shooting percentage.
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