Sports Journalism: Why the End of 2009 Portends Poorly for the New Decade

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2010

The internet has changed many of the existing paradigms of journalism as newspapers and magazines have cut staff and expanded their online content.  Before the internet, breaking a story meant publishing the next morning.  Now being the first to report a story is separated by hours and minutes.  As the demand for immediate news rises, it begs the question whether this will hurt sound journalistic practices?

To begin, and more importantly to not confuse ourselves, the majority of journalism is sound and will likely remain so.  Small and regional community newspapers don't fit into this discussion and local beats at major newspapers are usually innocent as well.  But when 20 different news organizations are scrambling after the same story, with the immediacy of technology, problems begin to arise.

For example, the way the Tiger Woods scandal has played out over the past two weeks is indicative of the future of journalism.  In the nascent stages of the story, the internet largely became a dart board of wild theories and stories.  Instead of the Washington Post , New York Times , or ESPN breaking the details of this sordid affair, it was largely gossip outlets like TMZ, RadarOnline, Deadspin, and SportsByBrooks. 

As each organization struggled to find the truth, it was the new media outlets that got some of the early details right because they also had the luxury to get many of them wrong.  However, instead of being equally responsible for both the right and the wrong, they were disproportionately rewarded as more traffic flowed their way even if they only knew a scintilla of truth.

It’s a similar relationship to the United States and China regarding manufacturing goods.  If laborers in China make one-fifth the wages of their American counterparts and they don’t have to comply with the same safety standards, who would manufacture their goods in America?  If these new media outlets don’t have to play by the same rules of journalistic ethics, why won’t the readers just go there and sort the truth out later for themselves?

The rush for immediate news instead of insight and thought-provoking stories is a troubling development.  This is of course not to say that TMZ and the New York Times can’t exist in the same space.  There is room for both and there are enough consumers to support both new and old media.  But, the problem is supply and demand. 

People are demanding the salacious and the tawdry; people want to see celebrities and athletes at their absolute worst.  And that’s not going to change anytime soon.

Take a look at the most popular author on the Bleacher Report, Mike McD .  He has found a niche (which has turned into a palatial manse) by writing side notes alongside photos of attractive women.  He has over 4.7 million page views for his 79 articles.  The next closest person doesn't even have 900,000.  It's not an indictment against him, but a reflection of demand, a demand he is very successfully fulfilling. 

My frustration is that there’s no more time to let a story decompress, to let it breathe.  The immediacy of a reaction usually lends itself to black or white, leaving out the obvious shades of gray that exist.  That’s where the harm to journalism comes in.  The nuance of argument, the careful crafting of a story, the artful display of language at its apogee cannot take place in the 20-minute crafting of a blog post.