Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lies, Libel and Lazy Reporting

It has received little attention in the media, but in an interesting move ESPN NBA reporter Chris Sheridan (on the left in the photo) has filed a libel lawsuit against Peter Vecsey and the New York Post. Sheridan was upset about a column Vecsey wrote in which he criticized Sheridan's reporting abilities and called his reporting of the Carmelo Anthony trade situation a "fairy tale."

Legally, Sheridan's lawsuit has almost a zero chance of success. As a public figure, Sheridan would have to demonstrate malice, proving that Vecsey published false information, knew it was false and published it specifically to hurt Sheridan. Vecsey's article is critical, but hardly rises to the level of libel.

More interesting to me is the disturbing habit these days of media quoting media. In other words, too many stories get covered simply by reporting what other people in the media are writing. Some of it is totally innocuous, such as Sports Illustrated reporting on Charles Barkley's comments to a radio station about a possible NBA lockout. But the point is, no matter how innocent this is NOT sports reporting; it's simply republishing someone else's reporting.

It used to be if you wanted to report on a story you went out and talked to the people involved in it. Today, we simply run around and ask other journalists what they think. I understand there is a tremendous need for content to fill Internet pages, blogs and newspaper space. But this seems to me to be a lazy way to write a story.

Just ask Chris Sheridan.

Friday, June 24, 2011


David Leonard at Washington State passes along this call for a special issue of the Journal of Sport and Social Issues:

Call for Papers
New Media Literacy and Sporting Cultures
Special Issue of Journal of Sport and Social Issues

This special issue works to highlight the dynamic nature of sporting cultures and the transformative possibilities resulting from new media technologies. It attempts to build upon the existing literature all while engaging ongoing debates and discussions. It seeks to foster critical new media literacy in a sporting context, all while elucidating the social, cultural and political significance resulting from the changing sports landscape.

We look for pieces that are theoretically rich, those focused on asking questions and expanding the discussion, and those dedicated to critical analysis.

Essays should be roughly 4,000-5,000 words. Send questions to C.L. Cole at clcole@illinois.edu, and/or David J. Leonard at djl@wsu.edu. Deadline for submissions is February 1, 2012.

Authors should follow the manuscript submission guidelines from JSSI. All papers must be submitted through Manuscript Central.

Monday, June 20, 2011

NBC Takes the Pledge

I'm sorry, but I don't accept NBC's lame apology for its editing of the Pledge of Allegiance during Sunday's final round coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament. The network produced a short feature on patriotism to coincide with the tournament being held near Washington, DC, but in the feature the pledge omitted the words "under God."

NBC's excuse? It really never offered one, other than to say the editing was "not meant to offend anyone." Of course, it did offend quite a few people, including those conservatives who for years have complained about perceived NBC liberal bias.

I do believe NBC slants left (and its cable outlets MSNBC and CNBC go way left), but the main problem here seems to be one of cowardice. Maybe NBC didn't want to deal with calls of complaints from anti-religious groups yelling to "get God out of the U.S. Open" (and on a Sunday, no less!), but there's just no excuse for changing the pledge.

Bad, dumb and unnecessary.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lose a Game, Trash the City

By now, you've no doubt seen and heard the images from the riots that took place in Vancouver in the wake of the Canucks' loss to Boston in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. All across North America today most sane people are asking the same question--why did it happen (and why does it continue to happen in other places)?

The short answers are alcohol and ... the media. Media? Well, to a degree. Alcohol certainly is the biggest culprit, but there's also a segment of the population that does it because they know they'll get in the newspaper, on TV, or even better yet they may go viral on YouTube.

Consider the picture above, which has created quite a sensation since it first appeared on Esquire. The people involved, whom still haven't been identified, have become a cause celeb in the Internet world. Who are they? Why did they stop in the midst of chaos to kiss? In a perverse way, they've become as (in)famous as the couple caught kissing in Times Square on VJ Day.

This isn't one of those rants about the evils of the media in our society; rather, just a sad recognition that the world we live in today is overrun with people who want nothing more than their 15 minutes of fame.

Call me old fashioned, but I liked it much better when such attention-seekers were handled by men like former Colts linebacker Mike Curtis.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How to Use the Media ... and Vice Versa

Two incredibly talented athletes; two lightning rods for controversy; two huge egos. Two ways of using the sports media.

Terrelle Pryor and LeBron James are both in need of some serious reputation repair. James may be the most hated athlete on the planet since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, and his poor play in the NBA Finals was considered a major reason the Miami Heat lost in six games to the Dallas Mavericks. Terrelle Pryor has been forced out of the Ohio State football program, which is still under investigation for some of his questionable activities.

James is using the media as a public confessional. Even after some potentially damaging comments following the Heat's loss in game six, he stepped forward to clarify, apologize and restate his intention to work harder in the off season. James met the media again today with no script and took the heat (pardon the pun) like a man. Even his website reflected a dose of humility and contrition.

By contrast, Pryor had decided to take his PR campaign through super agent Drew Rosenhaus--the same agent who also handles Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, which should tell you something. Pryor held a press event today in Miami (more irony); his scripted statement said nothing and he refused to handle questions. Pryor seems happy to let Rosenhaus to blow his horn for him, which considering what's happened with Owens and Ochocinco may not the wisest decision.

Two athletes in need of reputation repair. James has a long way to go, but at least seems to understand the road to redemption. To be honest, the level of hate against him is so strong, he may never get there. But Pryor just doesn't seem to get it, and he appears determined to head down a road that may one day push James from his position as America's public sports enemy number one.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Investigative Sports Journalism and Local Media

In a previous post we talked about the role of the media in bringing down Jim Tressell (and now Terrelle Pryor) at Ohio State. Without the good, solid investigative journalism at places like Sports Illustrated, that entire situation might have gone under the radar.

Some interesting comments related to investigative sports journalism appeared in a chat in yesterday's Austin American-Statesman. Columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden made the point that because of a bad economy for newspapers, and corresponding cutbacks in staffing and coverage, such investigative work is much harder to do on the local level. Their comments are below:

Q: Do local journalists have a responsibility to expose NCAA violations? Do you have a responsibility to expose violations by (Texas Longhorns) players & coaches, even though you’d become persona non grata in Bellmont for the rest of your careers?

Kirk Bohls: I'd like to think that all journalists feel it's their responsibility to unearth violations or abuses of any kind. Newspapers have severely cut their staffs across the country, which has made it harder to do long investigations. Hard enough to cover all our beats.

Cedric Golden: We're already persona non grata. We have an obligation to expose corruption and report wrongdoing by whomever. Investigative journalism is a great tool, but newsrooms are much smaller these days, which makes the pieces much more difficult to pursue. Some of the best pieces take weeks, months, years to complete. The staffs aren't as equipped compared to past decades.

Kirk Bohls: Newspapers are declining because young readers--too many of them--just want entertainment, and consequently have lost tons of manpower and have smaller staffs. Investigations take a huge time and manpower commitment. People don't understand how important a role newspapers play in checking abuses of all kinds.

And that's a very important point. We seem very willing to turn over sports coverage to bloggers, fans and citizen journalists, but are any of them willing to go beyond boosterism and do the hard work of sports investigation? Do they have the time, resources and courage to do what the Lexington Herald Leader did in exposing corruption at the University of Kentucky basketball program in the mid-1980s (which won a Pulitzer Prize) or what Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams did with the BALCO investigation?

To be sure, many local sports journalists find it easier and more comfortable to play the role of booster and ignore local problems. (The old mantra--"hey, we have to live in this community, too"--is still alive and well). But as long as journalists are willing to take the time and effort to look under the rocks of big-time sports -- and as long as local newspapers are willing to commit to the effort -- we're all better off.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tiger and the Olympics

Two significant developments in sports media today, both involved NBC:

NBC has apparently retained the rights to televise the next four Olympic Games. The winning bid was $4.38 billion, which represents a drop from the current rate. NBC's austerity (if you can call it that) is understandable considering the network lost around $200 million for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. NBC Universal's new owners, Comcast, have spent the entire year cutting costs (and personnel like Dick Ebersol), so the move does come as a surprise. What's not surprising is that the value of mega-events not named the Super Bowl continue to decrease in value.

NBC received some bad news today when Tiger Woods announced he's skipping this month's U.S. Open because of continuing health problems. NBC has the television rights to the Open, and it's a well established fact that golf's television ratings drop when Woods isn't involved. The glimmer of hope for NBC is that Woods has been a non-factor all year and TV ratings have actually been strong at several events.

It might be the first indication that golf viewers are finally adjusting to a post-Tiger world. This is not to say that Woods will not win in the future, but the days of him dominating both tournaments and TV ratings are apparently over. And in the long run that's probably a good thing.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

A Media Salute to the "Big Aristotle"

The NBA is going to miss Shaquille O'Neal, who announced his retirement yesterday after 19 seasons and four NBA titles. In an age of surly, often threatening professional athletes, Shaq was pure fun--from his dozens of different nicknames to his off-court antics. In many ways, he was the world's biggest (7'1", 325 lbs.) kid.

Shaq also had a unique understanding of how to use the social media. He dwarfs (in more ways than one) other athletes with more than three million Twitter followers, and announced his retirement yesterday on the new social media site Tout. "I am the emperor of the social media network," he noted, and it's hard to disagree. Shaq's willingness to interact with fans and his pioneering use of the social media built up a storehouse of good will that long outlive Kazaam.

Shaq will hold an official retirement press conference on Friday, but he's already made his point: knowing how to use the social media is essential for athletes in today's sports environment. Others could take a lesson from the "Big Aristotle," who is now well positioned for any number of lucrative options in his post-NBA life.