Does Deron Williams breaking his own news spell the end of sports reporters?

by azaleon

Deron Williams didn’t need the media.

The NBA guard had an announcement to make, so he made it. He had decided to stay with the New Jersey-now-Brooklyn Nets and chose to share the news by tweeting it to his 182,000+ followers, in addition to the eyeballs that saw one of 10,000+ retweets.

No reporters, no rat race to be first, no mess related to misattribution or bad information (looking at you, CNN Obamacare decision coverage). But in an unintentional last-ditch effort at relevancy, ESPN NBA writer Chris Broussard tweeted, “just got this text from Deron Williams: ‘staying in Brooklyn’” 16 minutes after Williams tweeted it, himself. I don’t need to explain to you the silliness of all this, but in case you need more Broussard love, the folks at Deadspin have you covered.

But this case is not isolated. The way in which the Williams news was reported is a microcosm for a growing issue in sports journalism in the Internet Age- how to stay relevant and needed.

Many years ago, in a land not so far away, sports franchises relied on the media to draw attention to their teams and newspapers, as a print medium, controlled the message. Simply put, the newspapers had a way to reach many people (a printing press) and the teams did not.

But then the world was introduced to one simple letter repeated three times, followed by a period and everything changed.

An endless blank canvas was created and we all had a paintbrush…even the team owners and athletics directors. They no longer needed journalists to write about their teams, and better yet, the Internet has become the most popular way to consume news. As was the case with Williams, teams and players can now deliver news on their own terms from their own Twitter accounts and websites.

And here’s a scary question: what’s stopping teams from cutting off all media access to their players and coaches, tomorrow? Really, what if all news and information came directly from the teams, themselves? It wouldn’t hurt the teams. Fans would still watch games, follow their favorite players and spend absurd amounts of money on jerseys they look ridiculous in.

If this scenario played out it wouldn’t hurt the teams, but it would hurt everybody else because there would be no independent, third-party coverage.

Now, I know journalists like to wave the flag of being unbiased and make themselves feel superior to fans. It sometimes comes off as pretentious, I get it.

But the truth is, if teams’ own media relations departments overtook independent journalists, the general public would have to endure loads of slanted coverage. Here are some of my favorite examples:

  • November 13, 2010- Indiana football loses to No.6 Wisconsin, 83-20. On iuhoosiers.com, an AP story is used, the headline reads “Indiana Suffers Loss to No. 6 Wisconsin, and the subheading is, “Duwyce Wilson hauled in a 62-yard reception for a touchdown.” Yes, Wilson’s touchdown was really the highlight of the game. [link]
  • June 27, 2012- The Baltimore Orioles get pounded by the Angels, 13-1. The team’s official Facebook page sends out the following update following the loss: Image
  • And for the coup de grace, search Penn State Athletics’ website for “Sandusky.” [link]

This doesn’t even include those fantastic stories about athletes off the field, which most public relations coordinators are wise to avoid. There’s this GQ piece on Marvin Harrison’s double life in Philadelphia, SI’s Chris Ballard reporting on NBA has-been Antoine Walker and Lee Jenkins sharing a side of LeBron we didn’t know about. These are the stories that only writers, who do not have a stake in a team’s fortune, can bring you.

Teams can now create their own message to compete with that of sports journalists. But as long as there is a public interest in straight-forward and complete coverage, team-delivered information will never surpass independent writers…unless the latter goes bankrupt, that is.

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