May 9th, 2015

Bill Simmons Fired By ESPN

The Man Himself, Bill Simmons

Today I’ll be writing about perhaps the biggest story to come out of the sports journalism world in a long time. Bill Simmons, the columnist, author, podcaster, TV analyst, and one of the creators of Grantland and the “30 for 30″ sports documentary series, will no longer be working with ESPN, a company he’s been with for almost 15 years. It was announced by ESPN president John Skipper Friday morning, and it came as a surprise to many people because of the popularity of Simmons as a sports personality. While often known for his bold opinions and unabashed homerism of Boston sports, Simmons AKA “The Sports Guy,” earned readers and supporters for offering the fans’ view in the professional media. If you’re a sports fan and have ever watched Simmons on TV or read his columns, it’s not hard to tell that he’s speaking or writing in a very relatable way. Simmons is possibly the most well known sports journalist, and his two books, The Book of Basketball and Now I Can Die In Peace have spent considerable time on the New York Times best seller list.

Deadspin reported yesterday that Simmons learned he was fired on Twitter, and if that’s true, I find it completely unprofessional on the part of ESPN. To treat someone who gained your company so many viewers/readers and so much revenue in that manner seems very petty to me. Bill Simmons has been a part of ESPN for a long time, so I think he’s at least earned the decency of knowing he’s about to get terminated. His opinions were often controversial and his voice prominent, a combination that likely led to the decision to let him go. Simmons was suspended for three weeks last September after harshly criticizing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his handling, or lack thereof, of the domestic violence incidents in the league. Simmons has gone on the record calling Goodell a “coward,” a “liar,” and “lacking testicular fortitude,” among other things. An interesting wrinkle to this story is that Goodell is a very valuable partner to ESPN, which could have contributed to . I’m certainly not saying Goodell personally called up ESPN and told them to fire Bill, but I think he played a role in the decision.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Bill Simmons. Reading his books inspired me, in part, to pursue journalism as a career and I find his writing engaging, smart, and very funny.  Bottom line, I think this firing could be a blessing in disguise for him. He’s no longer obligated to the company that turned its back on him after he gave so much to them, so he’s now the hottest commodity in sports journalism. Simmons is a free agent, and I think it’ll be very interesting to see where he lands. If you’re a major media outlet that offers sports news, I think you’d be an idiot not to call Simmons. If your outlet can offer Simmons a platform where his voice will be heard and he’ll be largely clear of bureaucratic red tape, I think that would be very appealing to him. It would be a massive gain for the platform as well, because Simmons will likely bring a sizable readership wherever he goes.

So what are your thoughts on Bill Simmons? He can certainly be a polarizing figure, so who would be willing to hire him? Let me know.

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May 2nd, 2015

Disaster of the Day

Nepal-The Latest Disaster of the Day?

My blog post this week is going to be about this article from The New York Times. It centers around the relatively short attention span Americans generally have regarding disasters and other crises in foreign countries. Last Saturday, a devastating earthquake struck the nation of Nepal, and to date, the death toll is over 5,000. By any standard, this is considered a serious disaster and it’s without question a tragic event. Humanitarian relief and aid has been pouring in from all over the world, and Facebook even offered users an option to donate from their news feeds, which raised $10 million. Nepal faces a long rebuilding process and by many accounts, the situation is still dire. However, the Nepal story has been largely pushed from the forefront of American news media. The Baltimore riots have been the biggest story for the bulk of the last week, and with good reason. If you go to CNN.com right now, this is what you’ll see on the front page. Not a single mention of Nepal among the top stories.

I definitely think that the writer presents a compelling point. With issues of high importance in our own nation, it’s harder for Americans to care about something far from our shores. While both stories certainly warrant reporting and our attention, foreign news generates far less interest than domestic news. This leads to a phenomenon in which American interest in a foreign tragedy or major event peaks as soon as it happens, but slowly wanes in the coming days and even more in weeks after. Although, I think the media plays a significant role in this phenomenon. Generally speaking, the media tells us what is important and what warrants our attention the most. Last Saturday and Sunday, it was Nepal, without question. But as the protests in Baltimore started to pick up and violence became a part of the equation, suddenly Nepal wasn’t really as important. It’s a lot harder to care about an earthquake in Asia when you have race riots in your own backyard, so of course the mass media is going to place more importance on Baltimore. So I don’t necessarily think a lack of American interest in Nepal is entirely the fault of the general public as the media plays such a large role in our perception of events both domestic and foreign.

I think at the end of the day, this is definitely something that is true and observable. However, it’s not entirely the fault of the American public because the media perpetuates our lack of attention. Nepal was news when it happened, but we’ve moved on, as unfortunate as that is.

So what do you think? Do we, as Americans, have a naturally short attention span for crisis abroad?

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May 2nd, 2015

Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks Game 6 Storify

 

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April 25th, 2015

Why Do Sports Writers Rarely Win Pulitzers?

The Pulitzer Prize, Often Chased But Rarely Caught By Sports Writers

This week, I’ll be discussing this article from Poynter about sports writers getting snubbed by the Pulitzer committee again. Sports writers and columnists have only won a Pulitzer a handful of times in the near 100 year history of the award, and this is sort of surprising. I would say that I read sports articles nearly every single day online, and I often find that the content is excellent. I’m not super familiar with the Pulitzer criteria, but surely someone would write an article worthy of a prize more than once in a decade! The sheer number of people writing daily about sports in the investigative, criticism, and commentary fields is astounding. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that there’s well over 1000 sports columnists, and while not all of them are capable of Pulitzer journalism, I’m certain there must at least a few.

So all of this begs the question, what has to change? I think that sports writing should get its own Pulitzer category because there’s simply too much quality content being produced to not have one. It’s mind boggling to think about how many fantastic articles have gone largely unrecognized by the journalism community and the Pulitzer committee. There’s even a Pulitzer category for editorial cartooning, but not sports writing? Honestly, how many people still do political cartooning for a living? There might be a few, but it’s nowhere near the number of sports writers. Outlets like Grantland have built a huge readership from quality sports writing and features, and I’m sure there’s others too.

I think it’s time for the Pulitzer committee to indiiudlaly recognize sports writing as its own category so that the journalism community as a whole can appreciate the exemplary content that is regularly produced. For too long, this branch of journalism has gone almost entirely unrecognized by the most well-known award organization in the field. There’s simply too many great stories that need telling for that to continue.

Here are just a few sports articles that I’ve read recently that I think exemplify high quality journalism.
Jason Rabedeaux Was Here-Wright Thompson
The Tragic Love Story of Christy Mack And MMA Fighter War Machine-Jane McManus
He’s the Last Boxer to Beat Floyd Mayweather Jr., and He So Regrets It-Sam Borden

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April 19th, 2015

Should The Media Pay For User Content?

A Screen Shot of the Video Showing Officer Michael Slager Shooting Walter Scott

Typically, this interaction works in the opposite way, with users paying for the media’s content. However, this isn’t always the case. On April 4th, a then-unknown individual captured video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shooting and killing Walter Scott as he ran from a traffic stop. Virtually every major media outlet used the footage that was uploaded to Youtube and the video has been viewed millions of times since. Not only that, but the video will likely be a primary piece of evidence if Slager ever goes to court for the shooting because it’s the only  video of the events.

However, as of April 16, news outlets that want to run the footage will have to pay a $10,000 fee. The bystander who took the video, Feidin Santana hired an Australia-based publicity and celebrity management company, who sent out cease-and-desist letters to 10 major media companies with more on the way. According to the NY Times article, the announcement came as a surprise to Santana. As you might expect, his lawyer said it was only fair that Santana gets paid for his footage that media outlets benefited from. The footage has been turned over to law enforcement and now, legally, the question has become “Is the footage still newsworthy?” If the footage is no longer deemed newsworthy, then news outlets are just using it for commercial gain and would be subject to the fee. Media outlets are allowed to use even copyrighted material because of fair use, but Santana is also well within his rights to charge a fee.

This story is interesting to me because as I said, the circumstances are nearly always different in situations like this. Santana’s video is essentially the entire case against Officer Slager, and I think that it’s an invaluable resource, both to the public and to law enforcement. After the numerous shootings of African-Americans by white police officers in the news, there’s finally definitive proof of what happened and it seems like Slager will go to jail for the shooting. Most of the time, news outlets have free reign to use whatever footage is available of newsworthy events. Santana’s video has proven and will prove to be incredibly useful in court, so I believe he should get paid for it. That’s not to say, however, that everyone who captures a newsworthy events can or should be paid. The video was aired countless times on virtually every  network, but until Slager’s trial, the story has largely run its course in the news in my mind. Unless there are new details forthcoming in the case, it’s unlikely that networks will have any need to run the video.

I don’t know how many networks will actually pay the fee, but there’s little doubt in my mind, I think Santana deserves to collect for this. He captured definitive proof of excessive and deadly force being used by a police officer and his footage was used free of charge a number of times, so in my opinion, he should get something out of it.

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April 12th, 2015

Rolling Stone Drops The Ball

The Opening Pages Of The Rolling Stone Article, Now Retracted

This week I wanted to write on Rolling Stone retracting an article they wrote about a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. Last Sunday, the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism published a report concluding that the piece was “the result of failures at every state of the [journalistic] process.” They said that the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify the details of the rape from the piece’s source, identified only as Jackie. The article, entitled “A Rape On Campus,” was published last November and set off a national conversation about sexual assaults on college campuses. As it turns out, the rape itself might not have even happened. Jackie refused to cooperate with the police, who found “no substantive basis” to support the events described in the article. Three of Jackie’s friends quoted in the article deny saying the words attributed to them, nobody matching her description of the main perpetrator could be found, and the fraternity denies even hosting an event on the weekend Jackie says she was raped. The fraternity is suing Rolling Stone, but the writer of the piece, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and her editors will all keep their jobs.

It’s interesting to me that Erderly wasn’t fired for writing this article because it appears that she neglected many of the basic steps of journalism. We’re taught all of those things early on in college, and they’re all very important steps in the reporting process. You can’t simply rely on one source for an entire article and not do additional research, especially with an article of this magnitude. She interviewed Jackie eight times and never once verified quotes from her friends or even basic facts of the story, and I think those are inexcusable errors for a writer of such a large publication. I think that the primary mistake here from the magazine was not maintaining skepticism about the events because of the sensitivity of the subject. Rape is always going to be a hard issue to discuss, and while we should believe rape victims, it’s still necessary for a journalistic entity to verify details of their stories. Publishing unverified details and potential falsehoods does nothing but hurt the validity of other victims’ accounts and the reputation of the publication. Not only that, but imagine being a member of that fraternity now. Their reputation could have been unduly and irreparably  damaged by a false report. I think the writer was too quick to publish something that seemingly confirmed misconceptions about the conduct of young men on college campuses. She found someone who would speak to what many people see as a pervasive culture of sexual harassment on college campuses. Jackie had a very important story to tell and I don’t see anything wrong with publishing it, but a little fact-checking and journalistic skepticism would have gone a long way here.

 

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April 5th, 2015

Three Different Ways To Watch Final Four

Wisconsin Celebrates Their Victory Over Kentucky On 4/4/15

With Wisconsin and Duke meeting in the NCAA Championship on Monday night, fans will have three different TV versions to choose from when watching the game. For the two games of the Final Four yesterday, each game was aired on three TV channels with different commentator teams. Last year, TBS introduced Team Stream, which offers “biased” broadcasts of the college basketball games. Last night, viewers had the choice between a fair, objective broadcast on TBS or broadcasts on TruTV and TNT where the commentators focus their announcing on one team, and even root for them. The commentators chosen for the job are alumni of the school or the conference, as was the case with Rex Chapman of Kentucky and Mike Kelley of Wisconsin.  To avoid confusion, the networks show graphics after every commercial letting viewers know exactly what they’re watching and directing them to the other broadcasts.

I definitely think this is a cool idea, because fans that are invested in their team generally want to hear the commentators agree with them. Especially with things like questionable calls from the referee or big runs by either team, this can really add to the viewing experience. I watched the Wisconsin Team Stream last night, and while the commentators certainly did their job of favoring Wisconsin, it seemed a little over the top at times. Something I thought should not have happened was that a commentator on the Wisconsin stream inexplicably messed up a Badger player’s name or forgot it entirely. He did this more than once. Shouldn’t he be the one to know the team and the strategy better than anyone? I felt as though they might be trying a little bit too hard to favor UW, but I also think that could be the point and I’m sure there’s plenty of fans out there who love that kind of thing. As for me, I prefer the objective broadcast simply because I would rather hear the game be called fairly from both sides. I like the idea of a Team Stream and it seems to be very popular, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. To me, the commentators they enlist for the Team Stream aren’t the best at play-by-play or color and typically wouldn’t have a chance to call a Final Four game. I prefer the objective broadcast because it has to appeal to everyone, so they put the best guys for the job behind the table. Commentators like Jim Nantz or Bill Raferty call college basketball games really well in my opinion, so I definitely like listening to them over the Team Stream guys.

At the end of the day, I like that fans can pick which commentary team they want to hear and I can definitely see the appeal of the subjective teams. I think this is something we’ll see more of in the future.

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March 29th, 2015

The Players’ Tribune: A New Platform For Athletes

Derek Jeter, Founder of The Players’ Tribune

Those in the public eye have to deal with journalists more than anyone else, and I think you can make the case that athletes and coaches are at the top of the list. Before, during, and after every game they play, professional athletes and their coaches, especially those in the “Big Four” leagues (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) have to provide quotes to sports writers and reporters. It’s pretty easy to see that with few exceptions, the quotes are the same. Usually they’re something along the lines of “we just have to give more effort out there,” or “we need to try a different lineup in the second half.” It’s all the same, recycled, quotable, safe, stuff.

However, there’s a new website that gives athletes a relatively unfiltered sounding board. That website is The Players’ Tribune, and it was founded by former New York Yankee Derek Jeter. TPT is a digital-only venture that features content almost entirely from professional athletes without any journalistic spin. Since it launched on October 1 of last year, the website has published content from some of the most prominent athletes in the world, including Blake Griffin writing on Donald Sterling and Tiger Woods criticizing a writer who parodied him. The page’s top articles right now are from Paul Pierce, former NBA player Jalen Rose, and former MLB player David Ortiz. Further down, you’ll see articles from NBA coach Steve Kerr and former #1 MLB draft pick Brady Aiken. TPT allows athletes and coaches, both current and former, a platform to get their real opinions in the journalistic sphere rather than the same stuff we hear from them day in and day out through writers.

I think this site was a great idea, and I’ve found all of the stories to be pretty easy to read and very interesting. For as long as papers and television stations have covered professional athletics, the thoughts and opinions of those in sports have been boiled down to the same collection of quotes. When an athlete does break the mold, Ala Marshawn Lynch or Russell Westbrook, they’re often criticized for speaking their mind or making the jobs of writers more difficult. I would think that essentially repeating yourself using different words on a daily basis would get frustrating, and having a reporter shove a mic in your face after a tough loss undoubtedly requires composure. I think this website is great because it puts some of the storytelling power back in the hands of the key participants in the events. I also think that a large part of the website’s charm comes from being able to tell that these are athletes and coaches, not writers. It makes the content more appealing and authentic in my eyes.

These are the real opinions of prominent sports figures, and I think a website like this is an invaluable resource. I hope to see much more quality content from The Players’ Tribune in the future.

 

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March 8th, 2015

International Women’s Day Ad & Social Media Campaigns

Women removed from New York City advertisements for International Women’s Day

 

As part of International Women’s Day, observed annually on March 8th, many outlets and companies are taking part in advertising campaigns in support of women’s rights worldwide. The most notable of these was enacted by the Clinton Foundation, who worked with ad agency Droga5 to remove images of women from around 40 existing advertisements and posters in New York City. They also put up short videos on Snapchat about their campaign and encouraged social media users to change their  profile pictures to this blank woman’s silhouette. Several prominent women have done this, including Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, and model Kate Upton. The media company iHeartMedia removed women’s voices from well-known songs on 186 of its radio stations across the United States. The Clinton Foundation’s endeavors were mainly aimed at driving online traffic to Not-There.org and their No Ceilings initiative, but all this was part of an effort to call attention to gender inequality worldwide. Additionally, the hashtags “HappyInternationalWomensDay” and “NationalWomensDay” were top trends nearly all day in the United States.

These types of sweeping ad campaigns seem to be a growing trend among companies looking to cut through the media clutter and get their message to as many people as possible. I think this is especially important because all of us are exposed to so much content every day, so it pays to have a profound and impactful campaign like this one. These kinds of purpose-driven ads have exploded in recent years as companies continue to look for new ways to reach and connect with customers. Many entities have had success with this and I definitely think the trend will continue into the future.

Gender inequality has become a larger and larger issue in recent years and has gained the public support of many female celebrities, politicians, and athletes. This type of unified effort makes headlines and gets people talking about your issue, so I would say that it’s accomplished its goal.

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March 2nd, 2015

Bill O’Reilly and Fox News

The Man Himself, Bill O’Reilly

I’ve written on Brian Williams and the controversy of his Iraq War coverage. NBC’s response to this was swift and Williams was subsequently suspended for six months, throwing his career into jeopardy. But what if I told you that a heavy hitter at another major network was involved in controversy not unlike the one Williams faced? That particular anchor is Bill O’Reilly, and over the course of the last week, he has faced allegations that he lied about several events throughout his journalism career. These include lying about witnessing the execution of nuns in El Salvador, being attacked by protesters during the LA Riots, and about hearing the suicide of a figure closely connected to the JFK assassination.

These allegations aren’t too far from Williams status  in the spectrum of “lying in the mass media.” O’Reilly has taken to his TV show to confront his accusers, even going so far as to call one of the authors of a Mother Jones article “an irresponsible guttersnipe.” The interesting part is that instead of suspending O’Reilly, the network is coming to his defense. It makes sense because O’Reilly is a huge moneymaker for Fox News with his “no-holds barred” style of reporting. He pulls punches and is unapologetic, which is a far cry from Williams or other nightly news anchors. While he certainly has his fair share of detractors and controversy, O’Reilly’s conservative crusades over the years have pulled in viewers far and wide. While he may insult his critics on television and has likely been accused of racism more times than Donald Trump, Fox News has chosen to defend him rather than cast him off repeatedly over the years.

Regardless of your opinion on O’Reilly, the man makes money. At the end of the day, that’s what will be important to Fox News. When examining the circumstances of the events and the responses of the respective networks, it’s interesting to see the differences. I won’t make any claims or generalizations about the networks and their approaches to handling controversy, but it’s hard to imagine Williams’s suspension drawing half the backlash from viewers as O’Reilly’s would.

 

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