In Brief: The Horror of Cairo, and the Business of Sports Journalism

Whether we would like to admit it or not, Al Jazeera has bested our feeble, profit-minded news networks with their coverage of the revolt in Egypt. When I turned on the TV to see what angle CNN was covering the breaking story with, they were discussing the continuing domestic squabbling in Washington. A host on Fox News was conquering the topic of “anchor babies” with a Republican legislator. It was ghastly.

Online, Al Jazeera English was live from a high-rise, where some intrepid journalist was hiding his crew’s camera while the post-curfew riots began to swell beneath him. Tanks and armored trucks poured out onto the streets below.

The video was terrifying, but necessary to understand the reality of the situation. John King talking about the ramifications of this revolution with State Department officials is just a little bit harder for a journalist than making a bowl of cereal. It is nothing more than the beast feeding the beast. The American news coverage speaks to how deeply flawed the quintessentially American field of sports journalism has become, and the harder I think about it, the worse off we already are.

Every Sunday for the rest of the season, ESPN is going to show a couple basketball games on national television. Unfortunately, as blackout rules operate today, the television-viewing public has no other alternative than to watch Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, et al barely discuss a game while talking about sneakers, charitable donations, and Disney products. If it were up to ESPN, a game would be all dunks and lob passes leading to dunks. Everybody knows this: their business has nothing to do with the sports they feign covering. Regardless, this is the leading voice in sports journalism and the people who move our discussions.

For a couple nights previous to this, metropolitan Boston had the pleasure of listening to Bill Walton covering two games of a Celtics road trip, against Portland and Phoenix. This return to broadcasting for Walton has been much lauded in the blogosphere, but more for Walton’s proclivity for exaggeration than his educated, nuanced approach to color commentary. Through Walton’s lips, I actually heard the defense being described, by a source other than NBA Playbook. It was visionary. There was more than that, but I'd like to keep this brief.

This is shit that we have known for a long time, the utter ineptitude of ESPN as an informational foundation for sports. But where cable news networks have each other for competition, and at least sort of a history within the field of “journalism” to attempt to seem Real, within the world of sports journalism there is no equivalent. Despite how many bloggers ESPN buys into their “Truehoop” network (like NBA Playbook), their continued demeaning of what we could be doing as a field is evident every day.

Besides entertainment, what do we get out of Pardon the Interruption or Sportsnation? If we can start an alternative that is not reliant on the same paradigm of access and privilege, our discourse could be much stronger, more in tune with the politics we have, and more relevant to how hard these people beat themselves to entertain us. We just have to figure out where to start.


Kelly said...

To be fair to ESPN, they have upped their Xs & Os quotient on Monday Night Football with Jaworski and Gruden. I think Van Gundy and Mark Jackson are also occasionally good... but I'd love to hear the NBA Playbook guy work a game sometime.

Kelly said...

I'd also love to hear Bill Walton call the overthrow of a dictator.

Chris said...

i really don't watch football, but i think specifically because of "madden", viewers have a much more educated level of engagement with the sport they're playing - they want to know the plays that the defense and offense are playing so it can compare to their own virtual experience. as good as we want nba 2k11 to be, there isn't an equivalent for basketball.

additionally, there is a lot more speaking time to fill when you're broadcasting football games

Chris said...

also, i should say that (and this could go in the article, but i don't want to write another 400 words so i'll just briefly share this thought) i think that the majority of sports blogs are either 1. homerish bullshit 2. attempts at wacky, meme-friendly humor or 3. owned by a major corporation.

relevant to this discussion is this business insider interview with john kosner of espn. he basically sounds like roger ailes in the february issue of esquire

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