Wick Communications

The ‘E’ is clearly not for ‘ethics’

In journalism on July 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I guess, in ESPN’s defense, the sports network never claimed Thursday’s announcement that LeBron James would play for the Los Angeles Clippers (just kidding! You know better than that…) was an exercise in journalism. But it was definitely breaking news. And, sometimes anyway, ESPN claims to be reporting the news.

So how does the network agree to sit on the biggest sports news of the day?

It’s an interesting question with an obvious answer. There isn’t a TV network on the planet that wouldn’t bend over backward for the kind of ratings Thursday’s show pulled. It a simple matter of commerce.

There has been quite a bit of backlash online. Lynn Zinser’s piece in the New York Times was just the tip of the iceberg. She called it an “ego-a-thon” and many are questioning whether the 90-minute show is going to turn off viewers even if they tune in to see where King James will go…

Robert Boland, a sports management professor at New York University, put it this way in a blog on the Forbes Web site:

It demonstrates that the E in ESPN which actually stands for entertainment, may in reality stand for “exclusive” but probably not “ethics” as the network has on short notice turned the contract decision of an athlete, the network should be covering objectively and perhaps even critically, into programming that will benefit the network for years to come.

The whole thing has some interesting implications for us mere mortals. Suppose the star of your local high school football team is courted by two college powerhouses. Suppose his father tells you they will announce the big winner on your Web site if you agree, as LeBron did, to give a donation to the local Boys and Girls Club. Is that a deal you would make if you thought revenue from increased ad sales or even a sponsorship would defray the cost? Would you hold news of his announcement to save your deal?

I hope the answer is no. We serve our readers, who have an interest in knowing the news as it happens. But it’s clearly a different world. Our competitors are not playing fair these days. Blogs, tabloids – even network news outlets apparently – are willing to pay for the news.

Clay

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