We can think of ESPN’s “journalism” as falling into three categories: (1) in-depth analysis of games, teams, and players; (2) superficial high decibel debates about games, teams, and players; and (3) discussion focused not on games, teams, and players, but rather on sports and society — often sports and race.
Which form of journalism do think is most affected by ESPN’s recent mass layoff? If you said (1), in-depth analysis of games, teams, and players, you are correct. You get no prize, though. The answer was obvious.
ESPN can’t cut back on its high decibel debates — what Jeff Pearlman calls “the mindless carnival barkings of hacks like Stephen A. [Smith] and Skip Bayless” — because that’s what audiences want. The carnival barkers are unaffected by the cuts. Someone has to make sure the bills are paid.
ESPN won’t cut back on the sports and society — i.e., the political — stuff. ESPN is run by a race-obsessed leftist. Its prestige in the world of journalism comes from transcending mere sports by delving into broader societal concerns and doing so (of course) from a left-leaning slant.
Thus, the Washington Post reports:
ESPN executives say its journalistic ambitions have not changed. They point to some initiatives they believe will bolster ESPN’s commitment to investigative reporting and storytelling. Starting May 14, the news magazine program “E:60,” hosted by Jeremy Schaap, will become a weekly staple. . . .
Largely spared during the recent cuts were some of ESPN’s most ambitious news-gathering units: the magazine, the political vertical FiveThirtyEight.com and the Undefeated, a site focused on the cross-section of sports and race. . . .
“We have a unique opportunity here because our strength of resources, depth of reporters and diversity of voices allows us to tell a broad range of stories that no one else can,” said Craig Bengtson, ESPN’s vice president and director of news. “And if we aren’t doing it, I’m not sure it’s getting done. It’s certainly not getting done at the level of quality and quantity that we can provide.”
Translation: ESPN will continue to take one for the cause.
What’s left to cut? Meaningful reporting on, and analysis of, sports. Again, from the Washington Post:
Veteran journalist Robert Lipsyte served as ESPN ombudsman in 2013 and 2014. [He] said while it’s too early to gauge the exact impact the recent cuts might have on the company’s journalism, many of the people who were laid off were “transactional” journalists, those who cover the granular machinations of teams and leagues but not necessarily the ones who regularly tackle complex issues that transcend sports.
“The granular machinations of teams and leagues” is another way of saying sports coverage. “Complex issues that transcend sports” is another way of saying pop sociology — or, in this case, left-leaning politics.
Lipsyte, formerly of the New York Times, gets to the heart of matter with this statement:
ESPN is very fragmented in what it does. There’s a kind of understanding. Sometimes very good investigative reporting is paid for. . .by Stephen A. and Skip Bayless screaming at each other. It’s not hard to excuse the screaming because it was helping pay the bills.
In sum, ESPN’s business model consists of carnival barkers subsidizing left-leaning politics, with serious analysis of sports increasingly on the outside looking in.
Will it work? Probably not. But it will make ESPN executives feel good about themselves, provided they don’t watch Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless.