Lately, I've been noticing some unfortunate shifts in ESPN's flagship program, "SportsCenter," a show that once acted as an interactive box score and now seems caught up in endless analysis of a handful of major stories.
Chris DeVille and I were talking yesterday, during the Cleveland Browns overtime extravaganza, that the ESPN family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN News) seems to be making a shift similar to what happened when MTV pushed all its music content onto MTV2.
When MTV years ago began to cater to a "reality" crowd obsessed with background noise, arguing, fashion, celebrity and melodrama, MTV2 became the refuge for people who wanted to see bands visualize their songs. (Remember when MTV used to play music videos and not "Super Sweet 16"? Heck, remember when MTV2 used to play them?)
It seems as though sports fans wanting analysis are causing ESPN to forget that it's best when reporting - not making educated guesses and endless predictions about outcomes often no more sophisticated than those of Miss Cleo. They've pushed much of the straightforward recapping onto ESPN News, which isn't offered on most basic cable services in Central Ohio.
For now, I can speak only anecdotally about a perceived change in the program. I used to turn on "SportsCenter" for game recaps, box scores, highlights and other "objective" news. My team might not be the talk of the nation, but I'd at least find out if it won the night before. The program no longer offers viewers - those in smaller markets, anyway - that luxury. I go to ESPN News for these things.
In a column by ESPN ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber, Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president of production, spoke about two evolutions of the program. [Full column]
"One was in the late '80s, when 'SportsCenter' evolved from scores and highlights to a news-gathering operation with reporting," Williamson said. "Then, in the early 2000s, we evolved 'SportsCenter' and news overall to inject debate, informed opinion, the things you have concern over. And I think if you look at our growth -- in terms of households, ratings, digital, radio -- we hit on something there."
The World Series, the Colts-Patriots showdown and Joe Torre's move to the Los Angeles Dodgers are newsworthy. As much as it pains me to say, these stories deserve far more coverage and resources than the Cleveland Browns. I don't mind if experts offer some opinions about what these developments mean.
But the Browns - or other small market teams - shouldn't be ignored completely, which was the case during the episode of "SportsCenter" I watched last Monday morning. Instead of a three-second highlight about the Browns' win over the St. Louis Rams were numerous spots that discussed the aforementioned headline-grabbers.
Schreiber doesn't harbor the same resentment towards opinion-driven sports journalism, but she offers an interesting point:
"There are a lot of prices to pay for opinion-driven sports journalism -- capriciously tarnished reputations and careers, close-mouthed athletes and coaches protecting themselves by letting only the occasional bland cliché slip past their lips, fan rage at the media and, last but not least, the diversion of resources and reward from news reporting, which gradually undermines the very practice of journalism at its best."