While some in the sports media biz gave props to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins for successfully getting the scoop on LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir is uncomfortable with arrangement, opining, “news value aside, the approach cast Sports Illustrated more as a public-relations ally of James than as the strong journalistic standard-bearer it has been for decades…while James’s words may have been all that the sports world wanted to hear, the magazine should have pressed for a story that carried more journalistic heft.”
Jenkins conceded that, in most cases, he would write a third-person story. But in James’s case, he said, “My biggest priority was his voice, not my subtext.”
For the magazine’s editors, there are no regrets that Jenkins delivered major news in James’s words. They did not know how he would write the story until they saw it Friday morning.
“This is excellent journalism,” said Christian Stone, the managing editor. “In cases like this, it’s beneficial to let the subject tell the story in his own words.”
Jenkins, who wrote the 2012 Sportsman of the Year cover story about James for Sports Illustrated, said he did not fashion James’s article/statement so much as stitch it together from quotes given during an interview Thursday night at James’s hotel room in Las Vegas.
Stone emphasized that James had imposed no conditions on Jenkins or the magazine, and had not been paid. So why not let Jenkins tell the story without handing James the platform for his unfiltered statement?