07.07.10

The Unnameable: SI’s Pearlman Versus The NBA’s Army of Deep Throats

Posted in Basketball, Sports Journalism at 2:36 pm by

I cannot figure the internet out, myself. I work on metaphors for it and I use it to find information and whatnot, but the economic and emotional mechanics how this thing works — how people make money here or how they create communities or why they pursue new ways to call each other fagz in YouTube’s comments section — is well beyond me. But I know enough, and possibly just enough, to be able to spot certain types of uniquely webby bullshit. This is not a valuable skill, per se, mostly because the impact of Major Media Figures like me naming and hopefully shaming a ripe piece of trollish Drudge bait doesn’t effectively disincent anyone from delivering said bit of bait. As I’ve written often, and occasionally at great/grating length, the economic incentives for online sports (and other) journalism increasingly do not run in the right direction.

You already know all this: Clicks make money, and there’s no point system that determines the relative worth or justness of those clicks. And trolling works just as well as good writing in that regard, and is easier. If you read about things online, you are already living in your knowledge of all that. The ostensible correcting force, here as elsewhere on the web, is a starry-eyed crypto-libertarian economism — that the market has a way of sorting things out, and that if you’re wrong enough — or too trollish, presumably — you lose your credibility and audience and, in Jay Mariotti’s case, possibly even your L’Oreal sponsorship. This is the idea, but as in other (currently very oily and sad) areas in which we’ve been told to believe in the inherent efficiency of self-regulating markets, it hasn’t necessarily happened. If it were working, you’d imagine that human ulcers like Gregg Doyel (and long-running head colds like Mariotti) would’ve driven all but the most masochistic or simple-minded readers away at this point. But those buttheads, their paychecks and presumably their audiences are still there. The click economy is working for them, in short, but it’s not necessarily working for people who want not to read hot garbage. That this state of affairs presumably reflects something like a market imperative doesn’t make it any less sorry.

It’s conceivable that one of these sour goofballs actually crosses some notional finish line on their ultra-marathon to the bottom, but it’s hard to imagine what that might look like. By the same token, while it’s likely that some reporters will eventually be proven right about the eventual destination of the NBA’s big-ticket free agents, this would seem to be an area of great credibility-related risk for those reporters running with vaguely sourced rumblings in flimsy, buzzy pseudo-scoops. But while the eventual catching-up of reality with their vigorously mongered rumors might result in some embarrassment for the guys with their bylines on misinformation/BS, I’d wager that Chris Broussard and Adrian Wojnarowski and others will live to get things kind of wrong another day. I think this will be both because their anonymously sourced free agent scoops have probably made some money for their respective employers, and because the Rational Consumers who are supposed to punish them for their transgressions have not necessarily delivered on that in the past.

Obviously, this doesn’t matter quite enough to get too fired up about it, at least relative to other journalistic mega-failures — you already know this, but if Judith Miller had relied on unscrupulous unnamed sources in epically incorrect reporting about the Yanks trying to sign C.C. Sabathia, no one would’ve given a shit (and she’d not be a stand-in for the idea of journalistic mega-failure) (and she’d probably still have her job). Still, that’s a difference of degree, not of kind: the editorial and journalistic failures that lead to faux-scoopy demi-garbage getting run in well-respected newspapers are the same failures that lead to the same stuff running in generally respectable sports venues. It’s tough to remember sometimes, but with the exception of Stephen A. Smith sports-radio pronouncements and Jared Dudley’s Twitter-feed world exclusives, all of this anonymous-sources-say shit passes through several levels of editorial scrutiny.

At SB Nation, Tom Martin offers an introspective and intelligent look at the temptation of anonymous sourcing, and its pitfalls. Sports Illustrated’s designated blastmaster Jeff Pearlman is, characteristically, less measured:

Nowadays, with an infinite amount of Internet space and air time waiting to be filled, with eight million media outlets fighting for the right to boastfully utter, “Breaking News! We are the first to report that …,” with pressure from bosses who don’t understand — and don’t care to understand — the intricacies of righteous journalism … well, nowadays everything is messed up.

The frantic race to break any LeBron-Wade-Bosh news has rendered many in the media pathetic. First, because our lives have been reduced to chasing around a bunch of obscenely wealthy youngsters as they decide which team will pay them millions to them toss a round ball through a piece of mesh. Second, because we have abandoned our principles.

…Look at us now. Just as it was with Brett Favre before James and A-Rod before Favre, ESPN has morphed into the LeBron Network — one talking head asking another talking head to comment on the comments of a third talking head.

Leaving aside whether or not Pearlman is a little young to be so curmudgeonly (seems to me that he is) and the whole hoary Season Five of The Wire bit about treasured principles, he’s essentially correct. It has presumably always been thus, and the 24-hour news cycle and click-economy and The Internet and blah blah bleugh. I know, I know, and I know that my concern-trolling might be as dull as its Mariottian analogue. But as someone who is still notionally trying to make a living by writing (and about sports, more often than not), it’s both frustrating to witness the failure of the internet’s ostensibly game-changing wisdom-of-crowds failsafe and daunting to wonder what lies on the other side of that seemingly far-off tipping point. It’s just sports, I know, but it’s also not just sports.

2 Responses to “The Unnameable: SI’s Pearlman Versus The NBA’s Army of Deep Throats”

  1. Enjoyed, made me think: a click is worth a fraction of a cent. When that happened, click fraud was born. Astonishingly, it was born many times; in the minds of Russian teenagers, click fraud looks like fleets of distant, compromised PCs being instructed to masquerade as web users and to jack up the click counts on certain sites. In the minds of greaseball competitors of businesses that buy pay-per-click advertising, click fraud looks like banging expensive keyword ads just to cost the guy across town money. And in the minds of media moguls both trad and nu, it looks like running any old shit as news.

    Clearly, the only solution is an asteroid of sufficient mass.

  2. WeWanttheFunk says:

    News of the latest B-Ball free agents (bowel) movements just doesn’t have the class that it used to, huh?
    Neither does the Enquirer.

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