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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

wtf: ESPN lets LeBron James dictate the news, ScienceBlogs lets Pepsi dictate science…

Are there any real journalists left anywhere? And does anyone care?

Tonight, ESPN will turn over an hour of its airtime to an athlete — basketball player LeBron James — so he can announce which team he’ll play for next season. I’m not any kind of sports fan, but I was under the impression that ESPN was a legitimate source for news and commentary on what’s happening in the sports world. But I’m with Michael K. Ozanian, who wrote at SportsMoney, a Forbes.com blog, that this:

confirm[s] three things: There is no longer any difference between reality television programming and professional sports; ESPN has become a parody of itself; the game has become less relevant than its star players.

Also at SportsMoney, David Lariviere complains:

The bottom line is a legitimate news organization is supposed to cover the news when it happens, not have the news dictated or sold to it. This move by ESPN makes it much more like the National Enquirer than 60 Minutes.

We also discovered this week that the highly respected ScienceBlogs — which hosts lots of great writing by real scientists, including P.Z. Myers’ Pharyngula, which I really love — had given over a new blog called Food Frontiers to PepsiCo, which ScienceBlogs editor, Evan Lerner, claimed would cover (quoted at the Guardian):

how the company is developing products rooted in rigorous, science-based nutrition standards to offer consumers more wholesome and enjoyable foods and beverages. The focus will be on innovations in science, nutrition and health policy. In addition to learning more about the transformation of PepsiCo’s product portfolio, we’ll be seeing some of the innovative ways it is planning to reduce its use of energy, water and packaging.

In other words, pure PR.

Lots of readers and scientists objected, and ScienceBlogs has canceled the project.

But how did this Pepsi blog — or the LeBron James ESPN mess — ever get past the supposedly smart, supposedly honest people in charge of these endeavors? Who thought these were good ideas?

That this things come on top of yesterday’s news about the film critic who reviewed Inception without having seen it, and not be embarrassed to be called on it is extremely disheartening to me… and I was already really, really glum about the prospects of survival for intelligent, meaningful journalism. Maybe it’s already dead, at least in any form that gets in front of mainstream audiences.



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  • bronxbee

    i saw a newspaper headline this morning about LeBron James and thought the exact same thing! WTF? when he decides, it will be news (and since it’s sports news, it really is minor in my eyes) but to set aside press conference time, and have it all over the broadcast news this morning that it will be on tonight, just has irritated me to no end. journalism is dead for sure. at least in the big media. bread and circuses people, bread and circuses — and not much damned bread for us, the proles. lebron james — he’s going to announce that he’s got the whole bakery and who’s giving it to him. as well as being the circus for the evening.

    WTF?

  • Hey, I’d LOVE to get a one-hour special hosted by Jon Stewart during which I debate where I’d like to get hired on for a job. But noooooooo, nobody cares for an out-of-work librarian. :(

  • Lisa

    It’s cheap tv – they did the same in the UK on the BBC when they were going to announce who Dr no 11 was. An hour long prime time show and they revealed it was Matt Smith in the last 10 minutes. It got good ratings too!

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Frankly, I have no idea what makes sports journalism any different from celebrity gossip even on the best days; both are corporate boosterism masquerading as news in the first place. The entire sports and celebrity “news” industries could be sucked into a black hole, and replaced with a ticker-tape machine spewing corporate press releases, and it wouldn’t change a damn thing.

    The ScienceBlogs debacle, on the other hand… what a mess. There’s a lot of good blogs, like “Good Math, Bad Math” and “Laelaps”, which are getting put in my bookmark bar once they settle on a new home.

  • Chris

    Dear Mary Ann,

    If you dont follow sports, dont try to read an article and then critize the biggest sports media outlet in the world.

    The special is on because Lebron is the biggest athelete there is. Second, the man wanted to do this announcement on television. Third he thought it would be a good way to generate money for the Boys and Girls Club which is always looking for more donations.

    Either way if ESPN didnt cover this, someone else would have.

  • Victor Plenty

    Dear Chris,

    Bullshit.

  • It’s really no different than a politician saying they’ll be making a big ol’ speech at x-time, that’s expected to last y-length and all the networks canceling their regular shows for it. Except this is the equivalent of only CNN carrying that speech.

    Then again, I really don’t care unless it interferes with my viewing habits – which is almost impossible to do these days…

  • MaryAnn

    Either way if ESPN didnt cover this, someone else would have.

    ESPN isn’t “covering” this — ESPN is standing aside and giving someone who should be the object of their coverage air time to do whatever he wants.

    Second, the man wanted to do this announcement on television.

    Oh, well, my bad then. Clearly whatever the man wants, the man gets.

    It’s really no different than a politician saying they’ll be making a big ol’ speech at x-time,

    Seriously? This is no different than a speech by the president of the United States?

    We really are fucked.

  • JoshB

    Seriously? This is no different than a speech by the president of the United States?

    In the world of professional basketball it is no different.

    If it were CNN then yeah, we’re fucked. But this is ESPN’s wheelhouse.

    The ScienceBlogs thing is much more disturbing.

  • Chris

    Mary Ann,

    Again, you dont have all the facts and I found it funny you avoided my third point. ESPN not only gets to broadcast Lebron’s decision (something that is done through out the day regularly on ESPNews by the way) but they also get the first exclusive interview with Lebron. It’s not like they are simply bowing to the man, and saying we turned on the cameras, have fun! They are getting something in return, an interview that everyone wants. It’s win/win for ESPN and the fans.

  • Lisa said:

    It’s cheap tv – they did the same in the UK on the BBC when they were going to announce who Dr no 11 was. An hour long prime time show and they revealed it was Matt Smith in the last 10 minutes. It got good ratings too!

    Yeah, but…that was important! That mattered!

    :P

    I noticed LBJ was a trending topic on Twitter and thought, “What the heck news has surfaced about Lyndon Baines Johnson to make him trend?”

  • PJK

    Dear Chris,

    LeBron James is not the biggest athlete there is. He might be Big In The USA, but outside of the USA hardly anybody knows the guy.

    The fact that ESPN wants to sell their soul for the announcement and interview only confirms my fears about the state of American journalism, which is: There is no more American journalism, it’s all infotainment these days.

  • MaryAnn

    I found it funny you avoided my third point.

    I didn’t think it needed refuting. There are many good ways to raise money for a charitable organization. This is not one of them.

    ESPN not only gets to broadcast where Lebron announcing his decision

    In a proper news situation worthy of coverage, *all* press is invited to cover a press conference.

    they did the same in the UK on the BBC when they were going to announce who Dr no 11 was.

    That’s ridiculous, too. But at least it was the BBC promoting one of its own shows. This was ESPN promoting LeBron James.

    The fact that so many people — including those in charge of ESPN and ScienceBlogs — don’t seem to understand what they did wrong is an excellent indication that nothing will change… except perhaps to get worse. If the consumers of journalism don’t care, they’re certainly not going to hold accountable those in a position to do something about it.

  • Dre in Spain

    For the record, I have no idea who LeBron James is. I don’t know, and I don’t care either.
    However, I do know that Paul the psychic octopus has predicted that Spain will win the Football World Cup. This is the kind of sports news that I can get behind and fully endorse. Who cares about the “biggest athelete in the world” (who is more or less unknown outside of the US) when a clairvoyant cephalopod has predicted Spain will be the winners of the 2010 World cup. This is the big international sports story that the rest of the world cares about!

  • Chris

    PJK,

    Outside of soccer (football) basketball is now the most watched team sport in the world. Europe has a great league and now most countries have countless numbers of basketball academies. In China, millions watch every game Yao Ming plays in America. An upcoming All-Star game is being played in Paris. The most watched event of the last summer Olympics was the basketball competition, and the most watched game was U.S. vs. China (LeBron vs. Ming). Is LeBron more popular than soccer in Europe, no he is not, but collectively he is more world renown than any soccer star not name David Beckem, who is pretty much retired at this point.

  • MaryAnn

    I do know that Paul the psychic octopus has predicted that Spain will win the Football World Cup.

    Sure, but ESPN give him an hour of their airtime. If they did, I’d be bitching about it. :->

  • Dre in Spain

    I don’t know about ESPN, but the publicity surrounding the octopus has reached the political realm. The Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has offered to send a SWAT team to protect the octopus from jealous football supporters from the opposing teams who want to cook him.

    Although admittedly his tongue was firmly placed in his cheek when he said it. :^)

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