As you know from previous posts on the media, I’m no big fan of the state of the media arts. That’s why I wanted to point out this article by Le Anne Schreiber on ESPN. Schreiber is the ESPN ombudsman. For those who don’t know, many major organizations hire ombudsmen to serve as an objective source to arbitrate disputes or to act as liasons between two parties. In the case of ESPN, the ombudsman is the liason between viewers/readers and the network. Her job involves fielding complaints about ESPN’s coverage and to give ESPN’s point of view on subjects when perhaps we as casual readers can’t see why they would do something the way they do. Also, when the job is done right, which it is in this case, the Ombudsman should serve as the conscience and objective force to improve the work of the network.
Schreiber’s thesis in the article is that not only has media gone overboard with an insane cycle of bombast and half-baked opinions, but that we the readers have become so infected by this poor work that we don’t know how to do anything but have bombast and crazy opinions of our own. As an example she quotes people who have emailed her recently about ESPN’s coverage and used words like: “horrible,” “completely disgusting,” “utter nonsense,” “worst of all time,” “ridiculous,” “pathetic,” “horrific,” “crap,” and “deplorable” from viewers who claimed to be “shocked and appalled,” “damn mad” or “blown away” by announcers who were “fools,” “idiots” or “clowns.”
As an example of where they learned this sort of opinion-ladden, personal attack style journalism Schrieber discusses Oklahoma St. coach Mike Gundy and his explosive post game speech where he blew up at a reporter for what he perceived to be personal attacks. The reporter in question used phrases in her article like: “If you believe the rumors and the rumblings …”, “Tile up the back stories told on the sly over the past few years …”, “Word is …” and “Insiders say …”
The resulting frenzy was described brilliantly by Schreiber thusly: “It was not just the squall of the day but the perfect storm for the entire week’s opinion cycle, allowing the media to mount personal attacks on the coach for mounting a personal attack on the reporter who had mounted a personal attack on the college quarterback, who, as far as I can tell, was the only one who had enough class to keep quiet.”
One reason that Schreiber fails to point out that viewers have turned to this kind of language is that they see it on sites like this. Yes, the blog is a wonderful thing. It democratizes news and information. It allows for the free exchange of information and for contact between people of similar types that otherwise wouldn’t know how to reach each other. But blogs are dangerous things as well. They allow untrained people to get online to a very large audience and say just about anything they feel like. And depending on the site, it may not be clear if the writer in question knows what they are saying is true or simply believes it to be true.
This blurring of fact and opinion is rampant in all media today and being performed by people who are supposed to know better. And the blogosphere is full of people who don’t know better and don’t even pretend to care. Now, for people who haven’t read my bio, I am a professional writer and editor. I work for a respected magazine, and I have a graduate degree in what I do. When I write something which is considered to be a fact, I am careful to site it (like many other good bloggers). In fact, I sometimes wonder if my site is so full of citations that you just say to yourselves, “why do I need to read the Rag when I can just read the Post, the official site, and ESPN.” But in addition to those citations, I throw a fair amount of opinion out there. Given this article, I feel a real need to be even more careful about what I say and the way I say it.
But on the other hand, I feel the same pressures to come up with strong, interesting opinions that bring up the hit scores. In the next couple of weeks, I plan on experimenting with how I write my posts. One day you might see the fact-checked, boring articles you’ve come to love here (or snooze through). The next I might try to let her rip and see what happens. I’m going to be monitoring hits and hopefully comments from you guys. Hopefully, I’ll get some good feedback. Let’s try to both raise the bar of discourse, and make an interesting blog at the same time. In other words, for the next couple of weeks, you guys are the ombudsman.