ESPN’s Layoffs, Print Media Downturn, and Blogs like Mine

 “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

– John F. Kennedy, 1961

Unintended consequences are often jarring.  I personally value print media.  Yet, when ESPN announced deep cuts to its staff in April I could not help but think about the impact websites, podcasts, blogs, and apps have had on the media.  Surely, some of ESPN’s belt-tightening comes from overpaying for certain TV rights that keep delivering the same or lower ratings.  However, the vast availability of content and commentary from sources outside of ESPN in the world of sports or outside of newspapers, 24 hour news stations, and major news magazines in the more pressing world of covering current events has had a major impact.

Consider the Masters Cincinnati tennis event.  I know something about tennis, love tennis, have published academic writing, and live near the event.  I may have had no journalistic training, but in addition to non-tennis publications, I have been writing about the sport at Tennis Abides for 6 years and at other sites before that.  If fans are wanting content about Cincinnati, people like me are providing it so a newspaper may decide that it is not worth it to send a reporter to Cincinnati along with the costs of hotel rooms and meals.  Consider that there are bound to be people doing similar things to what I am doing for other tennis events and for sports other than tennis, and it is not hard to see sports writers, television analysts, and radio hosts being squeezed by the blogosphere.

This was not the intent of bloggers, but I also cannot deny that the amount of content has risen.  Some of the content is of high quality and some of it is clickbait, but the overall level of tennis content and sports content has risen dramatically.  If my memory of microeconomics is correct, rising supply generally leads to lower prices.  If the overall value of content drops, then large organizations may make the call to have layoffs and cutbacks.

Coverage of sports, leisure, entertainment etc. probably doesn’t make or break too many things.  In covering news, analyzing history, etc, the rise of a massive amount of content, some of it being just noise and some of it being clickbait, can cause major problems.  If people cannot even agree on what is happening, it is hard for a society to take smart steps in response to an unfolding current event.

I think on a whole the blogosphere has helped the coverage of leisure activities.  Sure ESPN has fewer reporters, but much of that has to do with bad decisions about how much to pay for broadcasting rights.  The unintended consequence of the rise of the blogosphere is the squeezing of print media.  I am saddened to see how thin many newspapers are today.  They look like a college paper looked 20 years ago.  The major risk is that so many voices commenting and arguing about current events can undermine coherent deliberation and action.  I don’t see electronic communication going away so I think the challenge to all of us is to find ways to navigate the glut of commentary and become savvy at understanding what is actually happening.  I am not abandoning my writing, but I also think it is important to step back and see what the pluses and pitfalls of blogging are.  Doing this should allow for better writing as I do not wish to only claim the good aspects of blogging while making an orphan of its negative unintended consequences.


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