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In (Slight) Defense of My (erstwhile) Boss: Why All This is Foolish and Doesn't Matter

This should be nice and short.

Let's take a step back from all this OSU stuff for a minute.  I think one of Dave's principal points, the one with which i will agree, is that sports journalism has mirrored news journalism and begun to sway toward having their own agendas.  This is partially true, because many sports journalists do a remarkably good job in sticking with stories and publishing news as it happens.  However, we've got a disturbing trend in the media today.  I've seen more stories in the past few years that aren't necessarily opinion passed off as news, but are clearly driven by some kind of agenda or personal bias of the authors.

I changed my mind, this'll be a longish post.  Read on if you like, but the tl:dr is that some sports journalism enters a gray area, and I don't like it.

I really don't like making political arguments on sports blogs, because I believe sports is a wonderful medium for us all to either get along or fight about sports, not about which side of the aisle on which you choose to make your bones.  But let's start with the granddaddies of all "agenda journalism," henceforth defined as "reporting driven by bias of the author or powers that control the author, e.g. network heads/ideologies of ownership."

News Agencies: Biased or not?  Answer: Both

Because I'm a fan of reasonably accurate blogging and do not profess to be an expert on any of this, all I'm going to do is show an example of a major news agency from both perspectives that illustrates bias from one way or the other, then show an example from the same agency that doesn't.  To reiterate: my point is that journalism has entered a gray area of sorts, in which agenda journalism is mixed side-by-side with real journalism.  A few years ago, a UCLA political scientist came up with exactly this conclusion.

Fox News

An organization often lampooned because of Rupert Murdoch's alleged conservative leanings, Fox News actually kept its political activity through donations relatively equal until donating $1 million to the Republican Governors' Association last year.

Agenda Journalism:  Don't need to say much here - like it or not, Glenn Beck certainly has an agenda to push beyond reporting the news...

Glenn Beck - Vicious Hate From Left on Protests (via TheYoungTurks)

I can also point to Bill O'Reilly, but a number of studies have found Britt Hume's show to be fairly centrist, which has an agenda in it of itself, but at least it's not all biased toward one side.

Actual Substance: Fox's foreign correspondents are generally pretty unbiased, such as this one about the Libyan crisis.

MSNBC

Before the firing/resignation/retirement of Keith Olbermann, his show was one of the most liberal-leaning slots to occupy the airwaves.  MSNBC is oft-criticized by many for being a heavily liberal-slanted media outlet.

Agenda Journalism: A classic example:

Keith Olbermann Speaks Out On Prop 8 (via EastBayProgressive)

Again, no intention to show support or distaste for Olbermann or Beck here.  Just examples of agenda journalism on news shows.

Actual Substance:

In discussing population shifts, MSNBC.com shies away from liberal slants and simply analyzes a trend in recent census data.  No spin to be found here.

Now On to Sports:  "Entertainment" versus "Journalism"

Yahoo!

Dave's fireballs and sort-of apologies aside, there is certainly some truth to Yahoo sportswriters following an agenda beyond merely reporting sporting occurrences.  The same is true for the flip side of the coin - there are plenty of examples of Yahoo doing real reporting with very little shades of bias.  I must confess I don't really know what I need to do to show this, because I admit I'm not really arguing very much other than if one were to look hard enough, one could find examples of Yahoo being biased or Yahoo being unbiased or Beck or Olbermann or whoever being good or bad or heathen or pious or... I could go on.  Instead of breaking up "agenda journalism" and actual substance, I'm going to focus on one specific piece by a watchdog agency.

Poynter.org has a really good story on how Yahoo has focused its brand, separating itself from the sports entertainment news world of ESPN (a world in which it cannot compete, ESPN really is the Worldwide Leader in sports entertainment).  From that story:

"It seems that Yahoo! Sports stepped back and asked itself, ‘What can we do that’s special and different from everyone else? How do we stand out in this crowd?’" Franklin told me in an e-mail. "And they appeared to have answered that question with, ‘Enterprise journalism.’ They’ve produced a very impressive array of sports investigative stories, most notably the USC football scandal and the Reggie Bush story."  The approach is a deliberate attempt to carve out a niche in a very crowded playing field.

 

And one more piece from the article, rather in-line with a lot of what's been said on this site over the past few days:

Robinson said the intense competition for sports news sometimes forces stories to be published before all the reporting is done, but said Yahoo! and other sports outlets will ultimately be judged by their ability to get the story right, again and again.  "We’re trying to earn our piece of that real estate, and other outlets are doing the same thing," he said. "The online audience is able to identify who is right more often than they are wrong. That’s how you earn respect, by continually being right."

 

As Dave and 11 Warriors point out, Yahoo has made its bones by being right more often than not.  But my issue with this investigative journalism isn't about the voracity of its argument or even the fact that the arguments are being made.  It's simply that every one of those investigative reporters has an agenda, even if the basic level of this agenda is "I want to dig for things and show them to the world."  Basically, Yahoo is driven by this investigative journalism, which inherently means that its reporters are admittedly doing it for a) their livelihood and b) the survival of their network.  Because there is an inherent drive here, I can't accept that their reporting is completely unbiased or completely biased.  I'm going to assume that these reporters get lots of "tips" and "anonymous sources" feeding them constant tidbits.  At some level, Charles Robinson or whoever has to make a decision about which tips to follow.  This decision could, and I stress this word, be influenced by any number of factors -

a) A genuine desire to expose something that the author believes "should" be exposed.  Again, here's some personal bias.

b) A personal agenda for or against a certain team.  This is impossible to prove.  But I'm going to posit that it's certainly not outside the realm of possibilities for, say, a journalist who graduated from Mizzou (a very good school for journalism, by the way) to have some love for Missouri and some hate for Kansas, Nebraska, and all their other traditional rivals.  Or maybe there's a popular rumor going around campus that a rival institution paid for their players or engaged in some "improprieties."  Again, I do believe that people are capable of sorting out personal biases from professional ones, but there is still the possibility that such reporting comes from a personal agenda.  At some level, all our opinions come from somewhere, be it our parents, our friends, the news we read, or any experiences we've ever had.

c) A desire to "scoop" other organizations, which, as Dave and many commenters point out, drives hasty reporting.  Again, in the Tressel case, Yahoo turned out to be right, but the essence of Dave's point that I agree with is simply "what if they missed something, or their source/sources were wrong?"  This is a fairly common criticism of all journalism, and I believe that 11 Warriors also addresses this point.

ESPN

Luckily, the ESPN case is a bit more clear-cut.  The distinction between "journalism" and "entertainment" sides of ESPN has been widely fleshed out thanks to their fetish for Brett Favre-related news and more saliently the LeBron James "Decision".  ESPN also employs an ombudsman, which from time to time provides an interesting read from a critical point of view.  (Poynter, the earlier-referenced institute, has recently been retained to provide ombudsman services for the Worldwide Leader.)  The in-house criticism of the Decision and the Roethlisberger coverage have been widely disseminated and I believe ESPN is better for it.

Agenda Journalism: see comments above.  I'm going to blockquote a ton of Ohlmeyer's criticisms of ESPN for your viewing pleasure.

Some found ESPN guilty of violating a key ethical journalistic tenet -- paying for news. Others disdained the network's perceived pandering to a superstar, a trait causing them to ponder the network's biases. Still others decried a simple announcement being manufactured into the suspense of a "second coming." The monstrous hype that led up to the special was a calculated and constructed spotlight that media far beyond ESPN helped feed. To many, the aggregate was an affront to humility, loyalty, moderation … and instead became a celebration of greed, ego and excess.

 

Mixed in for good measure were reactions to what many saw as a carpetbagging, self-inflated athlete leaving an underdog city for the brighter lights of South Beach, and the revolutionary prospect of three of the best players in the world colluding to form an NBA super team. These reactions can be traced to the mercurial perceptions of superstars, and the age-old charge that the media -- reflecting the fickle nature of the populace -- enjoy building up celebrities until that inevitable moment when they tear them down.

 

Beyond James, it's a cautionary tale for ESPN. If the network wants to be considered the true worldwide leader in sports, it must accept the responsibility that comes with it. As the biggest player in the space, ESPN can establish and give credibility to a story. With that clout, of course, comes the obligation to cover each story not just with journalistic integrity but with appropriate weight -- or risk that very same credibility.

 

The key word in all this is pandering.  How does ESPN maintain its integrity while "pandering" to get stories?  Answer:  It openly admits to having an "entertainment" division as well as a sports reporting division.  More evident than any of my other examples, this is basically what I'm saying exists everywhere.

Actual Reporting: Do I really need to list examples here?  ESPN has broken countless stories and reported scores for years, which is why they're so prevalent.   They're good at what they do, and part of what they do is report actual sports stories.

 

Mgoblog

The last two segments in this sucker will focus on we, the good people at MnB, and our gigantic competitor, MGoBlog.  The relationship between our two blogs is practically nonexistent; other than occasionally linking to each other, it's rather fractious, wouldn't you say?  I recall a 300-plus comment page after Dave's nuclear post calling out Brian, and there are rather loyal people on both sides of this one.  Brian, for his part, can afford to dismiss most of what we say here at Maize n Brew, because he's got a really good thing going over at MGo and is so far ahead in terms of page views (millions to thousands) that it's not really even a competition.  Case in point, from the above-linked UV:

This is not a throwdown. So one part of the now confusingly diverse Maize 'n' Brew crew got sick of my repeated assertions that The Process was the worst way to acquire any new head coach, Brady Hoke or not. The result was this very long post that asserts Michigan's most recent recruiting class is "awesome" and makes other arguments that I don't even know what to do with. Since that post's been disputed by another of that site's contributors and effectively countered by a long message board thread herethat's surprisingly light on snark and image macros. I'll forgo a response (other than, you know, this) because Mets Maize made it pointless:

That's us, MnB.  Confusingly diverse.  Absolutely agreed.  The point I'm trying to make about Brian, petty blogwars aside, is that he's got an agenda too.  MGo for the most part over the past few months has been decidedly pessimistic about the turmoil surrounding Michigan's football program, and this is in large part due to the views of its proprietor.  This is of course his prerogative, I say this as I am also writing an opinion piece.  It's also worthy to note that Tom Van Haaren and lots of other fine people make the site much better with some unbiased recruiting information and updates on other M sports that most people don't even care to cover, ourselves included.

 

Maize n Brew

 

 

I'm getting kind of tired of writing, people.  I've linked enough, but I'll recap a few points about Maize n Brew:

a) We have TONS of opinions.  We authors rarely agree, even among ourselves, and most posters have their own opinions that we're more than happy to have.  We love it.  Disagreement is fantastic.  One of my first "real" posts for this site was a game recap that was way too heavy on the opinion side, and I was correctly put in my place by the good folks at The Only Colors, a fun Spartan blog that I'd encourage you all to go read.  So, hey, even I'm guilty of what I've been railing against!

b) We do, occasionally, report the news and "break" stories to y'all.  

c) Lastly, this bears repeating: we are a forum for debate, discussion, and disagreement.  We're biased, and we post opinions like crazy.

That's the long of it.  Everybody comes from somewhere.  Until next rant, Michigan Faithful.  Got any good beer recs?

Any opinions expressed in Fanposts or Fanshots are not the opinions of Maize n Brew. Peruse at your own risk.

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