Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dollars & Sense - Poynter Done at ESPN

This week, the Poynter Review Project ended at ESPN with their final post on Monday. 

The final Poynter post coming from Kelly McBride and Jason Fry, readers were given six takeaway lessons from the 18 month review project.  The six takeaways were: 1) ESPN isn’t a monolith 2) Repetition is method as well as madness 3) We get the ESPN we deserve 4) The Bristol bubble 5) The numbers game 6) The big picture.  ESPN announced that they would not be renewing Poynter’s contract and that although the search is on for the next ombudsman, there are no imminent plans to fill the void. 

Throughout the time that Poynter spent critiquing ESPN’s practices the company was met with critical and mixed feedback.  Many sports media experts, like SI’s Richard Deitsch, criticized the work of the Poynter Review Project at ESPN.  Criticism wasn’t necessarily for the work that actually got done but more based on the fact that there simply wasn’t a lot of work done. 

Deitsch looks specifically at the lack of work produced by Poynter saying in his weekly media review column that “they lacked the metabolism of what the job demands today: a near-daily look at the many issues that filter though ESPN’s properties.”  He is exactly right.  In the final Poynter column, McBride and Fry cite that “posts more than 800 new items a day.”  If that is true, then that is over 24,000 new content items between October 10 and Monday’s final column.  That’s a lot of content to not touch on.
I have been very critical of ESPN on I-95 SportsBiz.  Although I think that my criticism is warranted because ESPN was built on the premise of the avid sports fan and has virtually abandoned the avid fan in its marquee programming, Poynter looked at ESPN through a more journalistic lens. 

Perhaps the biggest point that Poynter made in their final column that all consumers of ESPN content should take a look at is the “We get the ESPN we deserve” point.  This section touches on the reasons why ESPN loves their debate shows even when public opinion of them may not fare so well.  Poynter reminds us that “television is a hits-driven business” and that if viewers don’t want more debate shows, then “they need to vote with their remotes.”

As much as I (and I’m sure some others) would love for it to be ESPN’s duty to give the people quality and relatively educational content, ESPN is simply giving the people what they want.  Even if the people watch First Take to see how ridiculous Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith are acting on any given day, they are still feeding the ESPN beast.  It’s just like anything that works on supply and demand principles: if the people want it, then they gon’ get it. And a lot of it I may add.

Paul Pabst, producer of the Dan Patrick Show, joked on Twitter that ESPN should hire two ombudsmen and have them embrace debate.  Come on, mocking ESPN is always funny!

The “Repetition is method as well as madness” point that Poynter makes is also a big takeaway especially for avid sports fans and ESPN-watchers.  One of the big backlashes against ESPN is that they talk about the same things all day even if the show has a different name.  Poynter is correct in pointing out that “wall-to-wall ESPN watchers are outliers.”  As tough as it may be for some of us to accept that notion, it is true.  They did mention that ESPN has gone a bit overboard in their excessive Tebow coverage, something that we can all agree on.

Maybe the Poynter Review Project at ESPN did not have the scope that we had all hoped for, but there is plenty that can be learned from it.  Keeping the giant of the sports world relatively in check is not a bad idea.  Will it ever change how they do business?  Probably not.  It will be interesting to monitor the search for the next ombudsman going forward and to see if the next (if there is a next) embraces the criticisms of Poynter.  

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

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