This onion piece has gone viral. It’s unusual by Onion standards in that it’s not really funny at all. It is, however, a quite detailed explication of how the media business works. “Eyeballs, “clicks” and “bounce rates” (read the article) are the coin of the realm. Other concerns, including the public interest, ultimately take a backseat. Making money and engaging in journalism with integrity are not inherently incompatible at all times. But it’s important to remember what the CNNs of the world primarily exist for, their pretenses to the contrary notwithstanding.
Speaking of…John Koblin of Deadspin has provided an excellent breakdown of how a silly and insubstantial Ron Jaworski comment became a significant part of the “news” cycle for a 24-hour period, largely thanks to Jaworski’s employer, ESPN. When I first heard Jaworski’s comment being debated last week, I thought “I cannot believe this is being discussed as if it’s news.” Alas.
Of course, I have to confess that I am a sucker, just like lots of folks, for those silly teasers. I have perfected the three minute shower in the morning to make sure I am out in time to hear Mike Greenberg explain which favorite quarterback of his is a lot like an artichoke (OK, that’s not an actual teaser, at least as far as I know). On a more serious note, I’ve neglected to mention that ESPN has moved Outside the Lines weekdays from ESPN to ESPN 2 and, beginning in September, will move its slot on Sunday mornings from 9am on ESPN to 8 am on ESPN 2. Sports Illustrated’s media columnist Richard Deitsch wrote of this move (courtesy of Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing):
“You don’t need to be Nate Silver to understand this represents a de facto burying of the show. ESPN management will additionally shift the Sunday edition of Outside The Lines from ESPN to ESPN2 starting in September and replace it with a football show hosted by Colin Cowherd. (I assume because of the protests in cities all over the U.S. demanding a Colin Cowherd football show.)”
Deitsch also noted that the early ratings data suggested that OTL lost half its daily weekday audience.
Bucholtz, of Awful Announcing, has a good discussion of some of the considerations that might have gone into the decision. He notes that OTL, even if it doesn’t draw big audiences, is very important to ESPN’s branding and self-understanding as a news organization with serious journalistic chops. Bucholtz also says, however, that certain economic realities are obviously at play. OTL’s old Sunday morning slot is being taken over by a new NFL show hosted by Colin Cowherd. There’s been plenty of mockery about this particular announcement, but given the almost insatiable appetite for football, one expects Cowherd to draw more of those coveted eyeballs in that Sunday time frame.
But I do have to wonder whether this is also, in some way, connected to the concussion coverage issue. We know that OTL will continue to cover it. Did the NFL suggest to ESPN that there were plenty of time slots on ESPN’s multiple channels, and that perhaps OTL could be moved a little further out of sight and out of mind? Yes, that is pure speculation on my part. What the heck. But it strikes me as consistent with what we’ve been hearing recently about the NFL’s growing antsiness over the reporting on this issue.