American Culture

The LeBron James story is the future of sports journalism

“Journalism-as-process” is here, for good or for bad, and whether you like it or not

SANDOMIR-master675It’s going on nearly two weeks now since LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland.

So who broke the story?

Well, Chris Sheridan was the first journalist to report that James was going back to Cleveland, reporting it on his website. But Lee Jenkins and Sports Illustrated had the actual story, “written” by James and posted online.

There’s considerable debate in sports journalism nerd circles whether SI really had the scoop or, as Gene Weingarten and others have suggested, that SI didn’t break a story and were, in fact, used by James for publicity.

*(Weingarten committed one of my journalism pet peeves in his post, referring to Sara Ganim’s work for the “teensy weeny” Patriot News. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: The Harrisburg paper is a good-sized paper, between 60,000–90,000 circulation, more than 20 million page views per month and a major news player in central Pennsylvania. Just because it’s not in New York or Washington doesn’t make it tiny. Rant over.)

To be honest, this aspect of the story doesn’t interest me that much. I’m still very much interested with the idea of breaking news in the digital age, what makes a scoop, the life of a scoop, the value of transactional scoops, all that. But debating who broke this story – especially a transactional story like this – feels like being obsessed with the branches on one specific tree. It misses the forest.

Seeing the whole board, what’s most interesting to me is the way this story played out. It’s a textbook example of journalism-as-process.

Journalism-as-process is a paradigm best described by Sue Robinson in her research into digital journalism. The way I understand it, journalism-as-process looks at journalism as an on-going, two-way conversation between the media and the audience, rather than just the acts performed by reporters and editors. In this view, journalism is not a product (the story or the daily paper) but the process (the constant flow of information).

The way the LeBron story played out two weeks ago was a textbook example of journalism-as-process. The incremental news updates, the story breaking in pieces, the way fan interaction and social media became a part of the story, it’s all what journalism-as-process looks like. Remember the trickle of news that came out in the days leading up the announcement (his interest with Cleveland, his meetings with Miami, the first Kevin Love trade rumors)? Remember the day before the announcement, when there were reports that a deal was going to be announced at 3:30 p.m., only once 3:32 p.m. came we were told there would be no announcement that day? Remember all the speculation and debate we read and engaged in online?

This is journalism-as-process.

This is what sports journalism is going to look like going forward.

Maybe you think this is terrible. Maybe you think we as an industry has lost its way and is focused far too much on pageviews and keeping up with new and social media and losing its soul and and its purpose.

Maybe you think this is great, that it keeps readers informed of what’s going on in real time, and that this serves fans far better than waiting for a new story every morning in a newspaper.

There really is no correct answer here. This is the direction journalism is moving in, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect or correct. Readers would be better served without the over-reliance on “sources,” a term so nebulous and vague that it’s really lost all meaning and credibility. Journalists and news organizations should understand that although they are reporting news in bits, that not every bit of new news is “breaking.” (Really, would it be breaking news that LeBron may be announcing his decision at 3:30 p.m.?) This is all new for everyone. This is all very much a work in progress. Yes, journalism-as-process is very much a process for readers and reporters to get used to.

But it is what sports journalism is going to look like in the near future, for better or worse.

This is journalism-as-process.

And the LeBron James story is a perfect example of this new paradigm.

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