Blog Entry

VIDEO: Brian Jones decries media sensationalism

Posted on: October 5, 2011 3:28 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 3:29 pm

Posted by Adam Jacobi

There was an interesting segment on Inside College Football yesterday, in which Brian Jones took the media -- himself and his company included -- to task for reporting that focused more on sensationalist details than thoroughness. Here, watch, and watch the whole way through; Rich Rodriguez is a scene-stealer:

Now, this is going to shock you, but a media member (me) is going to stand up for the media a little bit on this one. I know, catch your breath. For one, yeah, the part about the correction never being on the front page has a lot of merit. At the same time, when things get "breathlessly" reported, they're reported with all the facts we have available at the time. And we do double-check those facts. But -- and let's use the Mike Haywood story since it was brought up in the video -- we couldn't have possibly known that his charges would eventually be dropped so long after the fact once they were filed and reported on. And we weren't about to start speculating on how his case would proceed, either; that's much more reckless and irresponsible than what these guys are complaining about. We just reported what we knew, and what we knew then was Mike Haywood was under arrest. As for the coverage of his charges getting dropped, if that had affected his employment status in college football as much as his initial arrest had, you bet we would have covered it just as much. But right now, since his job at Pitt is no longer on the line, it's just not as germane to college football.

Further, as to the "too much controversy is never enough" argument, some journalists actively avoid controversy all the time. It's usually at the behest of their parent companies, who are under pressure to avoid any and all negative publicity for their various corporate holdings. And it stinks when mass media does that. It's a disservice to the media consumers, who at the very least want to believe in media ethics. Underreporting is a bigger failing of the media than overreporting, in my eyes, and I'd rather we sports media members not fall into that pattern of behavior.

And last, I'm surprised these guys didn't spend more time on my least favorite aspect of my profession: the overly negative focus -- particularly during the offseason. "If it bleeds, it leads" has long been a media maxim, so it's not like this is a new phenomenon or at all isolated to college football (or any other sports) reporting. But just because it's not new doesn't mean it's not imperfect.

See, when players enter college football, we in the media operate under the assumption that their careers will be uneventful or at the very least free of major negative developments like arrests, academic ineligibility, NCAA violations, transfers, or season-ending injuries. The vast majority of college football players do not experience any of those, in fact. So it's when one of those unlikely events occurs that we report on them, because again, these events are unusual and unlikely. We also report on positive unlikelihoods, like setting school records for performance or being the top player in a given game, but those types of things don't exactly happen often during the offseason.

So what we get, then, is a paradox: most players have positive offseasons, so media coverage of college football during the offseason is a collection of individually negative stories that, when consumed as a whole, looks like a pretty bleak picture of the sport. If most offseasons were negative (though I don't see how that would be possible), our coverage would be dominated by individually positive events, because those would be the unusual outliers. And again, take that coverage as a whole, and it's not indicative of the way an actual offseason goes in the sport. We report the unusual, because otherwise it's not, y'know, news.

I really don't know how to fix this paradox. Do we put up a disclaimer above the headlines that says, "In college football, the vast majority of players follow a normal path of behavior and academic progression. Here are recent stories of individuals that haven't followed those paths"? Do we just run fluff human interest stories on the guys who don't get in trouble? I genuinely thought people hated those.

I'd really like to hear some feedback on this, because if even the media hates the way the media does business, the readers and viewers can't be much more satisfied, if at all. Here at Eye on College Football, we can't fix all of sports media, but we can certainly control the type of coverage we provide in this little corner of the Internet. What do you like about the Eye on CFB? What don't you like? Is it too negative here? Not negative enough? Is there a "The Man" to be sticking it to that we have not yet bestuck? Our eyes and ears are open.

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