Journalism has dug itself a hole that it will not be able to crawl out of.
You know the story by now: print outlets continue to hemorrhage cash, and television viewership is on the decline with an aging demographic.
The blame for the bleeding out of journalism is often put at the feet of the consumer. “They don’t want to pay for content” or “people just don’t read the news anymore” is what you hear as the industry excuses themselves for what has happened.
Journalism outfits have not kept up with the wants of their readers, nor do they treat their readership with much respect. If you use sports journalism as a case study for the industry, you can see why journalism has slid to a point of near-irrelevance.
A Toronto Sun columnist wrote a story with an anecdote about Phil Kessel eating hot dogs from a stand downtown. This hot dog story is a part of the Toronto sports media’s affection for criticizing Kessel’s weight. They continue to criticize his weight across journalism outlets, yet the former Leaf won the fastest skater competition at the All-Star weekend this year. Not to mention, the reporter got the location wrong and the error had to be clarified by a Maple Leafs fan blog.
This lack of respect and understanding is not limited to print. At the Canadian University Press conference this past January, a CBC/Sportsnet on-air personality told a room of student journalists that sports fans do not want to feel they are at school when they are watching sports. There is a degree of truth to that— sports are a popular form of entertainment and often an escape from the grind of life. But while making that point, the TV personality tossed aside the rising analytics community. His talk had a certain arrogance to it, one not surprising if you have watched major network sports broadcasts recently. The personality believed the industry knew what they were doing, and the fans were wrong in their criticisms.
A month after his talk, Rogers (the company that owns Sportsnet) announced that their hockey ratings were down. Instead of looking inward, Rogers blamed the ratings provider. The arrogance isn’t just on-air, it’s in the boardroom.
And who can blame sports fans for leaving? The product they are consuming is not changing based on their own feedback, and in some cases, the product is actually insulting the consumer. On-air talent has frequently sneered at those who cite analytic stats, with some calling them “analy-idiots.”
Sports fans and media consumers as a whole are not stupid. With more information than ever, a consumer does not need the traditional media to learn something— they need an Internet connection. This notion has passed the industry by and it will take a swallowing of pride if traditional journalism wants to return to anything close to its previous peak. Until then, the industry is living on borrowed time.