Today was a very weird one for me.
I can be angry on Twitter at times. But this was different. Watching ESPN’s botching of the LeBron James coverage, I wasn’t merely angry. I was furious. I was bitter. In regard to Chris Broussard, ESPN’s
basketball expert, I was beside myself. Now it’s 11:54 pm, and I’ve calmed down.
I want to explain myself. And my feelings.
To begin with: I love journalism. I mean it—I love, love, love, love journalism. When done well, it’s informative and enlightening and important and entertaining and engrossing. It opens our eyes to the truth; lets us in behind closed doors. Fills in the necessary blanks. Back when I was a young reporter in Nashville at The Tennessean, I didn’t understand this. I thought journalism was all about style—filling your copy with snazzy words and quick phrases; having people say, “Wow, this kid can write!” And they did. I was a pretty good wordsmith, and folks responded with letters and compliments.
There was just one problem—I sucked. I couldn’t report for shit. I knew nothing of cultivating sources. I was a bad reporter and, therefore, a crap journalist. What good is a story if it’s entertaining without also being enlightening? So, in one of the most important moments of my life, my editor, Catherine Mayhew, shifted me from features to the cops beat. She told me to focus on the facts—and only the facts. Who. What. Where. When. How. Why. “Don’t be fancy, don’t be cute,” she said. “Get it right.”
I started getting it right. Then I was hired by Sports Illustrated—a place where Rule No. 1 was: Don’t have any mistakes in your copy. I watched scribes like Jack McCallum and Phil Taylor and Steve Rushin and Leigh Montville write the hell out of pieces while making sure to fill them with a never-ending buffet of facts and informational nuggets. It was never merely a soda. It was a Diet Pepsi, half empty with the silver label peeled off. It was never just a dunk. It was a leap from the foul line, twisted to the left, double pumping, sliding the basketball beneath the left leg before slamming it through the tilted orange rim with his right hand. That was the difference between being a writer and being a journalist—every word had meaning; every observation was backed by facts.
That’s what I believe in. Which was much easier in, oh, 2003 than it is now, in 2014. Somehow, with Twitter as our guide, we’ve turned into a profession where expediency trumps accuracy and precision. It’s no longer as important to get something right as it is to get it out quickly. That’s why there are so many errors in reporting; that’s why so many articles seem to be plagued by multiple mistakes. We’re all in a rush, even though we’re not quite sure what we’re rushing to.
Of late, Chris has come to personify this awfulness for me and many of my peers. I don’t know the man, and none of my criticisms are about his personality. For all I know, Chris is a wonderful guy. But when I see him there, live on ESPN, taking stabs … deducting off of loose facts … reporting erroneous things—well, it rubs be wrongly. When McCallum and Taylor covered the NBA for SI, they knew people. Reliable people. Sources they could call for confirmation or denial. And if something couldn’t be confirmed—if it were not 100-percent concrete—it wouldn’t be written. Ever. As in, never ever ever ever.
Again, Broussard—in the name of being first—takes stabs. Guesses. He cites “sources” repeatedly, but his sources often seem to be incorrect. As McCallum once told me, “Sources are only useful if they’re trustworthy. Otherwise, they’re wastes of your time.”
I digress. I made this about Chris, and it’s really not. It’s about modern journalism, and how I wish we all could take a time out and step back and delete our Twitter accounts and reconsider what’s important.