This past week has seen two prominent sports names…LeBron James and Brett Favre…dragged into the middle of controversy by being invlved in stories that were sort of on the record sort of not, but both show the continued issues media have with ethics, the battle to get out unique content and the growing rift between those who want coverage and those who have all coverage thrust upon them. The first involved ESPN reporter Arash Markazi and his trailing of James and crew in Las Vegas. The murkiness over whether James’ team knew who Markazi was and what he was doing in a public place trailing the soon to be Miami Heat star is one issue, the fact that the reporter really didn’t find much and reported as such is another. It is clear that Markazi never clearly stated or showed that he was a member of the media when he started asking questions to the group, but whether some people knew or didn’t know is the issue. He did go to Las Vegas to see what he could find, and the resulting story, which ESPN did remove when it caused some controversy, was the product of his trip. Should he have clearly said why he was there and asked for access, should James’ crew have known why he was there, should ESPN have removed a pretty benign story or should they have posted it in the first place is all the source of the debate.
Then Thursday comes the story that Deadspin posted a story, which was not fully approved, o. model Jenn Sterger saying she had suggestive pictures sent to her by Brett Favre. Again there is more about whether Deadspin had approval to run the story, whether the source was ethical, whether this is a convoluted PR play etc etc. The difference here is that Deadspin is and always has been about edgy and drawing traffic. It gets big numbers because of its content for shock and sizzle, not becuase the site wants to be a fully credible news source. There is little doubt Sterger told editor A.J. Daulerio about the pictures and was looking for a PR bump at the right time. What is in doubt is the supposed “OK” to run them. What Favre was doing sending the alleged pictures to anyone is another matter that is obviously much bigger than an ethical media “run or not run” story.
The difference in the two stories is simple…ESPN regards itself, despite the controversy over “The Decision” show it did with James, as a legitimate news outlet always looking for branded news content with regard to sports, and their reporters when looking for stories should identify themselves as such. When they don’t and hard news is not involved it becomes an issue. Deadspin clearly has always stated they are looking for the edgy, and the credibility of newssources or the clarity of such sources is less important. It all depends on what the source gatherer works for them…long term relationships or quick and easy spin and buzz. Regardless of what is right or wrong, there is another clear fact that is hammered home. In today's cell phone, twitter 24/7 world, if you are in the public eye you are in the public eye, it does not close, it does not turn off. You always must know who is about you and who you are talking to, and those who you trust must also always watch when you cannot. It is not easy, it is usually not fair, but it is the fact of life when content is king.