Who will lead the war against the machines? Well, Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban may be vying to take that title away from John Connor, but his current strategy makes him more of a Terminator. There’s been plenty of discussion of the idea of automated game stories this year, with the Associated Press using them for minor-league baseball and some lower-level NCAA coverage, and Cuban told Barry Horn of The Dallas Morning News his controversial revocation of season credentials for ESPN.com writers Marc Stein and Tim McMahon (a ban that extends to all ESPN.com writers) is somehow pushback against automation:
Cuban told The Dallas Morning News on Monday afternoon he is trying to combat computer-generated generic coverage.
The billionaire who made much of his fortune through high tech along the internet, is protesting technology.
So why lift the credentials of living, breathing talented humans who can add perspective and color to coverage?
Because ESPN has informed the Mavericks that beginning this season it will no longer send reporters to all their games but rather rely on automated reports. Banning the writers is Cuban’s way of bringing attention to the the issue.
The ban at American Airlines Center extends to all writers with ESPN.com.
Cuban, via email, said his action was nothing personal against the writers.
“Nothing to do with editorial,” he wrote. “It was purely in regards to my concern about the degree of automated coverage we were getting.”
Cuban cited what he believes was lackluster coverage of the Mavericks season-opener at home against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“They weren’t there,” he wrote. “On ESPN Dallas there was one video of a first date, a video (about) the Memphis Grizzlies and (Tim) tweets about the Grizzles. That’s what we get from automation…
“Why would we want Mavs’ fans or the fans of any of the 19 (NBA) teams in similar situations with ESPN going to an ESPN site to get that coverage?”
This is a bizarre approach from Cuban. He’s unhappy that he’s not getting in-person coverage of every Mavericks’ game (and they’re 1-5, so this controversy’s the most nationally relevant they’ve been all year) from ESPN.com, so he’s going to prevent their writers from covering the games they are able to make it to? And this is somehow a pushback against automation? It’s worth noting that the AP coverage ESPN gets for the NBA is very much not produced by machines, but by in-person reporters, so they weren’t exactly relying on automation for the games Stein and McMahon weren’t at. What’s next, forcing reporters to abandon computers and use pencils, paper and typewriters? That’s about as logical as blocking people from attending games because you don’t like automation produced for different sports.
Yes, I’m sure ESPN will completely reconsider their budget and staffing approaches because Cuban whined about not getting in-person coverage for every game his nationally-irrelevant team plays. And the rest of the media world will undoubtedly follow suit. And Mavericks’ fans will stop reading ESPN.com just because Cuban won’t credential ESPN’s writers. If anything, this may illustrate to ESPN that automation’s the right way to go; if their traffic numbers don’t decline substantially following this, that’s not a great argument for investing in a beat writer for each team.
Cuban may claim to be trying to make a grand stand for journalism here, but he’s actually limiting journalism with his approach. ESPN’s Rachel Nichols had a strong takedown of Cuban’s actions Monday:
Cuban’s demand that every Mavericks’ game should be covered in-person by ESPN.com is also ridiculous. If he wants to dictate what appears on ESPN.com and whether his games are worthy of national news or not, he should buy ads. He doesn’t have the right to tell them how to staff his games, and his insistence on “full coverage or no coverage” is not only bizarre, it’s counterproductive.
Fortunately, this odd approach may not last for long, as the Pro Basketball Writers’ Association has said they’re working to reverse this and the NBA is also in contact with both sides. Cuban may think he’s leading the revolt against the machines, but he’s really tripping over his own feet and making himself look dumb. If only he could go back in time and undo this…