More often than not, the discussion around the sports news world’s prominent “insiders” is about journalistic integrity and whether or not we can consider what they do to actually be journalism.
While breaking news is certainly one of the cornerstones of journalism, especially in the sports world, we’ve heard plenty of stories about reporters stretching the ethical boundaries in order to cement themselves as the preeminent “insider” who demands to be followed.
NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reportedly sends a social media pitchdeck to potential sources to sell himself as the person most worthy of breaking their news. NFL insider Adam Schefter spends thousands of dollars in gifts every year to keep his sources happy, per a recent Washington Post profile.
Schefter, who is extremely good at his job, also routinely gets himself in hot water for a multitude of transgressions, including giving sources editorial approval, unnecessarily editorializing about the people he covers, and shilling for products in a way that could conflict with his integrity. Though none of these issues make him any less valuable to ESPN.
While we often try and figure out why Schefter and his insider brethren act this way, Dan Le Batard has a different point of view on their situation. The former ESPNer and current Meadowlark Media podcaster recently appeared on the House of Strauss Podcast with Ethan Sherwood Strauss and shared his concerns about the mental health of insiders like Schefter and Jay Glazer, citing the demands of the breaking news industrial complex as a culprit.
“It just made me so sad reading that story about Adam Schefter in the Washington Post,” said Le Batard. “He’s a sweet man and he’s a good man and, for a long time, he’s been a good journalist. But the way we’re doing it now in the present evolution of this, where you have to transact relationships in a way that skirt around some journalism principles that I grew up with, makes me uncomfortable. But beyond that what makes me uncomfortable is the obsessive addition of…2:3o in the morning, you’ve got to worry that someone else in the world, in the information age, has information that you don’t have.”
Le Batard shared an anecdote from his time at the Miami Herald to illustrate the stress that “news breakers” are under.
I remember when I was in my early 20s. I was sobbing in the Miami Herald bathroom at midnight because I was competing on the Marlins beat with Gordon Edes, a longtime baseball writer who had scouts in his wedding, and I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Le Batard. “And just, having to report as a young 23-year-old and compete and worry about what some other newspaper was gonna have was such a horror that I’m questioning my career choice in my early 20s because this isn’t what I imagined it was. I don’t want to break news. I don’t want to compete with somebody else for information. But we’ve distorted now where that’s the most valuable thing.
“So, I don’t know that you could be a normal human being and be good at those jobs.
“To do what those guys do, compete against every beat writer in every city whose being paid to cover those teams, and have more information…does your audience understand how hard that is cause I don’t think they do. I don’t think they have any idea what it is to be Jay Glazer, Woj…Shams [Charania], and Schefter. Those are the four (best).”
“You don’t know the weight that mental illness is until it’s grabbed you by the throat,” said Le Batard about Glazer. “He was having panic attacks right before he stepped on [the TV studio].”
As far as what’s making the job and industry so damaging, Le Batard cited the impact of social media.
“If I weren’t doing what I’m doing right now, Ethan, I would hurl, like a frisbee, my iPad into the ocean and never look at social media again,” said Le Batard. “Like, never check in with anything that was happening because of how addictive it is and how toxic it can be, and how slowly and depressingly you can look at all the other things that are out there and be made sad by it.”
There’s certainly validity in what Le Batard is saying. The pressure that Woj and Shams must feel to constantly be in competition with one another, not to mention maintaining their spots against everyone else in the NBA insider world, must be immense. And clearly, Schefter and Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, and others are in constant competition with one another while also constantly working to prove their value. Not to mention the microscope they’re under to get everything right or get shamed on social media.
It’s also worth saying that all of this is a choice, too. You don’t have to push yourself beyond the ethical boundaries of journalism in order to be the first person to say the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed a new punter. That’s a choice you make to put your career ahead of other things. As Le Batard alluded to himself, the grind of breaking news was too much for him to handle and so he transitioned his career to another aspect of sports media. That’s always possible for others too, as Glazer appears to be showcasing.
Does the state of modern sports journalism require Adam Schefter to woo sources with gifts and give them editorial say over his reports or is that a choice Schefter makes because he wants to be number one no matter the cost to his integrity? That’s the question at the heart of what Le Batard is saying. Given that you don’t see other NFL insiders get into the same hot water he does over and over (and over), it seems like it’s the latter. But the jury remains out.