The Pittsburgh Steelers released former Defensive Player of the Year Jerome Harrison on Saturday, which, since some called him one of the best players the team has ever had, was big news in Pittsburgh. But what’s notable is just how Steelers fans first heard of the news:
It's been a great run but all good things must come to a end. Thank you Steelers Nation I will miss you all!—
James Harrison (@jharrison9292) March 09, 2013
Not from the Post-Gazette. Not from the Tribune-Review. Not from WPXI, KDKA, or WTAE. In a town with five local media outlets, the news of one of the most popular players on the team leaving came from none other than the player himself.
Welcome to the world of covering sports today.
This is not a new development, of course. James Harrison isn’t the first player to head to his Twitter feed rather than calling up the local beat reporter. Rather, the Harrison example is just another reminder that increasingly, news organizations are finding themselves competing not with each other, but with those whom used to be sources.
Writing in the Washington Post, Paul Farhi pointed to the challenge of teams themselves circumventing the local media:
For sports journalists these days, the playing field isn’t always level. As the Iowa incident suggests, teams and leagues can break their own news, over and around the independent news media that cover them. Professional and big-time college teams aren’t just news sources now; they’re in the news business, too, with their own radio, TV and Internet operations. …
In an earlier age, teams welcomed coverage as free publicity. Now, in an age when technology permits almost anyone to broadcast text, photos and videos instantly, some are far more wary of reporters, viewing them as info-competitors.
But as Harrison demonstrated, it’s not just the teams that news orgs have to worry about. And this can have major ramifications for a symbiotic business model that has existed for generations, according to Jason Fry at Poynter:
All of these developments point to another buzzword from the Web’s early days: disintermediation, or eliminating the middleman. When teams are publishers, and athletes can speak directly to fans, the cost-benefit analysis of opening locker rooms to journalists changes. Like all middlemen in the digital world, they’re endangered.
Maybe this won’t matter. The last decade has seen an explosion in sports news, analysis and chatter, and dedicated fans continue to devour as much as they can get. But at the very least, sports journalists will face powerful new competitors with unbeatable access.
And, in case you weren’t already feeling sorry for your local sports beat guy, it’s only going to get worse, Fry posits:
Now, throw in athletes who are taking to Twitter to connect directly with fans, and using it to break their own news. Most professional athletes on Twitter are still digital immigrants – they started tweeting after they were famous. But very soon, star rookies will arrive who have used social media throughout their teens. For them, communicating via social media will be far more familiar than confronting a scrum of reporters.
It’s worth noting that Fry doesn’t just sound the alarm, he offers some actual advice to trying to stem the approaching apocolypse:
Rather than risk being caught flat-footed then, sports departments should plan now for the era of teams as publishers and competitors.
First, think about what news teams will hold back to break themselves, and get out of the business of competing with them for it.
Next, discuss which stories are me-too fare that readers can get anywhere, and that waste reporters’ valuable time.
Having done that, think about what niches teams can’t fill. Fortunately, there are lots of these — statistical analysis, investigative reporting, scouting upcoming opponents, minor-league reports and historical perspective, to name just a few. Think about if any of those approaches make sense for your news organization, and brainstorm how middlemen can use their status to add value. (For instance, become a great curator, using news judgment to collect the must-reads for a team’s fans whether things are good, bad or ugly.)
Fry was talking to current reporters, of course, but he also laid out a pretty cut-and-dry game plan for journalism educators to use to revamp how they teach the coverage of sports.
What do you think? Are sports journalists futures more in danger than “run-of-the-mill” reporters? And if so, what does that mean for those just entering (or soon to enter) the field?
- James Harrison tweets his goodbye to the Steelers (profootballtalk.nbcsports.com)
- Steelers Release James Harrison (cstrimble.wordpress.com)
- James Harrison’s Greatest Hits (behindthesteelcurtain.com)
- Steelers shed Harrison after LB won’t take pay cut (cbssports.com)
- James Harrison released: Steelers cut one of the best players in franchise history (behindthesteelcurtain.com)
- James Harrison released: Will the 49ers take a look? (ninersnation.com)