Friday, April 28, 2017

ESP-Not Anymore

I didn't watch the first round of the NFL draft last night, on account of I think it's boring TV, and also unnecessary TV. Everything I needed to know (What? The Bears took a QB with a 13-game sample size with the second pick?), I got online.

Which is why The Worldwide Bleeder let Andy Katz go the other day.

OK, so that's a cognitive leap right there. But not much of one. The point is, the bloodletting in Bristol -- 100 people let go, most of whom were veteran reporters at the top of their games who'd been with the network for years -- happened precisely because I didn't have to watch ESPN's coverage to keep abreast of what was going on. Truth is, no one does anymore.

That's because ESPN is a cable entity in a world that's moved beyond cable, and that's why it's The Worldwide Bleeder -- as in, bleeding subscribers. More and more people out there are bailing on cable because A), it's an out-of-control gougefest, and B) it's an out-of-control gougefest. We dumped it ourselves a couple of years ago. And, with a few exceptions, we don't miss it.

Live streaming gives us all the entertainment choices we need, and (at least right now) it's cheaper than cable by miles and miles. Life changes also played into this; since I'm no longer part of the full-time sportswriting fraternity, access to ESPN is no longer of as much value to me. And, again, I can get what it provides as a news source from other platforms now, and just as quickly.

Case in point: Remember that big Notre Dame-Florida State showdown a couple years ago?

It was an ESPN broadcast, so it wasn't on my TV. No problem. I watched it on my laptop. Watching it on TV would have been better, but it wasn't necessary.

Which is exactly what ESPN implied by targeting primarily news-gatherers the other day.

We could all gasp at the breadth of talent shown the street, the Katzes and Ed Werders and Jayson Starks and Johnette Howards. And what ESPN saved by ditching them won't really relieve the budget crunch all that much.

But the message was clear: We value our entertainers, because we are now largely an entertainment vehicle, not a hard-news source. And that's because advancing technology has created a zillion other sources that disseminate news as fast if not faster.

Not as well, of course. Not with the skill and craft and depth the Katzes and Werders and Starks bring to the job. And if that's a reality that augurs little good for the future of journalism, it's also a reality that further advances in technology will no doubt alter again -- and hopefully this time in favor of the news-gatherers.

In the meantime, happily, there will always be room for skill and craft and depth in this business. Which is why a lot of those people let go this week won't be out of work for long.

If there's a ray of light in any of this, that's it.

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