Sometimes those of us in the news media bust our own balloons, leaving us with lots of clown makeup and nothing to hand out to the kids.
And that’s how ESPN, the company that changed the world of sports, looks this week.
Journey back in time to 1979 when ESPN was created. The question almost asked was simple: How will you be able to put on 24 hours of sports on television?
Well, we now know the answer. And many other networks, national and regional, have joined the party. It was a brilliant idea exceptionally executed. And like millions, I, too, watch it religiously.
Now quickly travel back to April 26, 2017.
ESPN, like almost all of the sports channels, is experiencing the disruption that newspapers and other media outlets have been slogging through for the last two decades.
Cable viewership is decreasing, more people are getting their sports by streaming and more cable subscribers who are not fans are asking why they should have to help pay the high price for ESPN.
And the contracts for the NFL, NBA, MLB and other telecast rights have rocketed into the stratosphere.
That means Disney, the owner of ESPN, can’t produce enough Beauty and the Beasts to make up for the falling revenues of the multiple ESPN channels.
So this week, the axe cometh and almost 100 employees in the talent category, many who are household names to those of us who obviously watch too much sports, were let go.
When the news first broke my natural instinct was to go directly to the ESPN website to read what was going on.
That’s when the balloon busted. There wasn’t a story to be found. Perhaps it was just a rumor. Surely Deadspin, one of the go-to sports websites, would set me straight. It did. It was true.
Later, I learned that if I had gone to the network’s corporate websites, I would have found a message to employees from ESPN President John Skipper and another message to employees from a number of ESPN executives. At one point in the day, I saw two ESPN anchors sharing personal thoughts about the layoffs.
None of these passed for news coverage of a major sports business story that ESPN should have owned.
Only the ESPN higher-ups know why specific people were chosen. Why Ed Werder and Trent Dilfer, who worked the NFL? Why anchor Jay Crawford, golf’s Dottie Pepper, and baseball’s Jayson Stark? Why writers Johnette Howard and Melissa Isaacson and radio’s Danny Kanell? Why any one of the dozens?
Only those same executives know what the financial bottom line looks like. So I can’t dispute the need for these moves or the choices made, other than knowing I will miss some of these familiar folks when I go searching for my sports fix.
But ESPN made an error by not sharing the news first with its own readers. That is unforgivable.
May it never be necessary again. But if it is, how about treating your audience with the respect and trust we deserve?
Don’t leave us rumblin’, stumblin’, bumblin’ for the news.
Gregory Favre is the retired vice president of news for the McClatchy Company. He was a Distinguished Fellow of Journalism Values at Poynter.