ESPN Uses Bad Journalism for Big Business

Tuesday’s ESPN E-60 piece, where reporter Tom Farrey blindsided Miguel Tejada with a copy of his birth certificate that he claimed to receive from the Domincan government, showing Tejada is actually two years older and has a different last name than previously thought, is another example of sensationalism, bordering invasion of privacy. ESPN uses the same tactics that paparazzi and various new media outlets, such as bloggers and online videos, are denigrated for.

First off, it’s no longer major news when a Latin American player, or any pro athlete for that matter, is found to be a few years older than the baseball documents show. Tejada becomes the latest in a long line of age corrections that started when the US cracked down on visa’s and documentation in the post-9/11 era. Alfonso Soriano aged two years a few off-seasons ago. It warranted little more than a mention on Sportscenter, and an AP wire story. Are we really supposed to believe Orlando Hernandez is only 42, or Jose Contreras is 36? This story does not warrant feature coverage on an investigative news show.

Ethics comes into play here. ESPN’s Tom Farrey clearly lied to Tejada about the topic of the interview to get him on camera, then breaks out a birth certificate to get the shock value on camera. Running the story, then asking for Tejada’s comment would have been more appropriate, though he likely would not have commented. Blindsiding Tejada reeks of the same ethical problems raised about a TMZ.com parking itself on the front lawn of someone’s house, or a blogger mouthing off about someone’s past without talking to them. This interview is further proof that ESPN feels the need to stoop to that level to compete in the increasingly competitive 24-hour news cycle.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that ESPN benefited from this story. The Tejada interview generated immense buzz, the link to ESPN’s video (http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/video/videopage?categoryId=3060647&brand=null) made its way all over the Internet, I’m sure it’s one of the most viewed of the week. Newspapers wrote about it, TV and radio personalities argued about it, the blogoshpere lit up (case in point, right here), ratings probably increased on E-60, though I do not have the numbers to back that up yet. Generating buzz, getting page views, it’s what today’s media landscape is all about, and ESPN scored.

The next time bloggers are restricted from an event, or denied press credentials, remember stories like this where the credentialed media exhibits the exact behavior that makes organizations fear new media coverage. Worse, they have a bigger platform to distribute it.

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