Thursday, July 2, 2009

The National vs. Local Media and a Golden State Case Study

One of the most interesting things about observing sports media (in my case the NBA media) is that the opportunity presents itself to look at the differences between national and local coverage. The Golden State Warriors, who have made a few national headlines recently, are an excellent case study of how two different mediums report on the same subject in contrasting ways.

Talk around Golden State’s draft centered mostly on the idea that they would send the 7th pick and a package of players to Phoenix in exchange for Amar’e Stoudemire. Of course anytime All-Star talent is being shopped, the media will jump all over it.

Actually, leap and lunge are probably more appropriate verbs. The ESPN bottom line was frequented with updates in addition to the Bay Area media funneling news to local fans. Now cue the inherent differences between the national giants and local outlets.

Many on the national stage theorized the best way for the Warriors to get the Amar’e deal finalized. They drooled over how Don Nelson would love the athletic big man. Recently on PTI, Mike Wilbon and Bob Ryan didn’t need more than a second to decide the deal would be great for the Warriors, attributing Biedrins supposed lack of upside and how Stephen Curry has yet to prove he is NBA-ready. The deal was met with far more skepticism in the Bay. Writers such as Ray Ratto, Bruce Jenkins and Monte Poole questioned Stoudemire’s health, willingness to sign an extension and his compatibility with the coaching staff. Same story – two very different sides.

KC Sports Rant recently had the opportunity to speak with a well known Bay Area sports journalist – who respectively wished to be anonymous – and examine more in depth how differently the local and national media cover teams who are either in small markets or are less frequent on ESPN airwaves (or both).

And the differences are distinct. Our guest attributed those differences primarily to not observing these teams as much as the local media does. According to the interviewee “the local media sees these people every day,” even getting the chance to travel with the team and players for the majority of the year. The guest went on to say that “unless these teams are in the playoffs, they don’t register.”

There are concrete examples of this. In the case of the Warriors, the national media has many misconceptions and cases of incorrect reporting. During the NBA Draft, viewers are thrown images and charts of various facts about each team. Included in these are projected starting lineups and key reserves. Our guest spoke about when those came up for the Warriors, Corey Maggette was listed in the starting lineup despite in reality being the 6th man for almost the entire season. Furthermore, he described to me how Ronny Turiaf was left out of the key reserves despite being “one of the better backup centers in the league.” Quite frankly these are things ESPN should know, yet because the Warriors were a 29 win team, the reporting on them was blatantly wrong.

Our interview led to talk of more inaccuracies of the Warriors by the national media. One being that “[Chris] Mullin was key figure in turning the franchise around.” Our guest explained to me that it was definitely not the case, citing examples of Mullin’s missteps including the hiring of Mike Montgomery and missing badly on two consecutive lottery picks in Ike Diogu and Patrick O’Bryant. Mullin was painted as a victim on the national stage when in reality did not have a satisfactory track record.

Our discussion then led to the Bay Area media and their coverage of the Warriors. As far as our guest is concerned, all of his reports are based on “well informed opinions” and he always makes the effort to “make sure [the material] is right.” The same can’t be said for everyone, as local media for any team is fed information by agents looking to benefit their clients. Some readers may have trouble distinguishing between what is factual and what is being manipulated by outside sources. I was told how readers “have to look at the motive” because a majority of theorizing by local writers can sometimes be complete fabrication by the writers themselves. “Everybody wants the scoop.”

In returning our attention to the national media I asked my guest who he thought of as the best members of the NBA national media. He was quick to say “lots of good ones out there,” listing off big time names such as Marc Stein, David Aldridge, Mike Breen, Ernie Johnson and the duo of Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins. While ESPN and its affiliates certainly don’t always get the story straight when it pertains to the Warriors, there are reporters out there who get the job done the right way.

Our interesting conversation led me to the conclusion that while the national and local media are very different, one is not necessarily always better than the other. The national media will blunder when underexposed to a team while the local guys tend to theorize slightly too much. In the end it is up to the readers to weed through all media to find the best and most accurate coverage of their team, no matter how small a market they are in or how unsuccessful that team may be.

Lastly, I did ask if our guest had been offered the opportunity to work on the national stage, and if so, why did he decline it? “I have been offered many opportunities” he said. However, it was the prospect of working directly with and being tied to one team that has kept his feet firmly planted in the Bay Area.

***A big thank you goes out to our guest for his contributions to this article and his insight into the vast idiosyncrasies of all levels of sports journalism.

Dr. Murphy out.

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