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How To Fix The Media’s ‘Breaking News’ Problem

Why is it breaking when a player that was injured in a game, is still injured and won’t play in the next game? A player that will be a free agent in three-years signs an extension in spring training and that’s breaking? Nope. Never. Uh uh. No way.

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Breaking News

BREAKING NEWS: I’m writing a column for Barrett Sports Media on a Thursday.

Really? I write a column for BSM every Thursday. So, the answer is, nope. It just illustrates the point that EVERYTHING is presented to us as “breaking news” these days. The obvious gets the label, and even the mundane gets the “breaking news” treatment. Stations and networks are hoping the ‘shock’ value of the bold graphics and ominous music will reel you in to their story. Frankly, I’ve become desensitized to it all. News and sports. 

I get to this conclusion thanks to the realistic thinking of new CNN boss Chris Licht. He was fed up with the network’s overuse of “breaking news” according to a memo to his staff. It seemingly had become proper practice to shock and awe viewers with the concept. Licht had enough. According to the memo obtained by Axios. “We are truth-tellers, focused on informing, not alarming our viewers,” Licht said. CNN is creating a new stylebook giving guidelines about when to use “breaking news” and when not to use it. 

“You’ve already seen far less of the Breaking News banner across our programming,” Licht wrote, adding that the network is still tweaking the guidelines but will use the term only when “something BIG is happening.”

It’s sometimes used as a gimmick, designed so the listener/viewer would ‘hear it/see it first’ on that station. Ok, so, what if I’m not listening to that station, and I hear it first somewhere else? I don’t get the point. If your sports station has great reporters and great hosts that cultivate excellent relationships with players and teams, you are going to get news that others will not. It speaks to credibility. If I know that a station is constantly breaking news, that’s actually worthy of the descriptor, I’m going to gravitate there. I know that these folks are on top of stuff and not just throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. 

Breaking news is by definition, “newly received information about an event that is currently occurring or developing.” Some networks play loose and fast with that meaning. Many times, “breaking news” is used by a news/sports organization when in fact the story they’re reporting on isn’t BREAKING. The news is old, but perhaps that entity didn’t report it yet. So, I guess it’s breaking to them. But it’s not to everyone else who has already seen/heard that news. It’s all hard to avoid in today’s 24-hour news/sports cycles. Breaking news for some organizations then comes down to ‘which story has the most interest and biggest impact right now’. That’s not the intention. 

ESPN has this habit of using their breaking news graphic for the new AP Top 25 College Football or Basketball Polls being released. Huh? They come out at the same time every week, so why is this breaking? Why is it breaking when Mel Kiper Jr. releases his latest draft “Big Board” several months before the NFL Draft? Why is it breaking when a player that was injured in a game, is still injured and won’t play in the next game? A player that will be a free agent in three-years signs an extension in spring training and that’s breaking? Nope. Never. Uh uh. No way. Stop wasting my time and getting me all excited about some big news that’s about to come my way. 

The judgement shown by producers in these cases is lazy. How out of touch are some entities? Take this Tweet from the Associated Press on New Year’s Day of 2016:

That tweet is real. The basis for it, is unreal. The constant use just cheapens when things are really breaking. Right now, for many it’s a tune-out from the station and from the mind. 

Now, as I write this column, there was actually some breaking news worthy of the title. When Joe Maddon was fired by the Angels amid a 12-game losing streak, that’s big news. The details developed from an early morning report to the actual announcement from the team. This case fits the definition better than most these days. 

When your network gets a scoop that is jumping every other outlet, it is breaking news. It’s not always a bad thing to put the graphic up, just don’t do it when it isn’t worthy. There seems to be a lack of news (or sports) judgement in many cases around the dial these days. I do understand that there are hierarchies at some networks that will insist on the graphic at all times. There are just so many times you can cry wolf before the impact is lost on your viewer/listener. It has to stop. 

I remember growing up in the 80s when the news networks would break into programming for a “Special Report”. That grabbed attention. Whether it was about President Reagan being shot or the Space Shuttle launch and subsequent explosion, that graphic meant, stop what you’re doing, this is important. If it’s not worthy of breaking into regular programming, is it really breaking? I don’t think so. 

There are so many better words or phrases that can be used for news that is coming in, continuing to materialize or being reported by just one entity. How about ‘NEW’? As in ‘new this hour, we’ve learned about a contract extension for player A.’ That works. Or ‘JUST IN’? How about news that still has some sketchy details, maybe, ‘DEVELOPING’? That kind of invites the viewer/listener to stay tuned for further developments. Simple right? In the cases where nobody else has the story, an oldie but a goodie, ‘EXCLUSIVE’ seems to fit the bill. Pretty self-explanatory. 

All I’m saying is more news/sports judgement needs to be practiced here. I don’t think you are helping yourself or your network/station by falling on the crutch of breaking news. It’s too easy. It takes no thought. It’s time for sports to follow CNN’s lead. Examine the news, don’t rush to be first if you don’t have all the facts, and be better. Let others make that mistake. Then you can say, ‘they may break the news, but we fix it’. BREAKING NEWS: that line sounded good to me when I wrote it. 

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BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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