Are reporters' relationships with sources ruining sports journalism?

A couple weeks ago I was out with a buddy playing some shuffleboard and also randomly discussing why sources like general managers and coaches wouldn't just divulge information through social media as opposed to texting a sportswriter (odd, I know). He reminded me that it isn't that these sources don't have the means to release this information on their own. They simply owe it to the reporters they choose to inform.

It wasn't that I was unaware such practice takes place, it's simply one of those truths you choose to block out from time to time. We (maybe just I) like to think of sportswriters as tireless hard-nosed reporters, working into the late hours of the night to uncover whatever facts they can. Instead, they're sometimes just some smart-ass pawns.

We sometimes supend disbelief a bit, forget that a significant amount of major sports news today isn't unearthed through tireless reporting, but instead intentionally leaked with a purpose to the reporter who has done the best politicking.

As a case study, let's look at one Chris Broussard, ESPN's "NBA Insider". As background, Chris Broussard was one of the first reporters to break the LeBron-to-Miami story. Interestingly enough, he was also the reporter who reported Miami Heat "players" were starting to question Erik Spoelstra's ability to coach.

Moving on, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony share an agent: Leon Rose. To some of you, all this information and where I'm going is painfully obvious. To others, it may look like I'm Glenn Beck'ing things a bit.

Anyway, unsurprisingly, Chris Broussard has played a major role in reporting on the recent Carmelo Anthony fiasco. Just today he reported that a single source has said that the New Jersey Nets have re-entered the race for Carmelo Anthony despite publicly bowing out of the contest about a month ago. In that article, which is 1,078 words long, there's really only one new tidbit of information:

"New Jersey has come back strong," said one source with knowledge of the discussions. "They really want Anthony."

Wow.

So, there's a couple different possibilities here. Let's examine.

  1. This is totally and completely legitimate. After going so far as to publicly back out via press conference, something rarely—if ever—seen, billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov has gone back on his word and is hot on the trail of 'Melo once again. Very possible, but seems a bit odd to me, even though the story is being reported by more than just Broussard.
  2. Maybe there has been a modicum of interest, the absolute minimal amount on the part of the Nets, and members of Melo's camp (Hey, Leon Rose, what's up?) have leaked this info to Broussard (along with others) and instructed him to run with the story. I'm giving Broussard the benefit of the doubt here as it's entirely possible there hasn't been any raised level of interest. He's even cut out the Pistons in this report so there's no need to verify sources there. Just go with the one single source saying it happened, that'll work.

    What's the goal here? Maybe the Knicks buy it and amp up their efforts to trade for Carmelo. It's unlikely, but it's worth a shot. If the Knicks truly believe there's another suitor involved, they may up their offer and get Carmelo to the Garden before he inevitably signs with the Knicks in free agency. If he gets there before free agency, he can sign a contract extension and make significantly more money than he would in the fallout from the renogiated CBA. Maybe then the sources who leaked this information remember all the writers who helped make this happen and be sure to reward them with news of the trade and eventual contract extension.

I understand this all sounds far-fetched to some, but it happens every single day. It very well may be a sign of the times, or maybe it's always taken place (though I'm not sure why we'd all be taught not to write single source stories or give sources preferential treatment then) but I do know it does make me question, if not doubt, every single report from individuals like Chris Broussard. There are some reporters who have earned everyone's trust, while others simply have not.

Coming back to the realm of social media, there may come a time when teams and agents decide to cut the crap, and speak directly with the general public because the mainstream media has become so diluted with strategic information anyway. While the mainstream media may eventually get hit by their sources for this behavior, it's much more likely that they'll be punished by their readers instead. I, personally, have gotten to the point where I take every major NBA report with a scoop of skepticism and instead wait until the facts materialize so I can read thoughtful analysis as opposed to this so-called "reporting". I'm more more interested in the commentary and insight offered by individuals like Henry Abbott and Matt Moore instead of these "Who said this anyway?" reports from the likes of Broussard.

So, sportswriters, I understand that things like this happen, that today's "24-hour news cycle" creates a constant thirst for scoops but please, let's have some dignity. Let's make sure every story or news item has more than one source. More than anything, just make sure you're not getting played. Give readers something informative, not something spoonfed to you for strategic reasons only.

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