A few weeks ago I asked the Slabbed Nation exactly how much independent news and commentary was worth. This is not a one and done conversation by any stretch as I absolutely intend to continue having it with those of you that have exhibited the courage to hit the “Post Comment” button and the thousands of you guys that stop here everyday satisfying the need to know what is going on in this area.
So yup, my ears should’ve been burning last night but they weren’t (more on that later) but the events again begs the question exactly how much is independent news and commentary worth? Today, the PBS show Frontline provides the backdrop because I was too riveted by excellent TeeVee journalism last night for my ears to burn as we again examine that question. First we start with this gem I’ve been holding for a few months:
N.F.L. Pressure Said to Lead ESPN to Quit Film Project ~ Ken Belson and James Andrew Miller
On Thursday, ESPN, which has spent heavily in recent years to build its investigative reporting team, abruptly ended its affiliation with “Frontline,” a public affairs television series that was weeks from showing a jointly produced two-part investigative project about the N.F.L.’s contentious handling of head injuries. The divorce came a week after the N.F.L. voiced its displeasure with the documentary at a lunch between league and ESPN executives, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
It is a fundamental law of the media industry that when you add advertisers you add sacred cows aka topics that will never be covered because of those sacred cows. Throw in other contractual relationships like the one between ESPN and the NFL and the conflict between journalism in the public interest and $$$$$$$ becomes acute.
Frontline is donor funded and while that can also lead to conflict between journalism and the (new) Benjamins typically any strings are attached on the front end of the journalism thus the potential for conflict is less. It shows in the reporting.
So as the parent of a high school football player, I watched last night’s two part Frontline series on concussions in the sport of football and how the NFL reacted to the science in what has turned into a 19 year saga with great interest. I was not the only person riveted by the 2 hour documentary as the peeps over at Columbia Journalism Review were similarly impressed:
And then there’s the NFL, which Frontline conclusively shows covered up the crisis for years. It hired an unqualified, NFL-loyal doctor to head up its committee and pooh-pooh the evidence for more than a decade. It attacked and belittled scientists like Omalu and McKee. Its commissioner, Roger Goodell, won’t admit that playing football is linked to brain damage, despite the fact that forty-five of the 46 brains of dead football players that have been studied have had CTE.
Goodell is shown to be particularly awful: a real villain, along with his hand-picked doctor Ira Casson. It will be a shame if Goodell survives long in his job after Frontline’s film. I’d like to know where the Department of Justice is on this scandal.
So again I ask, how much is independent news and commentary worth? One way we can answer that question is to examine how a local media outlet with a skin in the game handled the runup to the show:
‘Frontline’s’ ‘League of Denial’ examines NFL’ s head-injury crisis ~ Dave Walker, Tee Vee Reporter for NOLA Media Group
So at NOLA Media Group this story was not a sports story it was a Tee Vee story. Imagine the internal conversations that happened before the powers that be at NOLA Media Group assigned it to Walker instead of Jeff Duncan in sports. Gotta give NOLA Media Group some credit here because they covered the show while walking the tightrope. Tightrope?? Lest we forget:
My second-favorite story: There is a former writer for the Times-Picayune who left that newspaper to work for Neworleans.com. When the writer, now working for the website, wrote something critical about Reggie Bush, he and the site were both suddenly banned from covering practice.
The Saints argued it was a fringe site, but the organization had credentialed the site for the previous several years without an issue. It wasn’t until the Bush criticism came that the ban was put in.
From my perspective as a parent of a scholar-athlete the information I learned last night about concussions and football is close to priceless. It takes courage to tackle hard topics, especially when one of the parties central to the theme is “mean and bitchy” like Team Goodell and the NFL.
Speaking of Roger Goodell, it was he that sacrificed Sean Payton and the Saints at the altar of NFL player safety public relations last football season all while continuing to publicly deny there was any concussion problem in former NFL players. The irony of Goodell using the CBS Morning Show in New Orleans during Super Bowl week earlier this year to issue such denial is rich indeed. The National Football League is absolutely Darwinian from top to bottom.
How much is independent news and commentary worth? On the local level here is what’s possible. Or to turn the question around what is the price of ignorance? For football players like Junior Seau and Mike Webster that price was steep.
I highly recommend last night’s show and it can be found online at PBS. The scenes that I thought were especially interesting can also be found in dedicated blog posts at the PBS Frontline website on the show:
- How One Client’s Concussion Shook the Real “Jerry Maguire” ~ Jason Breslow
- In Brawl For Seau Brain, a Proxy War Over Concussion Science ~ Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada
Anyone seen Chris Rose lately?
To be continued.