Over the Thanksgiving holiday my older son pointed out to me that family friend, John Koblin, had written a critical article for Deadspin on how ESPN has gradually lost its journalistic way as it chases television ratings.
The example John focusses on is the network’s apparent obsession with New York Jets football player, Tim Tebow–a legendary college football figure who appears to be the latest in the parade of Heisman Trophy quarterbacks not quite good enough to make it in the NFL.
How is Tebow a continuing story? ESPN2′s unsuccessful morning show First Take switched format in late 2011. The new look: …a staged debate between two cartoonish figures who duel in vintage WWF fashion over some item of sports news. Their favorite topic: Tebow.
ESPN discovered that the new First Take was surprisingly popular, even taking audience share away from its mainline morning show, Sportscenter. It reacted in two ways:
–more phony debates all over the network, complete with loud voices, exaggerated gestures and bombast, and
–Tim Tebow all the time, no matter what the ostensible topic of a given show.
I’m of two minds about this ESPN development. As a holder of DIS shares I guess I should approve. As a sports fan, I’ve got to find other sources of sports information and analysis.
Yesterday I was on my way in the car to Delaware and turned on the Bloomberg Radio morning broadcast for the first time in a while. Five years ago I used to listen every day, either live or through podcasts of important segments. No longer. As Bloomberg dialed down the information content and dialed up the reporter self-congratulation I began to look elsewhere.
Anyway, I caught the last part of The First Word, with Ken Prewitt, who strikes me as the only savvy professional journalist left on Bloomberg. Then came Bloomberg Surveillance, which appears to have had a format tweaking since the last time I listened. Mr. Prewitt is gone (…or maybe he was just taking a day off from the insanity). What remains is a veritable First Take of loud voices and self-congratulatory glorification of trivia.
To my mind, this can’t be an accident. The radio personalities must have been trained, à la ESPN, to speak louder, create fake “debate” and constantly tell the audience how important the topics–and the radio hosts themselves–are.
And, as with First Take, the quest for higher ratings is the most likely explanation, with Fox News and CNBC as the models. It’s probably also cheaper to simply act as if you’re conveying relevant information rather than to do the research and analysis needed to create it.
The written Bloomberg news appears not to have been infected by this broadcast tendency. I figure the investment professionals who pay $30,000 a year or more for Bloomberg terminals wouldn’t put up with the stuff that’s now on Bloomberg Radio.
Where is the real financial news today? It’s in newspapers like the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. And, like sports, it’s in the blogosphere.
We may mourn the loss of Bloomberg Radio as an information source, and the fact that the search for relevant stock market information is somewhat more difficult without it. But this also means that insights we may develop are that much more valuable–because they are less likely to have been fully disseminated into the market at the time we figure them out.