In Transparency We Trust

BY BRANDON DOYLE

In the summer of 2010 NBA superstar LeBron James became perhaps the most anticipated free agent in sports history.  His choice of where to play the 2010-11 season was the primary focus of ESPN’s coverage for several months.  When James decided where to play, ESPN announced they would be airing a LeBron special called, ‘The Decision,’ in which James would announce his signing.  ESPN had exclusive coverage of this event.  What they did not tell the public was that James’ agent and managers had contacted ESPN first, and that the special was all James’ idea.  After word spread of the debacle, ESPN received an incredible amount of negative feedback from sports fans and other news reporting outlets.  The special was not objective reporting.  James’ manager even selected the interviewer for ESPN, stating LeBron would not agree to The Decision unless ESPN’s Jim Gray was interviewing.  LeBron’s people also had final say in what questions Gray could ultimately ask James.  Credible reporting?  I think not.

After personally interviewing several ESPN producers in April of 2011, Mark Gross (a Senior Producer at ESPN) admitted they went about covering The Decision incorrectly, and that if given the chance to do it over, Gross and ESPN would be more transparent in their reporting on LeBron James.

But this begs the question: In a digital age, is it more important for writers and reporters to be transparent in their coverage, or stick to an objective view point?

In a 2007 article, blogger David Weinberger discusses how media outlets, particularly new media, are changing how their news is presented to its readers.  For centuries, journalists have clung to the idea of remaining objective in their reporting.  The idea stemmed from the belief that if we (journalists) report objectively, the news produced will be increasingly trustworthy.  If we do not present our political and social biases, our audience will have faith that what we are reporting is both fair and accurate.  But the internet is changing this.

As Weinberger mentions, transparency “prospers in a linked medium.”  I believe that hyperlinks alone are the main cause for bloggers and journalists writing for the Internet to be transparent.  As a reader, I like to know the background of whatever article I am reading.  Where did the information presented originate?  Was it conceived by research?  Interviews?  Or through documents obtained by the reporter?  This is the advantage hyperlinking holds.  By hyperlinking in an article, questions like these are answered.  No longer does a consumer need to wonder where or how a reporter is gathering information.

In today’s media world, although never openly conveyed by corporate media, biases are ever present.  Fox News and MSNBC are two examples of corporate media outlets whose political biases are evident, yet swept under the rug and disregarded by corporate producers.

I agree with Weinberg’s statement, “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

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