Sports media beat: Reason for ESPN’s abrupt announcement on Simmons; Deflategate writer on keeping mouth shut about source

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I know there has to be a reason for the abrupt timing of ESPN announcing that Bill Simmons is done at the network last Friday. James Andrew Miller, who knows all things ESPN, details for Vanity Fair how it was Simmons’ interview with Dan Patrick that set everything in motion.

 The chief reason there was an abrupt announcement last week and that a drama-free, buddy-buddy ending didn’t happen is painfully simple, and simply painful: it was all because of Simmons’s latest appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, and his seemingly gratuitous slam at N.F.L. commissioner Goodell. He had performed a similar routine last fall, calling Goodell a “liar” on his own podcast, and earned a three-week suspension. Once was forgiven; twice was Bugs Bunny declaring, “Of course, you know: this means war.”

Simmons seems like a bright guy. Considering all he’s been through with ESPN, there could be little doubt as to how management would regard his decisions to (a) go back on Patrick’s show (for years, ESPN didn’t allow any of its talent on the show because Patrick, a onetimeSportsCenter anchor, often doesn’t pull punches when trashing his alma mater) and (b) declare the commissioner to be lacking “testicular fortitude.” You almost have to admire Simmons’s own qualities in that department in doing so. Behold, a guy with so many options for future employment that he didn’t think twice about committing professionalhara-kiri.

Skipper cut the cord the very next day.

The Big Lead staff lists its top 25 people in sports media. And the winner is…? Not to be a spoiler, but his last name rhymes with Timmons. Here are a couple of others on the list.

18. Paul Finebaum, ESPN/SEC Network – He was profiled by the New Yorker, and that was before he became a multimedia presence on ESPN and the SEC Network. His radio show is a focal point for college football fans and media members. He can alter the sport’s national discussion with aninterview, a hot bit of gossip, an offhand comment or a tweet.

17. Jason Whitlock, ESPN. Former columnist and radio host is running an ESPN site on race, sports and culture. Polarizing is probably the word that fits him best. Truth is, that’s a good thing in the sports media if the goal is to maximize your exposure. The majority of folks on this list have a love/hate relationship with their audience.

16. Dan Patrick, NBC Sports. One of the few success stories of high-profile media members to leave ESPN and land on his feet. He hosts a daily radio show — of which interviews regularly become ensconced in the news cycle — as well as Sports Jeopardy, and has studio roles for the Olympics and Sunday Night Football.

Old high school pal Bob Kravitz tells Ben Mullin of Poynter that he hasn’t told his wife who his source was for the Deflategate story.

After you broke the story, there was a lot of speculation about the identity of your source. Was it hard to protect his or her identity?

Not in the least. My wife doesn’t even know. She thinks she knows, but I’m not going to tell her whether she’s right or wrong.

But no. Protecting your source is really, really easy. You just shut your fucking mouth. That’s all you do. You just keep your mouth shut and let people guess. It’s actually kind of enjoyable because people have been so consistently wrong in trying to figure out who it is.

Welch Suggs, writing for Medium.com, gives his reasons why he is not a fan of Simmons.

Despite all the good storytelling and journalism with which he’s been associated, Simmons is not a journalist. He may know a lot about pro basketball, but his knowledge and perspective do not come from covering the sport and learning how it works the way journalists do. ESPN employs a lot of talking heads, and at his worst, Simmons has been just another one of those.

I tell my students over and over again that their opinions do not matter; their judgment based on reporting and evidence-gathering does. Obviously a lot of consumers (and producers) of sports media do not value reporting the way I do, but I truly believe that if you’re not there interacting with the people you’re discussing, what value are you adding to the conversation? If you aren’t, you’re writing or talking about merely what’s going on in your own head, and for the overwhelming majority of people the overwhelmingly majority of the time, it isn’t all that interesting.

Michael Bradley weighs in on Bill Simmons’ future at the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana.

Perhaps he cobbles together a Sports Guy fiefdom that includes a little bit of everything, and he becomes a sports and entertainment Medici of sorts, his influence touching a wide range of fields. Or, he casts in with another company and helps it launch a legitimate challenge to ESPN. The most important thing for those of us who have enjoyed his work is that he keeps producing. Don’t stop the mailbags. Keep the films coming. Stay on TV. There’s a lot left for Simmons to do. He must now carry on without the air cover of sports’ biggest squadron. That isn’t going to be easy to do. But carry on he must.

Ken Fang of Awful Announcing did a Q/A with Jeremy Schaap about his E:60 story on Sepp Blatter.

JS: I’m pretty sure the first serious discussions we had about this were back in October or November and since then, I’ve been doing some other stuff, producers have been doing other stuff, but it’s been almost a full-time job for the past six months. There must be 40 hours of interviews we conducted with people who made the piece, obviously people who didn’t make the piece, people who were interviewed off-camera back and forth in four or five different countries and here in the U.S. and we’ve been in edit for a long time too.

The hardest part of this type of process is when you have a show like this is that is seems daunting at the beginning, but you realize very quickly when you have these riches of material the hardest part is going to be deciding what not to include and that’s what we’ve been doing actually for the last week or so figuring out what not to include.

Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing examines the possible replacements for Scott Van Pelt on his radio show.

Russilo on his own:  Russilo’s been doing the show with Van Pelt for the last five years, and he has substantial ESPN Radio experience from before that period too. Letting him fly solo, even if just for a test period, might provide the most continuity for the show’s enthusiastic fanbase, and it sounds like Van Pelt is encouraging that option. Of course, there are some issues with this as well. For one, Russilo’s contract is expiring this year. For another, single-host radio can carry its own challenges, especially in a big and prominent timeslot that’s been key for ESPN over the years. Beyond that, Van Pelt is such a popular sports figure and such a key part of that show that replacing him with no one may feel like a downgrade. That’s why it may make sense to bring in another host to work with Russilo. 

Jeff Pearlman did an interview with CBSSports.com baseball writer Jon Heyman.

J.P.: With so many people covering the Majors, how do you get scoops? Is it a matter of calling, calling, calling? Establishing relationships? Timing? Gut?

J.H.: Now it’s more often texting, texting, texting. But calling is still important, oftentimes to clear up cryptic texts and make sure I understand the message. It’s also important to get to know folks. It would take some special texting ability and cleverness to form a relationship without actually speaking to the person. This is far from brain surgery, as we’ve seen 18-yar-old kids breaking stories on Twitter. I’m not pretending what I do is Woodward and Bernstein stuff by any means, but I’d think generally getting exclusives is about some combination of 1) having a knack; 2) having natural curiosity; 3) hard work.

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