It's a journalist's job to report the news. When news happens to a journalist, it's a media reporter's job to report that. Well, what happens when a media reporter becomes the story? That's what happened to Deadspin's John Koblin last month in an item that tore across the internetor at least Romenesko.
"The second ESPN stops being so dumb, sports media won't be nearly as fun a beat."
While speaking to a journalism class at the University of Maryland, ESPN executive editor John Walsh asserted that Deadpsin was only fixated on the massive sports network's lack of response to its entertainment writer Lynn Hoppes's obvious plagiarism because Koblin and Hoppes were fighting over a woman. This came as news to Koblin, as well as to his boyfriend of three yearsnever mind the fact that it has nothing to do with why ESPN wouldn't remove plagiarized content from its site. "That was the most spectacular meltdown I've seen from an executive in the six years that I've been covering the media," Koblin tells Gelf.Koblin, 29, came to Deadspin last year after covering media at the New York Observer from 2006 to 2010 and Women's Wear Daily from 2010 to 2012. "I used to cover places like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and Conde Nast," Koblin says. "I can tell you ESPN is much dumber, and plays fast-and-loose with fairly standard journalistic practices far more, than any of those other media organizations."
In the following interview, which was conducted over email and has been edited for clarity, Koblin recalls when Joe Buck and Tim McCarver weren't routinely lambasted, finds the good and bad in ESPN's tennis coverage, and guesses how the media would react to the first openly gay male major-sport athlete.
Gelf Magazine: Is ESPN too big to fail, or could you see a player on the scene now or in the future taking it on?
John Koblin: Not for a long, looooong time. The marketplace is certainly big enough that NBC and Fox (and I guess CBS, too?) will find themselves with profitable little sports channels, but it'll take a very long while before any sports network can hold a candle to ESPN.
Gelf Magazine: When will the last print issue of Sports Illustrated be published, if ever?John Koblin: Oh, a long time from now. A decade? Two? Three? Yes, the magazine industry is dying, but it's dying at a rate far slower than advertised. And it is true that SI's revenues are significantly down from, what, six years ago and there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when they're going to have to have an awkward talk about, "Is being a weekly actually worth it?" but there will be a print version of the magazine for quite a while longer, definitely.
Gelf Magazine: You're a big tennis fan. How would you assess US TV commentary of the sport, and the quality of print journalistic coverage?
John Koblin: Actually very good. Yes, it's a little hard to find places that discuss tennis, but the places that do it are generally excellent. The International Herald Tribune's Christopher Clarey (the New York Times borrows him for Grand Slams) is as good a writer on any sport out there. SI's Jon Wertheim is a phenomenal beat writer (and I hope his recent promotion at SI doesn't mean less tennis writing). The New York Times's US Open coverage is always a treat.
The fact that ESPN has swallowed up nearly every tennis broadcast there is? That is both good and bad! It's very, very good because, wow, there's so much tennis to watch whenever I want to watch it. ESPN has done such a good job of getting a lot of tennis on. But then there's the fact that ESPN has to be ESPN about it. Which is too much of just about everything. I'm sorry, the all-McEnroe-brother broadcast booth is a very great idea in theory, but they shouldn't be calling marquee matches. Stick them on Court 7 at 2pm! And the fact that ESPN chased away Mary Carillo is a shame. Since ESPN stole away Wimbledon (and NBC's Breakfast at Wimbledon theme song) and will very, very likely poach the US Open men's and women's final from CBS, this means Carillo will only be on a finals broadcast for the French Open. That's really upsetting. She's one of the best broadcasters out there and the Ted Robinson-John McEnroe-Carillo booth is the best in sports.
Gelf Magazine: Would you want at some point to have a more traditional sportswriting job, rather than covering the sports media?
John Koblin: Gratefully I get to do both here! And, yes, the second ESPN stops being so dumb, sure, sports media won't be nearly as fun a beat.
Gelf Magazine: Why do certain commentators whom everyone seems to hate stay on the air for so long?
John Koblin: They might not be that bad! Joe Buck is usually quite good. Tim McCarver used to be the best in the business! Seriously. When he was on Channel 9 doing Mets games, he was phenomenal. Actually he was great even dipping into the 2000s. Remember when he did this?
Gelf Magazine: What was the biggest media meltdown of 2012? Which was the most entertaining?
John Koblin: Am I allowed to say the John Walsh episode? 'Cause let me go with that. Actually, it's sort of crazy. STEP 1: ESPN writer plagiarizes. STEP 2: We write about that. STEP 3: Several months later, we follow-up 'cause ESPN hadn't clean those contaminated stories. STEP 4: The Great John Walsh tells a journalism class that we only followed up 'cause Lynn Hoppes took my girlfriend away (had to have annoying talk with my boyfriend explaining that wasn't true). Yes, I'll say that was the most spectacular meltdown I've seen from an executive in the six years that I've been covering the media.
Gelf Magazine: What do you think of ESPN's sourcing guidelines, as revealed in the Jay Glazer story?
John Koblin: Stupid but not the biggest crime in the world. The fact that Josh Elliott said that ESPN used to slap a "SOURCES" attribution when they were explicitly stealing it? Yes, that's bad, but many, many news outfits are guilty of the same.
Gelf Magazine: If a major-sport male pro athlete comes out of the closet in 2013, do you think the sports media will cover it tastefully and sensitively?
John Koblin: Yes, absolutely. The country's mood has shifted (obviously) and the press is craving this story. How many stories have we seen in the last few months that are all about "How Would The Sports World React To A Gay Athlete?" Everyone is waiting and wants it. As am I, frankly! It would be amazing and inspiring and wonderful. You'll have some idiot outliers, but I really would be surprised if much of that came from the (reputable) press.
Gelf Magazine: How has working at Deadspin differed from working for the Observer? Any big surprises?
John Koblin: Yes, I mean it's incredibly and wildly different. There's the obvious: The Observer was a weekly newspaper, which meant I only got stressed out like three days a week. At Deadspin, I get to be stressed out all the time! Let's see, what else? Well I used to cover places like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and Conde Nast and I can tell you ESPN is much dumber, and plays fast-and-loose with fairly standard journalistic practices far more, than any of those other media organizations.
And, oh yes. I was lucky to have amazing editors at the Observer (Peter Kaplan, Tom McGeveran, and Josh Benson among them), which I was always grateful for since conventional wisdom holds that the web doesn't like editors and all of them will go extinct in a Jeff Jarvis-y Content Creators Are King world. But? I have equally amazing editing here with Craggs and Scocca. I knew it'd be good but not like this. It's amazing.