Thursday, January 07, 2016

Radio sports talk hosts are not "journalists"

I don't listen to sports talk radio. I've just never been interested. A lot of other people do, however, such that the Houston market is able to support several sports talk stations. Little surprise, then, that an altercation involving a University of Houston football transfer is receiving so much attention:
Houston Cougars football coach Tom Herman went on John Lopez and Nick Wright’s SportsRadio 610 sports show yesterday. To call the exchange contentious would be an understatement. (The full 22-minute interview can be heard here. h/t sportsmedialm for the link). The genesis of the discussion goes back to a John Lopez story about new Cougar Kyle Allen that was posted on December 13.
To provide some context: quarterback Kyle Allen recently left Texas A&M. Early this week he announced that he had decided to transfer to Houston. Lopez's original story claimed that Allen had met with Herman in person here in Houston to discuss the transfer, which would have been an NCAA recruiting violation had it occurred at the time Lopez claimed.

It would not be surprising for Lopez to suggest that UH had committed a recruiting violation, as he has never been a friend of the University of Houston. Those who listen to him claim that he consistently belittles UH on this radio show. I can't verify that, but I do know that, when he was a columnist at the Chronicle, he took his shots at the program on a regular basis. For example, this article from almost a decade ago, wherein he exaggerated Houston's attendance issues and employed tired (and racist) "UH is in a bad neighborhood" arguments in order to shill for a new stadium for the Houston Dynamo.

In this particular instance, Lopez tried to break some news that put UH and Herman in an unfavorable light, and failed miserably. John Royal explains:
In many ways, this train wreck is all inside media, and it's certainly not something that needed to have happened. It could have been prevented by a call from Lopez to Herman on December 13. It could have been prevented by corrections to the post after that. It could have been prevented if Herman and Lopez could have agreed on what “meeting” and “interest” meant. It could have all been prevented if Nick Wright didn’t go gonzo on twitter Tuesday demanding apologies for Lopez from (Fox 26's) Mark Berman and (the Chronicle's) Joseph Duarte. (Full disclosure: Sean Pendergast, a regular Houston Press contributor who co-hosts his own afternoon SportsRadio 610 show, was not involved in Wednesday morning's interview with Herman nor did he participate in any way with Lopez's story or this one.)

It could have all been prevented if Lopez and/or Wright had ever actually bothered to make their presence known at the University of Houston. They never attended a practice this season. They never came to a game. They never came to a press conference. They had Herman on just once during the season, and never bothered to talk to him at any other time.

None of that, of course, happened. What instead happened is that 610 doubled down, going so far as to basically state it doesn’t matter what the actual facts were since the Cougars and Allen did have a mutual interest—the argument essentially being that facts are unimportant if the essence is kind of sort of correct.
Ahh, yes... "essentially correct." We'll get back to this wonderful phrase in a moment.
Of course, facts do matter. As Duarte and Berman reported, following up with their sources, there was no meeting in Houston that day. Kyle Allen debunked the report, stating he was in Arizona. Even Lopez seems to backtrack during the interview with Herman, implying that there was instead a phone conversation, which is not what he initially reported. And still Wright claims there’s nothing wrong with the story because it doesn’t matter if you’re hit by a red car or an orange car — yes, this exchange actually happened, and yes it’s just as mind-numblingly stupid as it sounds because, as any lawyer will tell you, the color the damn car that hits you absolutely matters.
Which brings me back to my point: radio jocks are not, generally speaking, journalists. They exist to talk about sports, engage callers, drive ratings and sell radio advertising space. They can certainly report and discuss news stories, conduct interviews and offer insight, but they are not investigative reporters and should not pretend to be as such. That's not a knock on radio hosts; it's just not part of their job description. Just because you have a microphone in front of you and are considered a member of the "local media" doesn't make you Bob Woodward.

Hence, Lopez's pathetic attempt at breaking a story that wasn't true, and his (and his douchey little sidekick's) attempt to claim that the story was "essentially correct" after Herman called him out on it. Ask any journalism professor, any managing editor, any longtime reporter what the phrase "essentially correct" means, and they'll tell you that if you use it to defend something you've reported, you'll probably get fired.

Royal correctly argues that Coach Herman didn't come off as well as he could have in this encounter, either. He was clearly angry, he probably allowed the conversation to go on too long, and there's a valid argument that he probably shouldn't have "fed the trolls" by engaging Lopez and Wright in the first place. But Herman is a man who clearly values accuracy and ethics, and he felt that he had to set the record straight.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for a hack like Lopez.

No comments: