A primer: How to tell your sports radio person is just the worst

I love talk radio. (Hi, NPR.) And, I really love sports talk radio. (Hi, Kansas City.) I loathe terrible hosts.

It leaves me sighing and muttering “… that #%@! is just the worst …” as I flip the station on to something else.

I don’t want your sports radio-listening life to be filled with angst and disappointment. So, I’ve created a guide that will help you quickly identify if your sports media person is the absolute f****** worst. I hope this lets you escape the embarrassing hell that comes when you don’t realize how much schmuck is on the other side of the microphone, and you quote it to your buddies. Nobody wants that.

And, before we start, I’m going to say “guy” in this thing because it is based on my experience in Kansas City. This is not to say girls can’t do sports radio schmuck things also. This primer doesn’t discriminate.

On we go …

“I yell, therefore I am” man: When you can’t think of any better way to counter another host or a caller except to be louder until they give up, you didn’t actually win. Well, strike that. You did win. You win schmuckiest schmuck.

Schmuck factor: 10/10

“Just an entertainer, not a journalist” man: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, this is the holy grail of schmuck. Every stinking day, this host wants you to believe them; to put your trust in them; to know that they are serving as the bastion of media truth against evil teams when they raise your ticket prices, against city politicians who try to get a new tax passed or help attempt to move your team, and against those dirty coaches who are ruining sports. (Hi, college.) And, you know, we’re inclined to give that trust because we’ve always been told that media is journalist is truthseeker. That’s how I was trained in media anyways. (How that holds up today is a whole other blog post.)

This host will scream how credible their information is because they are “connected,” and they will use that info to paint wild-ass, sometimes believable, scenarios on things like, say, Big 12 Conference expansion or contraction. Then, those scenarios are left to hang in the ether in case they come true. But, when they get proven to be insanely nuts and without merit, the “entertainer” card comes flying out.

“It’s not what this show is about,” they’ll say. “We are here for listening enjoyment and theater of the mind … not working the beat.”

Oh, well that explains it.

Schmuck factor: 10/10

“My professional life is hard” man: I have to talk on the air about sports. I have to go to major college or professional games for free and then ask a couple of questions (or just stand in the group) with a recording device in my hand. I have to watch sports at home or maybe go out and do an appearance. I might even have to record a couple of commercials.

While talking on-air does take some talent and a lot of practice to polish it up, nobody wants to hear how hard this gig is. That’s worse than having to listen to someone talk about their golf game.

Schmuck factor: 6.5/10

Hyperbole man (Hy, Hy, Hyperbole man): This happens when a guy who is paid to be exceptional at description and have a superior working knowledge of sports history isn’t good at either. It leaves him with no option but to call everything current the “best/worst/smartest/dumbest/greatest/most terrible” thing they’ve ever seen, witnessed, read, or heard. It would be one thing if it were true. After all, sometimes we do actually witness the best play ever made. But, every play or quote can’t make that cut … until it does because you don’t have enough depth, creativity, or perspective to rank it properly.

Schmuck factor: 3/10

“I know these guys, and you don’t” man: While there might be a few actual friendships that develop, especially with former athletes who become part of the media, the reality is this guy thinks having a bunch of players’ and coaches’ phone numbers, seeing them in their underwear in the locker room, and getting a postgame quote equates to “knowing” the people they cover. The *worst* part is listening to the guy insinuate how that makes them cooler than the listeners.

Schmuck factor: 5/10

“I know something you don’t know” man: This one goes hand-in-hand with the guy above. Sports media do hear a lot of things. Stories of an athlete partying, being a prick to someone at a restaurant, hanging out at a community, accepting recruiting money — those things constantly get talked about…sometimes to the point of becoming media room urban legend.

Where the schmuckiness seeps out is when a sports radio guy will boast about “knowing things” regarding athletes, but then hide behind protecting sources or relationships or some other gross, disingenuous, journalistic sanctimonious garbage. Because, you know, they’re upholding some journalistic code of honor that they don’t subscribe to ever. (See the top of the list.)

The reality? Listeners, and the people they are connected to, are the donors, families, friends, business associates, and acquaintances of the athletes the sports radio guy swears he’s closer to than they are.

Schmuck factor: 6/10

Dead horse man: “I’m talking about this only because you want to hear it.” 

There’s a whole lot of chicken/egg here. Look, sometimes, the public does talk about things that media picks up on. Sometimes, media does uncover a story that the public picks up on. But, good lord, unless there is a monumental finding of new information or a new development on a topic, a statute of limitations would be grand and appreciated.

Some new rules for today’s world:

  • If you’re three days late on talking about a topic, don’t start.
  • If you’ve talked about a topic twice in a week and nothing new has developed, move on.
  • If you’re having to dig into some far reach — introducing politics, religion, race, etc. — in order to find a new way to bring up an old topic, don’t.

You aren’t being edgy, or neat, or a deep thinker, or an advocate when you  break those rules. You’re being lazy. And when you do this on a regular basis, you rank high on the …

Schmuck factor: 6/10

“What I actually said was” man, AKA “if you were listening” man, AKA Never wrong man: If the entertainer thing doesn’t make my blood completely boil, this one does. This guy loves to say everything, literally everything, in order to have all bases covered. That way, when a caller makes a point about anything, the host can say “no, what I actually said was…”

It frees them up to say the worst things while roasting an athlete or coach or administrator, because then they can play devil’s advocate and say everything else in the name of “balance” once listeners are riled up. And then, after some time has passed, they have those same people they roasted on as a guest and play nice. And when listeners ask how or why this is possible, you say “what I actually said was…,” which can’t be disputed because you did say it, technically.

Bloody brilliant.

Schmuck factor: 15/10

So, there you have it. Your complete primer on knowing the  danger signs of your sports radio guy doing schmucky things … and knowing when it is probably best for your piece of mind to turn the station.

Fake news was killing my hope for media, until I found strength in Brut

Having been a part of the media landscape now for something close to the past 15 years, I’ve watched with sadness the increasingly fast erosion of public trust in accredited outlets.

The conversation pains me because I know there are a great many talented and dedicated people who have made gathering and disseminating news their lives, and they have been swept into the “media sucks”/”fake news” swell.

But, I also don’t disregard the base reasons for why public trust has diminished so much during my professional time. As a consumer, I get it. Bait-and-switch headlines, opinions presented as facts, story lines built around viewer and reader demographics, advertorials presented as unbiased content, native advertising, content marketing, etc. I’ve been a part of all of those conversations in some fashion. (And though I agree with the public’s angst, as a marketer, I believe in many of those concepts because they work…which presents sort of a chicken-and-egg something best suited for another blog sometime.)

Much of what is produced today is “I’ll do anything for a click” garbage (a Kansas City sports radio station fell victim to the click sickness this week) that wouldn’t have received a passing grade in my media classes at Washburn University. Where they may have been useful once, I now abhor any conversation that begins with hyperbole headlines or “did you see the top 5 reasons that…”

I had very nearly given up hope that the media industry even gave a damn anymore, resigned to its untrustworthy fate, and I had become even less enthused about citizen journalism, which spiked a few years ago and has since returned to its fringe roots. (It turns out this gathering information and forming consistent, coherent copy is harder than it looks, eh citizen?)

But just when things started happening in the past 12 months. Some examples:

  • Roger Ailes and Fox News were taken to task for improprieties that numbered, I don’t know, somewhere around Bill O’Reilly’s old salary.
  • The Washington Post and New York Times have been spoon-fed so much content from Washington, D.C., that they finally, FINALLY, snapped out of their we-work-for-clicks comas and remembered just how valuable good, original, reporting is – both to the outlet and the general public. (And, God, has it been a joy to watch the two compete since last fall!)
  • And, my personal favorite, the social media giants in this world, led by Facebook, grew up because they had to (thanks, 2016 presidential election!). They decided they do have a responsibility in shepherding content, weeding out intentionally harmful or deceitful crap. But, they went a step farther than that and are backing what I hope is a long-term initiative – the Facebook Journalism Project.

From this project came a spotlight feature this week that helped reinvigorate my belief that there is still a lot of good journalism left to be done in this world – and it is being done with social platforms, digital technology, and some other things that many old-guard institutions swore were the death of journalism.

No, old guard, it is being done, and done well, by brands like Brut (which is just six months old) because they believe in two very simple philosophies: 1) deliver your media product where consumers are (i.e. digitally), and deliver it using those platforms’ rules; and 2) well, I’ll let Brut CEO Guillaume Lacroix explain:

“Today, people don’t care where the news comes from, as long as it is accurate, makes sense, and is interesting,” he said.

Sing it to me, Guillaume.

And his company is already becoming one of the largest outlets in France despite its 12-15 person staff using little more than an iPhone 7, some graphics, and Facebook Live.

It isn’t that there is a lot to learn. Brut’s principles aren’t revolutionary. They just remember what the public really wants – and that’s to be treated as intelligent communities who value content they can trust.

It is an example like this that gives me a renewed great hope for the future of journalism and the media industry, however it evolves.