If you’ve had a hard time following the latest in Melo’s free agency news, you aren’t alone. In fact, joining you is a plethora of professionals who report on Basketball for a living. Melo might even have reached a decision by the time you read this but to me buried beneath the story of where Melo is going is another story about, well,”the story” of how this has been reported. Stay with me, I’ll explain I mean.
Each day since the offseason officially began, journalists have reported dozens of stories from enigmatic & nebulous sources that have at one point linked Melo to each of the five major teams pursuing him: Lakers, Mavericks, Rockets, Bulls, and of course Knicks. The rush to break the news of Melo’s decision in conjunction with the frantic nature of social media has made following the story pretty exhausting. Unless he’s reached a decision by now, in all likelihood not even Melo probably knows where he’s going, so you have to ask yourself what stories are worth taking seriously.
A huge part of the excitement of the off season is precisely the merry-go-round of different leaks from “sources” that work fans into a frenzy when their team is linked to a free agent. It’s fun for fans from different cities to envision Melo wearing their city’s jersey, but I think we’ve crossed the line between sound journalism and flat-out theatre. The problem with relying on unnamed sources to fuel stories seen by millions over the globe is that once that story is proven false, those journalists are protected from any real accountability of errant journalism due to the fact that they were merely reporting what they heard. Yea they did their job but what happens next after that?
Say a journalist reports a story about a player going to a team that is based on a completely irrelevant source, like, I don’t know, lets just say a random tweet like this one:
UCLA fans: Kobe, Melo, and Kevin Love playing pickup ball at UCLA! Run to Westwood, all of us.
— Jigs832 (@jigs832) July 6, 2014
Due to social media that small rumor quickly calcifies into hard news consumed by millions. What happens next is a chain reaction of unintended consequences that can steer a player’s negotiations into nowhere and force other teams to panic and make myopic decisions to counter that news, like Landry Fields and a ghastly $20M contract for example. If you think about it, this allows a journalist to unfairly interfere with the free agent process. There’s not much anybody can do about this, but it doesn’t make it right. Well I propose an answer to this that might even have a small impact on the rumor mill territory of sports journalism.
Today players are faced with an increasing amount of scrutiny due to advanced analytics and round-the-clock coverage that has put them under microscopes athletes have never been under before both. Journalists have never had more resources at their disposal to support their analysis, but what do us fans have to analyze those doing the reporting? This is why I think the next wave of basketball media should include a way to measure the accuracy of reporters. “Multiple”, “unnamed”, and “close” sources have completely gotten out of hand and its time to start holding accountable those who rely on these frivolous resources to pump out nonsense everyone else mistakes as real news; all while said journalist reaps the benefits of thousands of clicks on their “story” and raising their national profile in the sports media world.
Who are these sources? Is it a waiter a restaurant? Are they posts from message boards? Maybe it’s a team executive? Regardless of where its coming from, I don’t really care because anything that tows the line of putting pressure on a journalist to reveal a source is not something I would ever be interested in since it breaks journaslistic code. Rather, we should be keeping data on how accurate a journalist is when they break a story based from their personal sources at the end of every season. I even have a name for this stat: True Reporting %.
Wouldn’t it be fun to look at the True Reporting % of guys like Stephen A. Smith, Adrian Wojnarowksi, and Frank Isola? NBA reporting in today’s social media age has become a new wild frontier that’s probably full of more useless noise than it is of actual facts. Think of this effort as a sort of “Rate My Professor” for journalists except instead of arbitrary feedback, it will have data on how accurate a journalist when they break news before it actually happens. And it wouldn’t take much to keep track of this either. Heck, a simple thread on Reddit listing which journalist first breaks a story is probably good enough since we can always go back and see if it turned out to be true.
Here’s how I envision True Reporting % working. The next time a well know reporter claims they have a major news regarding a team or player’s roster movement such as a trade or free agent destination based on first hand knowledge or their sources, we simply log it in. So for example, if Chris Broussard says his sources tell him that LeBron is going to come back to Cleveland, we’ll mark that down now as a major reporting attempt and see if it’s good or rims out when LeBron actually signs with a team. If Broussard is right, then we’ll keep that in mind the next time he reports a story. If he’s wrong, maybe we’ll learn to take his next breaking news from sources with a huge grain of salt. At the end of the season we’ll be able to see which journalist have the highest true reporting % and which ones have the lowest. Journalists may eventually have second thoughts about reporting nonsense so liberally knowing their reporting attempts are being tallied. It also would reward lesser known journalists that have proven their stories are ones we should be listening to.
Sports journalism can be a cutthroat industry and just as competitive as the actual sports they cover. I’m sure many of them would scoff at the suggestion we tally up their stories and keep track of how reliable they are but that doesn’t mean the criticism they receive is fair. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the tweets they get from angry fans, but they are just doing their jobs by reporting what they hear and they shouldn’t be faulted for that. We are supposed to trust their judgment when they say their information is coming from an unnamed source, but it’s also our jobs as fans to add our own layer of scrutiny to these kinds of stories.
As of this writing, Melo has been said to being close to signing with Knicks after weekend to strongly considering the Lakers hours apart from each story. Perhaps we are another round or two away from Chicago and Houston being the leaders of signing Melo. Regardless of these stories, maybe the lesson learned is that we just shouldn’t take them seriously and overreact to news that is still pure speculation. As fans, that’s on us to use restraint and patience on taking in these stories, so let’s enjoy the summer and wait until Melo tells us where he’s actually going before we take someone else’s words over his.