Fear for the Future of Sports Journalism
Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, raised an important issue last week that hints to a dark future for sports columnists and that ALL sports geeks should beware of. Here's some context before I delve into the issue at hand.
On Wednesday, November 9th, the Mavericks (and more specifically Mr. Cuban) pulled the rights of two reporters from ESPN who cover the Mavs; Marc Stein and Tim McMahon. Internally, the discussion with Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner, had been held since the start of the year. Externally, we only found out last week. The issue is two-fold. On one end, these two ESPN reporters have been pulled from covering the Mavs for every game to only 30% of the games while Marc Stein will also report for less games but that has not been reported. Naturally, this is not something an owner would be excited about. As a team that is no longer considered one of the best in the Western Conference, it is understandable theoretically based on ratings and viral media BUT a team with playoff hopes and a very strong basketball culture should never be discounted.
The second issue is the more problematic one. Mark Cuban actually even said its the only issue at hand but it is hard to believe that is true with less coverage meaning less interest from NBA fans. Now that's up for debate but what isn't is the issue of AI based reports. What Mr. Cuban is truly fighting is the development of technology generated post-game reports. Here's why we need to talk about it.
(This article by the Daily Mail will give you a better understanding of how the transition worked for Minor League Baseball writing from manual to automated for the sake of being informed.)
It's just the beginning, and good journalists are going to lose their jobs (and minds!). Automated reports from games will maybe simplify the work but no robot - and here me well - no robot can replace the reporting of a sports game the way an educated and passionate journalist can. As you increase the standardization of post game reports, you open the door to other editorials being written by Artificial Intelligence. The day that happens is the day sports journalism dies. There's no sugar coating it, it really is the truth.
So why does this matter to you; the reader? You're still going to receive similar information. You're still going to know when Karl Anthony Towns drops a double-double or when Westbrook throws down a poster on Mozgov. Life will just remain status quo. Right? Well that's incorrect. With an increase in artificially created articles, there will be NO opinion pieces, NO critical analyses, and ultimately NOT ONE BIT of valuable insight from any game or event. And this absolutely breaks the number one rule of sports that make it interesting; passion and emotion are the drivers of genuine entertainment.
While Mr. Cuban may have done the exact opposite of what he's trying to accomplish, the message is loud and clear. Between us, I will put money on the fact that he doesn't have any ill will toward either Tim McMahon or Marc Stein and we should absolutely see them reinstated once ESPN re-establishes their roles with the team. But for now, Mr. Cuban's goal of educating the public about the slow but real transition towards automated reporting has absolutely worked and it is my duty to also spread the word since this action (and I really hope it works) might influence my future.
Let's make sure our sports information doesn't fall in the wrong hands ... or computer chip.