Tuesday, April 07, 2009

CBS News Was Right On Sports

(image via nytimes)

Four years ago I wrote a post for CBS News' Public Eye chastising the encroachment of sports into the orbit of CBS News and in particular "60 Minutes." In it I argued, in part:

"I have been a fan of '60 Minutes' for most of its 38 seasons, so this is personal. My parents turned me on to the show when I was a child. The show is – and always has been -- the paragon of what investigative journalism can do in a democracy. '60 Minutes' shines the spotlight on the criminals stealing ‘neath the yonder rocks; '60 Minutes' commemorates the passing of the legends; '60 Minutes' puts microphones in front of despots and lets them incriminate themselves before the entire world. When '60 Minutes' lowers its impossibly high bar of reckoning, we all lose."

At the time Les Moonves had appointed Sean McManus to head both the sports and news divisions. The door slamming from Dan Rather's messy exit still reverberated throughout the halls at Black Rock. It was big news at the time, this collaboration with sports, and to news purists it jostled the equilibrium. Since then, steroids in sports have become a metaphor for the thumotic excesses of our overheated empire. HBO's Real Sports has become a superlative example of sports journalism. Sports journalism is, in short, relevant. NASCAR has become a desirable political demographic. All of these issues are not only timely -- they get ratings.

In retrospect, keeping in mind the declining numbers of viewers of traditional network news, the blending of sports and hard news at CBS was a sound strategy. Sports journalism, when done right, is good journalism. "60 Minutes" would be foolish not to take advantage of their massive sports lead-in every once in a while. As last night's NCAA championship recedes into the popular meory, this blogger is not too proud to say: I was wrong.

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