ESPN job cuts a concerning, cruel reality

ESPN doesn’t need me nor anyone else to defend it. It’s a gigantic company owned by the largest media group in the world, it can handle its own business. But, seeing so many people get laid off Wednesday in order to trim its budget is really important in a lot of ways, some of which are admittedly selfish from my point of view.

First of all, this is crushing for all the people losing their jobs. This is pretty obvious, but it’s always sad for someone to lose a job, especially when it’s not for anything they did wrong. Brett McMurphy is one of the best college football reporters around. Ed Werder does a great job. Jayson Stark is a fantastic baseball writer. But, business is business, and cuts had to be made to keep ESPN in at least decent financial standing. It sucks, but it’s understandable.

Along that same vein, it’s something that’s disheartening to see unfold for a myriad of reasons. These are people who create good, quality content. Hell, Jane McManus just had an interesting piece on racial divides in football that she co-authored go up this week, and now she’s on the way out the door. To work as hard as humanly possible to create good work and then be ushered out in short order has to be agonizing for the writers/reporters/personalities, and it’s certainly daunting for those of us trying to break into the industry.

I’m left wondering, what the hell makes me special? I don’t want to get overly introspective, but I think it’s something that needs to be considered. I’ve tried hard in the last four years to create good content across radio and the written word, but what sets me, or anyone in my position, apart? ESPN is cutting the fat by laying off people who break news and write culturally important articles, and produce just generally entertaining media; I blog on no-name websites, write a column here and there and host a college football podcast to an audience that could be described as “a handful” in only the most generous sense of the term.

The company wants to change up its general style, which is fine, it can do whatever it pleases. Sometimes the opinionated, personality driven shows work for ESPN. Scott Van Pelt’s Sportscenter is appointment viewing for me, it’s some of the best sports TV out there. On the other hand, you get what one of my close friends calls “normie bullshit” in Michael Smith and Jemele Hill’s new daily Sportscenter, which is essentially them passing themselves off as a cool because they like pop culture. Again, I have to ask, what sets me apart?

Although, maybe the better question is what sets anyone apart at this rate?

It’s important to add that there are some laughably bad narratives being spread (and they’ve been spread for quite some time, now) about why ESPN is in a worsening financial state. Chief amongst these is that the collective political views of ESPN personalities is why people aren’t watching the cable channel anymore. As much as Clay Travis wants you to believe that the network is becoming “MSESPN” (yes, he actually wrote that and I have worked with idiots who praise him for it), that’s just not true.

Tastes are changing, both in terms of what content we want to see and how we access it. ESPN fell behind the times and now is trying to play catch up while slashing its budget to remain at the top of the sports media mountain. ESPN botched this whole thing by not embracing newer technology sooner (also I have to wonder how much capital was wasted on its failed 3D venture).

Politics have nothing to do with this. As another good friend of mine just said on Twitter, ESPN is losing viewers because of bad content outside of a handful of shows, not its politics. I don’t know if we agree on the specific shows, but I agree that’s a driving force, not some left-leaning personalities.

I’ve always been somewhat enamored with the “ESPN is literally Satan in corporate form” sentiment, because I just don’t understand it. So you don’t like the content, OK, great. I have seen several people in a position similar to mine who have talked about how it’s such an awful company and they would never work for it, etc. If that’s your stance, more power to you, I wish you luck.

If I ever got a call from ESPN to do pretty much anything, I don’t think I could possibly pass it up.

The exposure is too great, even with dwindling ratings, to pass that up. Maybe you think I’m just some corporate shill, and that’s fine, but I’m pretty certain that a lot of the people trying to break into the business who are railing against ESPN for being some scary monster organization right now would work for damn-near nothing to get even a shot to work in Bristol.

It sucks that guys like Stephen A. Smith and Darren Rovell don’t have to worry about the massive cuts at ESPN (not to say I want someone to lose a job, but their substance is lacking, to say the least). Keeping blowhards over great writers and personalities is a sad reality. That’s the key, though: this is reality now.

I hate to see so many talented people out of work, even though I know most of them will land on their feet somewhere and will continue to be successful. This is a big change for the industry, and this company in particular. As someone who wants nothing more than to be a part of the sports media business in the near future, today doesn’t exactly ease the omnipresent cynicism that I, and I’m sure many others, feel.

Obviously, ESPN is rarely a starting place, but rather an end goal. But, if it’s cutting jobs at such a fervent pace to save money, you have to imagine it’s an indication of the entire state of the industry (with some exceptions, of course).

A former boss of mine, who I really loved interning for and who always treated me well, told me on my last day of work this past summer something along the lines that in all his years of working in sports media, he came to understand that you get to meet people who you enjoy spending time with an working with, only for them to suddenly be gone and out of your life again. I know that’s the truth, as jarring as it was to hear, and now we have a front row seat to the cruel world that is sports media.

I like to believe there’s always a place for someone who works hard, produces great things and loves what they do. That’s what I want to be, and what I already am in regards to at least the first and last part. I just hope there’s room for me.

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