Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fair and balanced

Everyone makes a big deal about bias in the media. This seems particularly inflammatory when talking about the Fox News Channel, but it probably applies to most other outlets. Ask Dan Rather -- some people wanted to believe he was taking orders from the Kremlin for years.

But that's on the news side. What about in sports?

Which brings us to ESPN.

The worldwide leader in sports has a signature show in its SportsCenter. The program has set the standard in its field, and essentially driven local sportscasts into near-irrelevancy. The local station just doesn't get the time to compete, so it only covers local sports with a couple of exceptions.

Here's the catch: There is bias on every ESPN sportscast. It's talked about, but no one ever seems to complain.

The bias is that sports on ESPN get preferential treatment to the ones that aren't.

If you don't believe it, take the matter of arena football. In the past, ESPN ignored the game. Then last summer, the network purchased an ownership share of Arenaball. The games are shown on the networks on a regular basis.

Suddenly, Arena Football highlights are appearing on SportsCenter. And, scores and previews have popped up on ESPN2's news crawl.

Coincidence? Probably not.

In the other direction, I would guess that the NHL's air time on SportsCenter has decreased since that sport jumped to another network about two years ago.

SportsCenter is obviously a tool for ESPN's marketing department for promotion. Everyone seems to accept it as a fact of life. But, is it right? Does journalism take a hit when this happens?

This is an area worth monitoring. Obviously, CNN and Fox News don't pay rights fees for programming, so the analogy doesn't apply to news.