The weeks and months prior to The Re-Decisioning of LeBron James put sports media on blast as a devolved pack of failed psychoanalysts offering laughably BS prognostications on James' mental processes based on mythic SOURCES of unknown provenance. Really, almost every word written and said about James was merely the media making an easy buck off the public wanting to know the one bit of information that the media could not provide.
Among the worst was Chris Broussard's hack poetry on the wind blowing King James back home and Cleveland.com's Mary Kilpatrick's uncomfortably bizarre tweets from outside LeBron's actual home, but suffice it to say that the blame is too expansive to assign individually. An exception, to some, is Chris Sheridan, who reported James' decision two days prior to Jenkins' scoop.
Here's the thing, Sheridan's story was a successful prediction, and while clairvoyance is a fine skill, it's not quite reporting. Short of James himself, there was no source capable of confirming James' decision. Beyond that, details of Sheridan's reporting -- including the timeline of James' decision making -- have been openly contradicted by media reports following LeBron's Sports Illustrated essay. Given the seeming inaccuracies, it appears Sheridan livened up his report with a great deal of faith in his sources. This is also known as gambling.
The stakes make it a tempting play for reporters chasing the spoils of appearing to be first on Twitter and elsewhere. Consider that Stephen A. Smith went from ESPN castaway to ESPN star following his dicey double-down report that predicted the Miami Big Three convergence. Then consider how sad it is that the whole game boils down to nothing more than beating out an official press release.
So yeah, anyone following this story had to accept being force-fed breathless speculation that did nothing more than highlight how sports media manufacture a story out of the absence of a real story. Given all that mess, Lee Jenkins and Sports Illustrated did the public a favor by giving them what everyone else could not: The LeBron James story straight from the source.
SI and Jenkins got the story everyone wanted and many pretended to have, so of course their competitors are manufacturing a dumbass debate out of nothing. While LOL WHO CARES? is always the ideal reaction whenever sportswriters get to waxing masturbatorial, there is an unexpected voice amid the din of familiar whining. The New York Times, that weird newspaper you have to fold in half, dispatched TV sports columnist (and fellow SoE contributor) Richard Sandomir to float open-ended questions about the -- *deep sigh* -- journalistic integrity of allowing LeBron James to tell his own story, despite James being the only person anyone wanted to hear from on this story. Don't worry, it's not supposed to make any sense.
Petty media missives are nothing new, especially in the hurt feelings age of I Had It First on Twitter, but The Times is putting its institutionalized legitimacy behind a pointless complaint that makes the whole operation look like a spurned Bachelorette contestant crying hot bro-tears on cue. The crux of Sandomir's rhetoric is that Jenkins and SI should have run a third-person reported piece rather than stitching together quotes provided by James into a personal essay. The best part is that Sandomir is fully aware of why SI chose this path and still manages to go full Lou Grant on a presumed fool:
"And while James's words may have been all that the sports world wanted to hear, the magazine should have pressed for a story that carried more journalistic heft."
Basically, the public is too dumb to know what it wants to read, and a purely transactional story that can be communicated in one sentence must meet the highest standards of journalism. OK, but nah, chill. Sports is not that serious, and the significance of this story paled in comparison to the public's desire to know the short version.
None of that stopped Sandomir from tagging SI as a "public relations ally" of James. What's being communicated by that word choice is that the media and the media alone own the news and no one else is capable of doing the job. This manages the impressive feat of being both self-aggrandizing to media and wild condescending to the public. Regardless, the loaded but ultimately frivolous nature of Sandomir's accusations have already been nullified. Jenkins and SI just published an immersive feature on James' decision -- precisely the sort of piece that The Times failed to acknowledge as being impossible to pull off on less than a day's notice.
In recognizing James' ownership of his own damn story, SI and Jenkins violated no journalistic ethics, but they did impugn on the media's imagined ownership of the news. The very notion of allowing a source to tell his story registers as offensive to those still wed to ancient codes ill-suited to modernity, even as the present reveals their bloated self-regard. Remember, this all comes down to who you'd rather hear about James' decision from: X sports reporter or LeBron James. Imagine the ego it takes to believe the public would prefer the former.
Now, let's never talk about sportswriting ever again.