JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

The ESPN carnage

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As many of you have likely heard by now, ESPN is firing people left and right today. And it’s heartbreaking.

This isn’t just ending the internship program, or cutting back on free coffee. This is the dismissal of some of the biggest and most-reputable names in journalism. Ed Werder. Paul Kuharsky. Jean-Jacques Taylor. Dana O’Neil. Mike Goodman. Mark Saxon. Brett McMurphy. Stephen A. Smith.

Oh, wait.

Stephen A. Smith was not fired. His $3.5 million-per-year salary is safe. And do you know why? Because he’s really good at yelling. And screaming. And shouting. And barking. And stewing. And making 20-second arguments over things he almost certainly doesn’t really care about. Which, of course, shouldn’t detract from his long and storied career as a reporter, where he befriended (and protected) players he liked and threatened those who dared challenge the Tao of Stephen A. Like, ahem, Kevin Durant.

But here’s the thing: This isn’t actually about Stephen A. Smith. It’s about the decline of good journalism and, sadly, the decline in the demand for good journalism. At some point in modern history, we (as a people) decided we prefer personalities and pizzazz over substance and detail. Our zest for a well-reported story has been overtaken by our zest for the mindless carnival barkings of hacks like Stephen A. and Skip Bayless.

This is not Stephen A. Smith’s fault. He realized long ago that reporting on Eric Snow’s sprained ankle wasn’t cutting it (just as Skip realized reporting on Troy Aikman’s non-homosexuality sexuality wasn’t cutting it). So he adapted to the times, surrendered his integrity card and went full-blown Ringling Bros. And it worked. He’s getting paid; he’s receiving the airport recognition he craves; he’s The Man—even if that status is flimsy, transparent and utterly void of substance.

Meanwhile, journalists (people employed to report, investigate, write) are discarded with ruthless and reckless abandon.

Don’t be fooled by ESPN’s upbeat statements of corporate adjustment. Don’t buy the inevitable “We’ll be a stronger company” baloney.

This is a shedding of quality.

This is an assault on the profession.