MEDIA BRANDS: Baseball playoff coverage places spotlight on mass media's biggest hits and misses

It may seem odd to turn to sports for a lesson on the media, but you needn't look further than the coverage of this year's baseball playoffs to see the good and bad sides of big media, an economic reality constantly vilified by journalists and watchdog groups afraid of a few huge conglomerates controlling the lion's share of the nation's news and entertainment content.

It may seem odd to turn to sports for a lesson on the media, but you needn't look further than the coverage of this year's baseball playoffs to see the good and bad sides of big media, an economic reality constantly vilified by journalists and watchdog groups afraid of a few huge conglomerates controlling the lion's share of the nation's news and entertainment content.

This criticism would seem just if your only exposure to the World Series was on Fox, MLB's TV partner. Sure, you'd see some insightful analysis, in-depth reporting, and, high-quality broadcasts of the games. But after enduring the advertising siege for Fox programming that went with it, you might think the Yankees-Marlins contest was almost incidental. The marketing bludgeoning on behalf of shows like The O.C. and Skin seemed to have no end, pounding away at every commercial break and frequently infiltrating the broadcast. It's hard to pick which marketing tactic was most strikingly irrelevant and inappropriate. One choice would be the seating of Fox stars in the stadiums where they could smile for the camera and offer broadcasters another chance to plug shows. Another would be snippets of the upcoming 20th Century Fox film Master and Commander jammed into the already overwrought prelude to the pre-game show for Game Three. What does a World Series TV broadcast have to do with a nautical adventure starring Russell Crowe? Nothing, except their ties with companies under News Corp.'s umbrella. There's nothing novel about ham-handed marketing tactics at sporting events. Fox isn't the only guilty party. What is much newer, and rarer, are cases where media companies fight through growing pains to show some comfort with their size. One such case is The New York Times' handling of the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and the Red Sox. A Times editorial that expressed hope for a Sox victory over the hometown team earned some headlines. Some derided the paper as a traitor, while further-thinking observers saw the piece as evidence that the Times' growth as an national and international outlet had made loyalty to Gotham unnecessary. The Times' treatment of the series in its news pages garnered less attention, but was at least as interesting. By running baseball columns from The Boston Globe - a cousin publication under The New York Times Co. banner - alongside Times' columnists, context and insight was added to a venerable rivalry that speaks volumes about each city. Doubtless, comparing The Times to Fox Sports is a case of apples and oranges. Still, the contrast between the two illuminates the different routes big media companies can take to assuage the very real public concern about their growth. They can further stultify their marketing-savvy audiences with shrill self-promotion done on the cheap. Or, they can use their vast and diverse possessions to leave their audience edified and craving more. -matthew.creamer@prweek.com

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