Tuesday, September 4, 2007

It's our fault, too

I have to admit that I'm not so blind as to miss the reality that I'm part of the David Beckham hype. Honestly, I cringe a little every time I read another article that mows down MLS and the Galaxy for hyping up Beckham. Because - really, if it wasn't Beckham, would anyone bother to write that article? Every piece talking about how built up Becks is compounds the issue - it actually builds him up more. Newspapers and media outlets around the world which had no idea what MLS was are now taking time out to slam it. It's a twisted kind of progress for the league that was acheived with Beckham's signature. I thought about this in the context of the Women's World Cup. There's really not a lot that U.S. soccer can do to hype up the U.S. women's team. No matter how excellent they are, they can't get coverage in a media outlet unless that's the decision that editors make. U.S. soccer can't force them to write a story. Editors go with what they think will grab people's eyeballs. Beckham does that. He does that even under the tragedy of his injured ankle and knee. There will be shots of him bending over or receiving a phone call that will garner a huge amount of hits. So I was not surprised to get more requests for articles when Beckham came in. I started writing away, trying my best to keep an objective perspective on the entire situation. The hype machine was in effect, and I was a cog. And yet, so are you. No one who has ever read a Beckham article or clicked on a link for him can say otherwise. In fact, there are so many of those out there, that it's their response that mushrooms and triggers more Beckham news. Even focused editiors tend to double check attendences on games, then sigh and get on the phone to ask for another article on Beckham. MLS signed him, sure, but the hyping of Becks was comitted by many beyond the reach of the league. Ultimately, that was driven by readers as well. We're all emeshed in the culpability.


jason said...

Is "culpable" the word? The story is interesting, even if it is too often repeated.

I think you'd be surprised how many times that new article marks the point people are hearing something for the first time.

I've been approached by people wanting to get the story, and it is a teachable moment.

I know that your perceptiveness as an investigator is better shown with other stories. But the WNT, Pavon, Galindo, and Crewmen defending their modesty will be heard by more people due to Beckham.

Charges like those that Beckham is shirking or that MLS was foolish to sign him have to be refuted quite repitiously if people are to (1) know the truth and (2) not end up missing a great game.

Sean said...

I don't think hyping Beckham or MLS is anything to be ashamed of.

diane said...

The story was in desperate need of as many level heads covering it as possible. The Galaxy and MLS made a huge mistake in how they tried to sell their sport and build its fan base--in terms of both marketing and publicity. They underestimated and/or misunderstood the audience they were looking for and pushed Beckham's face and celebrity over his game, from the day he was signed. If they had sold him as a player and member of a team, they would have succeeded in using him to get their league taken more seriously, they could have treated him simply as injured when he was so, when he was fit and playing other teams and players would have been more visible as planned. Even Adidas and Pepsi know enough to use more than his face to sell their products--you would never catch him in one of their ads either in a suit or without a ball at his feet.

You and a few other sportswriters in this country, who know soccer and take it seriously, have done a huge job in talking about Beckham the athlete, what he brings to his team and the pitch. In the end, hard as it is for some to believe, this is what has made him special and brought him celebrity. Pretty faces are a dime a dozen. One would have expected a soccer league and club to know that, but they got it wrong, went for what they apparently thought was the gold, now they, Beckham, teammates and fans are paying the price.

Instead of looking at yourself as part of the hype that built up and is now tearing down MLS and Beckham, you should look at yourself as trying to save the MLS from itself by counteracting the hype with much needed substance, and with stories that reached well beyond one player.

East River said...

I really like what Diane said, you think MLS would have learned from the mistakes of the NBA and NHL selling their popularity on one or two players such as Jordan, Greztky(sp), LeBron James etc. Or learned not to get fixated on certain stories such as "chics love the long ball" which turned out to be powered by players juicing up their bodies. But its shows they trust their to own teams to sell their products on the field.

All of these things hurt those leagues (MLB, NBA, and NHL) in the end and reporters certainly saw the signs but didn't try to save those leagues from themselves. But those leagues can recover from those mistakes as they are well followed sports. But these type of missteps work to hurt MLS more as its just gaining its footing.

The league is starting to feel its oaks a bit and needs to calm down on the expansion talk and on overhyping players. Reporters can try to balance this by being critical of the league from time to time and therefore helping the leauge save itself from itself and the reporters own job's.

Gene said...

Andrea, with all due respect, I do not think that it is fair to blame "the readers" for the Beckham hype.

I'd like to think that quality media plays a bigger role in our country that to simply anticipate what the public wants to hear about. Particularly when it comes to a sport about which people may not know much about, the media does (or should have) at least some responsibility to do intelligent reporting.

There were lots of good stories to write about the MLS this year. There still area. I do not think anyone put a gun to any media outlet's head and forced them to write about every breath Beckham took since coming over. I bet that if you were to ask David, he'd say the media went overboard.

I do not think the answer for "who is to blame" is a straightforward one. Nor am I sure whether looking for such an answer is all that productive - there's still a lot of futbol left in this season. But I do think that the readers' role, if any, was a minor one.

JT (Chicago) said...

I can understand your frustration.

It's funny how things change but remain the same. Back in the late '90s/early part of this decade, MLS/US men's team fans complained loudly about the amount of coverage the USWNT players were getting. The MLS was being largely shutout as far as mainstream coverage was concerned due to the great USWNT story.

Now, we have a new generation (mostly) of USWNT players with great stories and editors just won't expand their coverage to tell those stories. This is true even as the USWNT are just a few days away from starting the WC. The Beckham fixation is denying those stories (and other MLS stories) from seeing the light of day.

Must be very frustrating AC.

artnsue said...

From the War in Irag and global terrorism, to the next presedential election, to who is the latest hollyqoos star, or the next hollywood star on the outs, to David Beckham in the US, the media is the most powerful entity in the world.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't blame yourself for overhyping the situation -- you were one of the few writers that provided some perspective. Beckham is one of those people who is famous because, well, he's famous. Sort of like Paris Hilton. Most people kind of forget why these folks became famous in the first place, they just become icons with a momentum all their own.

After his comeback performances for England and Real Madrid, there was good reason to think he would play a transcendant role in the MLS, and for the Galaxy specifically. He actually did for a very short time, and now there's this hangover to deal with. I never counted on Beckham to drive mass attention to MLS over the long term, but do hope/expect that he'll make MLS and U.S. soccer more valid to the rest of the futbal world. Afterall, that's what the more hardcore fans are seeking. That's why the kinds of comments that Blanco and Angel are making about the MLS are very encouraging. And it seems to fit the slow and steady development of the league over a 20-year horizon.

I also expect the media will eventually track Beckham's recovery as one of those 'triumph over adversity' stories that he's known for. It could even happen this year if, miracle of miracles, the Galaxy make the playoffs. But I doubt they will, and the real story will be about remaking the team over the off season, molded around a healthy Beckham.

The Manly Ferry said...

"The hype machine was in effect, and I was a cog. And yet, so are you. No one who has ever read a Beckham article or clicked on a link for him can say otherwise."

Mmmm...that's a bit deterministic. I read soccer-crap all day, everyday and probably ignored the overwhelming majority of the crap written about Beckham...and lord knows I've written my share about the man (and, as a result, received bonus hits on my stuff almost every time). The point is, people who read about soccer generally aren't really culpable in the way you're suggesting; reading the Beckham stuff was incidental to their regular reading.

I don't raise that point just to quibble. It grows from a fairly specific question: what is the breakdown, for this site, between regular and casual readers? I'd say the casual readers are culpable. Measure that gap and you've got the grease that made the cog version of you spin.

I saw some dang place that traffic to MLSnet, the league's official site, almost doubled in the AB Era (AB=After Beckham). I blame those people and demand they fix Mr Beckham's ankle and knee...or I don't, really, I'm watching whether Becks shows or not.

A.C. said...

I'm not beating myself up about the circumstances - I'm just trying to stay aware so I don't fool myself about my own role. I know well that there are other stories in MLS worth telling - I've told some of them and I would love to tell more, but that's not what my editors ask for a lot of the time.

I still think their requests are driven by reader response. Casual readers provided a bump, obviously, but even regular MLS people reading about Beckham provided a base. I could say, and be somewhat justified, that I would write about MLS regardless of Beckham, but the truth is, Beckham coming provided me with the opportunity to write more (usually about him) - and I'd guess that regular readers of things MLS suddenly had more to read as well. If that's what they did, they were providing the Beckham phenomenon with part of the numbers involved.

The degrees of blame are divergent, of course, but trust me, with the competition for the public's attention these days, the media is incredibly responsive to reader preference. That creates articles on what it guesses the public wants to read. MLS p.r. (which honestly, has never been very productive) doesn't affect, for example, a newspaper in Jakarta contracting me to write a story about Beckham. That happened because of how so many people react to Beckham himself - not anything the league did.

Gene said...

Andrea, I am sorry, but I cannot simply trust an offhand statement that this insane Beckham coverage is in response to reader preference. How's that preference determined??

From your next sentence, it seems to me like the media GUESSES what the readers want to read. Well, if the media overstimates the amount and direction of the Beckham coverage, it is purely the media's fault. I just do not see how the readers played any part in this.

I suspect that one of the reasons for this media feeding frenzy is that everyone is trying to sell newspapers, magazines, etc. So, the overwhelming concern for the editors / owners is making sure that the paper / magazine covers the topic (Beckham) not less extensively than their rivals.

diane said...

Gene, you answered your own question handily. Stories that are rehashed and beaten to death are the ones that have sold papers. People buy the papers so there must be a market for rehashing.

I've been reading about Beckham -- and all things English football -- for years, and its astounding how adept editors in the U.K. are at including, in almost any story about him, the several things that have sold so many papers for them in the past. And the same things keep selling papers for them.

Case in point is yesterday's Alex Ferguson quote that made reference to Beckham's marriage. Becks, Posh and Fergie, an absolute public FAVORITE!!! His, possibly ill-advised, off the cuff remark was part of some insightful things he said about MLS, and some things he said on Beckham's behalf in that regard. But what made hundreds of headlines? Mention of an eight year old story -- without details -- that still sells.

A.C., you write about MLS without Beckham, but the fact that more people are reading what you write because of Beckham is fine with me. It's the other crap we have to read as well that's the bother. The quality and accuracy of what's written is the issue to me.

Gene said...

Diane, I did say the media is trying to sell papers, I did not say that folks are actually buying them for the increased Beckham coverage (or whatever happens to be the latest craze). I have no reason to believe that. Is there any proof that this actually works to increase sales?

diane said...

Hi Gene, Andrea or someone who currently works in the field can probably be more specific than I can. But all print media keep track of sales, if sales skyrocket when a specific topic/person is on the cover or featured in the headline above the fold, there's a correlation. When it happens over and over with the same person/topic featured, they know the subject is money in the bank. Their advertisers know the same thing, so the subject produces more ad revenue...and goes on to become almost a publishing addiction whether there's anything worth publishing about it or not.

In the case of the Beckhams, that first level of experimentation is no longer necessary. There is so much market evidence showing that any story about them spikes sales that stories are routinely fabricated, patched together from old tidbits, or simply dug out and rephrased. With the added misfortune that negative stories clearly sell more these days, we end up reading a lot of crap. It would be nice to say that this is only true of the extreme edge of the tabloid media, but the mainstream press too often picks those stories up, giving them more legitimacy.

So, if the mainstream media has been willing to dip into that well in order to produce covers and/or headlines that sell, I imagine that they would be putting a great deal of pressure on reporters for anything approaching current news and/or commentary. The U.S. may seem like an untried market for Beckham, but the response to his announcement, in January, about joining the Galaxy, made it clear that the demand here would mirror what it has been elsewhere in the world.

Media frenzy isn't an exaggerated term in this case. Which is why I am grateful to both A.C. and L.B. for providing original and informed reporting. (It would be hard for you to become a cog in a machine that's been in high gear for years, maybe just not in your market. I would skip the metaphors and just consider yourselves voices of reason, because that's what it looks like from out here.)

Gene said...

Hi Diane, thanks for a very detailed response.

Well, you seem a lot more versed in the way medial sales work than I am. So, if the media outlets do really engage in such evaluation, then the readers (or at least some less enlightened segment of the readers) share some of the blame.

My assumption was that the editors often simply guess about whether a particular topic / theme would be likely to attract readers. Or they simply look to see what their competitors are doing and do the same.

But even if you are right, I still think the media deserves a far larger share of the blame of the overkill. I tend to view the media's role as not only entertainment, but also a source of increased knowledge. When respectable media outlets abandon that role and report every time David scratches his ass just to sell more papers, they abandon a very important role they have in a democratic society.

I am not saying this to criticize Andrea or Luis specifically. They actually provide very intelligent and enjoyable articles on everything related futbol, even if I do not always agree with them on substance.

diane said...

Hi Gene, we are in complete agreement. The Media as a business is as horrendous as any other, only potentially more dangerous because it was once thought to be objective -- or at least we were supposed to be able to tell the difference between news and editorial and the gossip pages, and between "reliable" outlets and tabloid trash. I can certainly tell the difference among various writers/reporters/columnists/commentators, but the lines distinguishing one type of publication/show from another are fairly blurry. Of course there's an independent press, and I would include blogs like this in it, but it's not what we are inundated with 24/7.

I do believe that the mainstream media has largely abandoned the important role it is supposed to play in a democracy. It's a BIG business beholding to investors and consumers as well as to its subjects and sources. It's lousy for sports and frightening in politics. It's hard to find columns, blogs, periodicals or shows we trust -- even when we don't agree -- which makes it all the more important that they're out here.

We've strayed a bit far from who's most responsible for feeding the hype surrounding David Beckham. But the point that A.C. and L.B. should keep reporting through as many highly visible outlets as possible just gets stronger. The stuff's going to get written anyway, so it means a lot to me when it gets written by someone who knows what they're writing about. Otherwise we're going to read a LOT about whether or not Mrs Beckham smiles over the next five years. (A worthy question, but probably not what we're looking for in an MLS story).

A.C. said...

I have to concur with Diana - and also point out that much of today's news can be tracked electronically in terms of hits on websites. MLSnet, for example, hit record marks after Beckham's signing.

My espn.com articles always get more hits when they're about Beckham, as well.

Yes, sometimes editors guess what readers want, but most of the time, they're tracking hits on stories and papers sold to give the public more of what worked before. Rehash is often what results.