So I’ve been thinking a lot about CSN’s dismissal of Tim Panaccio and Dei Lynam (such is my current existence), which follows drastic, similar changes at ESPN and FOX Sports. The common thread throughout all of these moves, among several more impactful business factors, is that the traditional team reporter or talking head has no place in the modern sports media climate.
Think about it: When Tim Panaccio came up through the ranks, there was no Internet, no cable news, and certainly no social media. He was part of a generation of newspaper beat reporters whose job it was to attend practices, games and press conferences, and then recount to a wide audience what happened. Not only was there not a need to provide further analysis or unique content, but that sort of thing would’ve also worked against the reporter’s role as impartial observer and stenographer.
Fast-forward to today, where no one outlet (or even handful of outlets) is responsible for disseminating news and information, and most of the interesting stuff is surfaced, rather quickly, by social media. In sports, teams can perform the role of the old-school beat writer themselves, and often do so in a much more thorough and interactive way. Video highlights are way better than written accounts. Live press conferences remove the secrecy and reveal the extremely hollow nature of most comments made to the press by increasingly well-coached athletes who are taught exactly what to say and how to say it. Sure, there is the occasional situation where only an impartial observer can extract the truth, but let’s be honest, this is sports we’re talking about and those instances are usually unnecessary.
That all makes the role of the traditional beat writer – the Tim Panaccios of the world – redundant at best, and completely unnecessary at worst. Some – many, even – have evolved to provide their own unique and at times indispensable slant on coverage. Tim McManus and Sheil Kapadia pioneered this tactic locally when they started Birds 24/7 for Philly Mag (they’re now with ESPN). Eagles reporters, specifically, have done a good job of adding value to their coverage of the games and press conferences that everyone sees anyway. But when it comes to the other three teams, the slack has mostly been picked up by blogs and new media. Derek Bodner covers the Sixers better than anyone on the planet, and as such he has commanded over $6,000 per month from 2,000 paying subscribers (which is more than most beat writers make). Bill Meltzer provides Flyers fans with in-depth coverage and analysis. Corey Seidman, at CSN, a 20-something kid with no notable industry experience with which to speak, has risen to become the best Phillies analyst on a network filled with former players and coaches. Sites like this one, which work around the fringes of teams, provide daily commentary and aggregation of the most interesting stories and topics. As such, the role of guys like Panaccio and most of his Flyers compadres, who failed to evolve, is relatively useless. Panaccio was LAPPED by online writers providing more in-depth and interesting Flyers reporting and commentary, all without contempt for fans. Readers were given a choice, and they almost always chose something else. The notion of competition – differentiating yourself – was largely lost on Panaccio and his cohorts. In fact, the Core 4 of Flyers beat writers seemingly kept each other in check by banding together in the name of preservation. Their poolside complaint is one of my favorite things ever. They shunned outsiders, like Frank Seravalli, who dared to be different (Seravalli now works for TSN). So, really, it’s natural selection that cost guys like Panaccio. In an increasingly cost-conscience sports media environment, one that was built atop the massive profits of cable networks in the late 90s and early 2000s, Panaccio and others failed to provide value, and that made them dispensable. They just continually performed a function that was no longer necessary.
As for Dei Lynam, news of her departure was met with much more dismay than that of Panaccio, about whom I received multiple messages from media members celebrating his demise. That wasn’t the case with Dei, who seemed to be well-liked, and, more importantly, seemed to have a genuine enthusiasm for her beat. You can argue whether her role was as redundant as Panaccio’s (and I will in a second), but it’s clear that she deeply enjoyed what she did. You can’t fake enthusiasm when covering a 10-win basketball team. However, all the give-a-shit in the world won’t change the fact that the role of the one-dimensional on-air personality is going away.
CSN, specifically, is focusing on well-rounded talent that can seamlessly transition from hosting to debating and commenting about multiple sports. You can argue whether wide-ranging surface-level knowledge is better than being able to drill deep on a specific topic in an environment that, if nothing else, seems to value expertise (I would argue that it’s not), but it’s clear that having the ability to write, talk and appear on-camera is a necessity in this fragmented world. The process of “shooting and editing a package” made for 90-second TV blocks is a waste nowadays. Short of documentary type content, most compelling video today is shot on iPhones and shared immediately. Spending all day cutting one segment is a horrible use of time and money. You need to be quick and versatile, and either bring a genuine news value or have a personality and tone to command an audience.
Dei, too, came up in an era where telling viewers what happened and disseminating quotes and interviews was paramount. She’s also part of a group of sports reporters who told a top-down version of events. Coach X said this. Player Y reacted as such. This style of journalism, in all verticals, is increasingly unwanted. This breed of TV reporter focuses on telling stories, and with that comes all sorts of exaggeration, hyperbole and narrative that, today, we can often see through. The story of the scrappy player who overcomes the odds to will his team to the edge of triumph… doesn’t hold up under the analytical guy who points out that the scrapper shoots 31% from three, relies on his mid-range game, and doesn’t get to the line enough. The latter is the better, more evolved version of sports coverage. To be fair, I thought Dei, who was mostly used on pre- and post-game shows lately had a decent command of these concepts. But the problem for the previous generation is that, for them, covering sports mostly meant going to games, telling people what happened and the stories of those involved. But now in a world where we can all see what happened and those players can tell their stories unfiltered – hello Joel Embiid – that style of reporting is all but dead. You need to be a genuine news-breaker (Adam Schefter), a true subject matter expert (Derek Bodner), a unique voice with a following (Bill Simmons), or just be a really incisive bloviator (Skip Bayless), to stand out. It’s nothing against Dei that she didn’t have those traits – it’s merely a result of the generation she came up with – but it doesn’t change the fact that the methods her ilk were taught and used are largely no longer needed. They will bemoan the changes, but I feel doing so misunderstands and dismisses the merits of modern coverage. New media has given rise to much better reporting, even if we have to weed through a little more shit to find it. That’s what many in the previous generation who have a love-hate relationship with social media fail to acknowledge– there are people who do their jobs better (the case with Panaccio), or at least perform a function that is more valuable (the case with Lynam). That doesn’t make the moves that were made yesterday any easier. Dei was very good at what she did, and by all accounts is a good person. But her role was no longer needed.