The baseball media industry has been going through an existential crisis, particularly during and around the MLB Winter Meetings. Just like the rest of the media world, baseball journalists face obstacles and challenges in their pursuit of being “first” with breaking news. The pressure to prioritize keywords and SEO has become paramount, which has led to sacrifices in journalistic integrity.
The recent signing of Shohei Ohtani, the biggest free agent in baseball history, brought this crisis to a boiling point. The courtship of Ohtani was shrouded in secrecy, leaving journalists scrambling for any information they could find. Many reporters went to extreme lengths to uncover the truth and ended up looking foolish in the process. Buster Olney, for example, had a meltdown when Ohtani didn’t provide him with the news he wanted. Ohtani eventually announced his own signing, leaving Olney out of the loop.
The frenzy surrounding Ohtani’s signing continued with speculations about his whereabouts and intentions. Fans were left guessing whether he would be flying into Toronto or if it was all a big nothing. Jon Morosi even had to issue a public apology for his part in fueling the speculation. The entire industry was in chaos, with reporters chasing after every lead and often ending up empty-handed.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today took responsibility for his role in the Ohtani saga and criticized the industry for becoming tools of agents. Agents have gained significant influence in baseball, often providing reporters with exclusive information while teams remain tight-lipped. The increasing control of teams over their public image has made it difficult for reporters to access reliable information.
The rise of analytics in baseball has also created a divide within the media. Traditional reporters who grew up with the old ways of covering the game clashed with a new generation of thinkers who embraced advanced statistics. Front offices, comprised of individuals from the analytical world, have a strained relationship with a media that once treated them as invaders. The media now has to contend with players communicating directly with fans through social media platforms, bypassing traditional channels.
This crisis isn’t limited to the baseball media; it extends to the entire industry. Reporters have been used as pawns by agents to drive up prices for free agents and facilitate trades. The obsession with being first and capturing the attention of search engine optimization (SEO) algorithms has compromised journalistic integrity. Postgame quotes from players, heavily coached and monitored by PR staff, often lack substance. Analysis is now provided by various outlets catering to different types of fans.
In this changing landscape, traditional baseball media is struggling to find its place. Local reporters rely on access to teams but are hesitant to challenge them for fear of losing that access. The role of the “insider” has become a tool for agents, further eroding trust in the industry. Journalists are left questioning where they fit in this new world and venting their frustrations.
The baseball media industry’s existential crisis reflects the broader challenges faced by the media as a whole. Adapting to the changing landscape of journalism, driven by technology and consumer demands, requires a careful balance between maintaining journalistic integrity and meeting the demands of the digital age. It remains to be seen how the industry will navigate these challenges and find a new equilibrium.