ESPN Layoffs Reflect the Changing State of Baseball Journalism

The journalism industry is a complex one to say the least. In today’s world, hard-hitting, high quality journalism is not valued nearly as much as what I’m going to call “ratings drivers.” Hot takes are a better viewing experience than in-depth analysis from experts. Guys like Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless are so successful because of this. People tune in to watch them yell and boast, without necessarily offering intelligent arguments.

When news broke on April 26 that ESPN would be laying off around 100 employees, including many on-air talents, the list of names being let go was shocking.

The baseball department especially took a hit. Jayson Stark is one of the most talented baseball writers on the planet. He joined ESPN in 2000, and yesterday he was laid off.

These layoffs come because of necessary budget cuts by the company. So then, would it not make sense to cut the most expensive employees first? If only it were that easy. ESPN currently has two of the top 10 highest paid sportscasters in the world in Jon Gruden and Smith. Neither of them were laid off because they bring in ratings and make the company more money.

These layoffs are no one person’s fault. It comes down to a growing issue in society. Journalism is a dying art for the same reason baseball has been losing popularity in recent years: attention span. Excitement and action grab and keep viewers’ attention. When an analyst says something unusual without much factual bearing to it, it will catch people off guard and get them to tune in.

Journalists do not operate that way. They run on facts. The problem is, facts are not that exciting as there is no room to entertain the idea of a different possibility. “The Chicago Cubs had the highest run differential in baseball last year” is not a hot take, it is a fact that cannot be argued.

So that brings me back to my point earlier. Talented writers/analysts like Stark and Jim Bowden are getting the shaft because of how the industry has changed in recent years. Slowly but surely, ESPN will go from being the “worldwide leader in sports” to the “worldwide leader in analytical banter.”

Stark and Bowden were just a couple of names listed. Many other beat writers, commentators, and analysts were laid off as well. This drastically alters the face of baseball tonight for the future.

At least we still have Tim Kurkjian.

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