It's a lack of focus in regard to the Olympics and apparently a lack of honesty (at best) or sheer stupidity on the part of some commentators regarding the Penn State scandal. Unfortunately for listeners and viewers, both approaches fall short as a result.
Tumbling TensesThrough the first week of competition at the Olympic Games in London, an inordinate amount of attention has been placed on NBC's plan for prime-time coverage.
While the network has wisely delayed the broadcast of major events that attract millions of viewers until prime time, some critics have consistently complained about the approach. Even though the network streams everything live online, gymnastics, swimming and beach volleyball have been the focus of the network's nighttime coverage -- even though the respective competitions were completed hours earlier and many people can and do know the outcome of the events.
Some critics have consistently panned NBC for not televising more events live, never mind that it has been good business and a proven ratings draw. Rival network executives have said they would practice the same approach if they were covering the Games.
Where NBC has faltered, though, has been in waffling between providing the coverage as a rebroadcast of what happened or trying to acknowledge that the events were completed long ago and add context.
That was clear during women's gymnastics coverage Tuesday night. At one point, NBC provided coverage seemingly in chronological order, showing action that had happened earlier as it was called at the time. A little later in the broadcast, though, as women's teams moved through competition on individual apparatus, the NBC broadcast crew with Al Trautwig, Elfi Schlegel and Tim Daggett critiqued a weak floor routine for a gymnast from Russia and hinted strongly that more good things would come for the team. That's because they knew what would happen, because it had already happened.
Either approach -- with as-it-happened calls simply broadcast later in the day, or some bigger-picture coverage that adds context and hints about what's to come -- could work for the coverage, but flip-flopping between the two approaches just provides unnecessary inconsistency.
Maybe NBC waffles between the approaches in reaction to the criticism, which would be a shame -- because the network's process works. It's not producing a sporting event, or even a series of sporting events. It's producing a TV show with a sports theme.
Viewers have proven they'll tune in just because it's the Olympics, and because they're willing to suspend some disbelief and let NBC tell the story of he Games the way it wants. For that to really work at its best, though, the network has to stick with one approach or the other.
Failing Facts ... Fake It
So many critics, near and far, have chimed in on the Penn State scandal and offered a mix of on-the-mark insights as well as uninformed rants.Not surprisingly, those farther from the story (even some considered among the best reporters and storytellers on the globe) often struggle with appropriate context because of their unfamiliarity with parts of the story. And rather than flesh out their opinions with information, they just keep ranting.
A perplexing example came last week from John Feinstein on Sirius/XM Radio.
As he supported his premise that the NCAA should have shut down the Penn State football program, Feinstein addressed those who would be impacted by such an approach. When discussion with a caller moved toward business and economic impacts, Feinstein said businesses that typically benefitted as a result of football Saturdays in Happy Valley would not necessarily have been punished if games were cancelled.
He suggested the university could have make them whole by simply tapping its endowment to help cover the business losses.
Amazingly, it sounded as if he thought that was a logical option. Never mind that Feinstein is smart enough to know how an endowment works, that universities across the nation and globe maintain such monetary resources -- comprised of monies earmarked for specific purposes -- in order to use the earnings from the fund to support programs, scholarships or other specific endeavors.
In fact, with his profile and relationships in higher education, Feinstein has no doubt been solicited for endowed gifts.
Because he knows enough about the topic, or should, suggesting otherwise fell on a scale that ranged from just ill-informed or uninformed to mean-spirited and feeding an irresponsible shock-jock mentality.
He's hardly alone with that approach to that story in recent weeks. But he's better than that. And with a little more context all such commentators could form more engaging and informative opinions.