Jemele Hill talks perils of producing fast and furious

The swelling conflict between fast & click-friendly versus accuracy & reputation has left not only a plethora of editors scratching their heads about their approach to news, but talent as well. One-time journalism stalwarts have had reputations tarnished in the past few years, seeking to stay one step ahead of the competition in a world of a five-minute news cycle.

Joining me in last week’s SportsManias conference in Miami was ESPN’s Jemele Hill, who co-hosts His and Hers with Michael Smith on ESPN2 and is no stranger to scrutiny and outcries in the heated race for news and traffic. Cynopsis Sports spoke with Hill to talk about the challenges facing reporters in today’s opinion-driven industry.

Hill on the biggest issue facing sports media: I think that while the basics don’t change and you need to get the information to the people who don’t know, the method in which we are doing it is changing all the time. In some ways we are keeping up, but in others we aren’t. It’s like the model, just when we have established a little bit of a blueprint, it changes literally the next day and it is moving faster than we can actually keep up with it. So I worry that at some point, the market won’t be able to self-correct. It will burst out of this huge consumption of information that we won’t be able to get a hold of and, more importantly, we won’t be able to monetize.

There are a lot of things happening at once, and from the standpoint of ESPN, I’m curious to see what happens as increasingly these rights fees continue to go up and the consumer is becoming so much pickier about their viewing habits. All these issues are converging.

On balancing information, accuracy and getting hits: In television, you are put in an unfair position on a lot of days, where they want you to make sense of something that happens really quickly or that maybe requires that you take a step back to process it, even though you don’t have time to process. So you are under this constant pressure to come up with some kind of absolute opinion that you, honestly, haven’t had time to process, educate yourself about or study. Deflategate is a test gate of this. The whole Wells Report is like 400 pages. I don’t have time to read 400 pages, but I have to go on the air to say something about these 400 pages. I may have read a good third of it. That’s where we are right now. The whole need to produce an opinion has overshadowed the need to produce reporting. When I was growing up, people were watching the news and expecting unfiltered, objective news. Now, if it isn’t about clicks, it is about drawing attention to yourself and making your opinion stand out and that is difficult.

On what she is most proud of: I’m still proud of the fact that, despite all of the technology and how fast our business is, that I am still able to keep all the basic journalistic principals. I still feel like that is at the core and the essence of everything that I do. My reputation is important to me, and so I’m perfectly ok being the one person to discuss it, while everyone else is consumed with debating and having a hot take about it.

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