In an era where Beyonce’s pregnancy becomes mainstream news, it is to be expected that media consumers will anxiously grab onto anything that might become a ‘story.’
This is as true for sports fans as it is for consumers of pop culture and political media. For example, take Aaron Rodgers’ strained relationship with his family. While multiple sources site this feud as having begun over two years ago, it did not catch national attention until Aaron’s brother Jordan spoke out about it on “The Bachelorette.”
Multiple sources have since investigated the cause of Aaron’s detachment from his family, including major pop culture sources (US Weekly, People, E!). Additionally, some traditional news sources have deemed the feud to be an early news lead (Washington Post), or entertainment (New York Daily News).
What all of these stories have in common, however is that none of them have anything more than a few vague quotes and a lot of speculation as to what happened to the Rodgers family. The lack of concrete evidence in each of the articles makes them feel repetitive, gossipy, and somewhat artificial. These qualities are what make their worth questionable.
Versions of the Rodgers’ story are plentiful now, but will likely dwindle of no additional details are uncovered soon. While this topic is by no means “off-limits” to cover, there are certainly more valuable things to report on until more of the truth is revealed. It is not unreasonable for a story about an athlete’s personal life to appear in the sports section—yet it would be more appropriate if and when the athlete himself or a truly reliable source is ready to provide a substantial amount of detail.
Yet, when a substantial amount of detail is available, the story can be even harder to report. When Jack Johnson’s parents left him bankrupt, it was easier to uncover the details, because they were mostly based on publically available information, such as his contracts and court documents. Though this story may have been harder to break on an ethical level, it was arguably done more responsibly. This is similar to when Manti Te’o’s ‘Catfished’ relationship was exposed—in both circumstances, both reliable documents and the subjects themselves validated the story.
Journalists have a responsibility to uphold high ethical standards. And yet, if we let everyone else report a story that we refuse to investigate, we are seen as falling behind. Therefore, the best we can do is try to strike a balance by determining when and how to tell a story. The Rodgers’ story was not “unworthy” of being investigated, but did it warrant an entire feature? Jack Johnson’s story was heartbreaking to read and presumably to write, but isn’t it better for it to be uncovered by The Dispatch than by someone who had less access to credible facts about Johnson?
Overall, professional athletes knowingly open themselves up for scrutiny by putting themselves in the public eye, and should not be surprised when the public takes interest in their personal lives. As journalists, however, we must train the public eye to see what is worth caring deeply about, and what is just “good-to-know.”