Sports journalists fight for the scoops

Shams Charania, NBA basketball journalist

Source: Sinclair Broadcast Group Stadium

Shams Charania’s main job is simple: the latest news from the National Basketball Association. It’s not a new occupation, but historically it has never been particularly lucrative.

Social media and legalized sports betting on mobile have changed the game.

Being the first to tweet news of a trade, free agent signing, injury or managerial change has become a kind of esport in its own right, with the news reaching millions of followers in an instant. NBA fans on Twitter are on a first-name basis with Charania and are equally intimate with former Yahoo Sports colleague Adrian Wojnarowski, known as Woj, who now writes for ESPN.

During the NBA offseason or near the trade deadline and when players change teams at lightning speed, one of the two reporters will almost always break the news. Comments on their tweets come in the thousands, and the audience is counting the points.

Wojnarowski scoops even have their own nickname: “Woj bomb”.

Fans who have too much free time will post videos of an overlay Wojnarowski dunking on Charania, Where vice versa. Charania said he tries not to pay attention to the comments.

“I just have such blinders on,” Charania told CNBC in an interview this week. “I try to have tunnel vision, so every day all I can focus on is my job.”

While sports broadcast personalities such as Craig Kilborn, Keith Olbermann, Bill Simmons and Robin Roberts have earned millions of dollars leaning on their charisma and developing popular TV shows, radio programs and podcasts , seven-figure salaries have never been paid to last-minute reporters.

But Charania, Wojnarowski and ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter are now the hottest commodities in sports journalism, and they’re all due for big paydays. Each journalist’s contract ends in 2022, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named for confidentiality reasons.

Wojnarowski and Schefter are reportedly already earning between $2 million and $3 million a year at ESPN. Both declined to comment for this story. Charania declined to comment on the details of his contract.

The race is on to determine who will be on the move and where they will all end up.

Millions of subscribers

The interest stems from their imposing presence on social networks. Charania has 1.4 million Twitter followers, Wojnarowski has 5 million, and Schefter has 8.9 million followers. Some 3 million people follow Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

adam schefter

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Captive audiences have major value. Gaming companies, which rely on a growing customer base to grow their businesses, are would have salivated at the thought of hiring big names in the media, even if it costs them millions of dollars to do so.

Caesars Sportsbook has already lured former ESPN personalities Kenny Mayne and Trey Wingo to create and distribute sports betting content.

But these guys are not breaking news. Finding information first and tweeting it to a massive audience is a very different skill. It’s almost mechanical. The value is in speed and accuracy, while opinions and humor can get in the way or distort information.

“When you have legal gambling, all the information is important, and so is the timing of it,” said Bryan Curtis, editor of The Ringer, who has followed sports media for decades. “Journalists will continue to grow in power relative to the rest of us, as far as humanly possible.”

Charania’s rise to fame has been particularly striking as he is only 27 years old.

Nearly a decade ago, while studying at Loyola University in Chicago, Charania began immersing himself in NBA news. He got a writing job for a small basketball blog called RealGM. As a rookie, Charania began forming relationships with fringe Chicago Bulls players and telling smaller stories about the players. sign 10-day contracts.

When the Bulls denied Charania game credentials because he was still in college, the little reporter started traveling to Milwaukee. The Bucks were in a smaller media market and let him cover the team daily.

In 2014, while a sophomore at Loyola, Charania scored his first big scoop. He reported that the Bulls at the time were advancing Luol Deng had been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for former all-star center Andrew Bynum and draft picks.

“I was really excited, heart pounding,” Charania said. “It was exhilarating. It still is.”

Charania’s initial tweet drew congratulatory comments from a litany of veteran sportswriters. Wojnarowski called him “the best young journalist in the business”.

A year later, he landed a job as a reporter for Yahoo with Wojnarowski while continuing his education. He quickly began to build a reputation by announcing news about larger deals.

In 2018, a year after Wojnarowski left Yahoo for ESPN, Charania joined the stadium from The Athletic and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Monetize the news

When millions of fans are glued to your every tweet, there’s tremendous pressure to be right above all else. One big mistake can destroy your credibility, especially from those who bet money on information.

“It must be accurate and truthful information at all times,” Charania said. “If I do anything other than that, then I feel like I’m letting everyone down.”

By everyone, Charania does not only mean people, but also corporate sponsors. Sharania is now appearing in an AT&T 5G ad that emphasizes network speed and reliability, the traits most important to its success. It’s part of a season-long partnership between AT&T, Stadium and Charania.

T-Mobile ran a similar campaign with Wojnarowski and Schefter in 2018, and Samsung followed with a TV spot featuring the two ESPN reporters.

Work is drudgery. A lunch meeting with Charania means a constant series of five-minute interruptions from a stream of text messages and calls, said Chris Reina, former Charania editor at RealGM.

Shams Charania, NBA basketball journalist

Source: Sinclair Broadcast Group Stadium

“I guess Woj has kids, but I don’t know how anyone does this job with kids and family obligations,” Reina said.

The rise of the sports news reporter underscores the increased importance of data and information in the 24/7 digital world, compared to previous eras when talking heads ruled the news televised.

The Ringer’s Curtis attributes the change to fantasy sports, Twitter and “nationalized sports fans”. He said “legalized gambling will complete the process”.

The $550 million sale of Athletic to the New York Times last week is the final chapter in the story. The Times wants to incorporate analysis based on data from The Athletic. The Athletic focused on print journalism and podcasts, rather than video, which has historically had greater value due to higher ad rates.

As traditional pay TV loses millions of subscribers every year and younger consumers turn to social media instead of cable, breaking news via Twitter and other social channels will only grow in importance.

“The world we live in today is totally different from what it was like five, six, seven, eight years ago,” Charania said. “Social media is our way of reaching people. Through Twitter, people were able to see my work and identify with me, and I was able to gain an audience base. I’m lucky to can do this job now.”

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