For The Daily Reporter
The next time you hear one of Indianapolis’ sports commentators assure you that something is about to happen, remember Chuck Pagano.
You remember Chuck, don’t you? He was the head coach of Colts who was fired before Sunday’s season finale. Yes, indeed, it was already settled. Just ask virtually every one of the local sports media pack.
ESPN’s local reporter “broke” the story a week ago. “The consensus has been that Pagano would not return next season after he turned down a contract extension, the Colts struggled this season and his relationship with Grigson turned “toxic,” wrote ESPN’s Mike Wells on Jan. 1, attributing it to “an NFL source.”
The local metro paper followed, first with reliance on ESPN and then with its own version. “Chuck Pagano’s expected departure has been foregone conclusion forever,” the paper’s Colts beat reporter tweeted on New Year’s Eve.
A TV guy said he had it straight from five confirmed sources. Of course, all of those sources were unnamed, and therefore unaccountable. Even more ridiculous, they were all probably repeating the same rumor to one another.
Even as Pagano walked off the field, CBS announcers all but paid homage to his final game as Colts coach. National sports outlets echoed the chorus, the speculation about Pagano’s departure somehow becoming fact.
It is with some satisfaction that I can confirm that you did not read it here.
Thirty hours later — a time which became a death watch of sorts at the Colts complex — the same speculators and rumor-mongers elbowed one another to confirm what they had already told us. Something most curious happened.
For the first time, a credible person with authority spoke publicly about the issue. That was Colts owner Jim Irsay, who announced that Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson were staying in their positions at least through 2019.
Huh? How can that be? Didn’t Irsay watch the sports reports?
What happened to Pagano in the media is a prime example of what is wrong with what passes for journalism these days. Rumor-based reporting by judgment-starved media quasi-celebrities all chasing ratings passes as credible.
It is a shame.
It also is hardly a surprise, as attested to by both the recent reporting of the Pagano firing and Peyton Manning’s HGH doping.
In our 24-hour sports cycle, rumor is the chum of the sports waters. Throw a little out there — no matter how suspect or how unsubstantiated — and the local sports lemmings are sure to follow. If ESPN is reporting that Pagano is gone, the local newspaper must get that story. So must each TV station. Truth is relative when it comes to ratings.
Report the rumor and run with it. Each outlet comes up with its own unnamed sources, often preceded with a knowing, “I’ve learned that ….” One prominent local newspaper guy-turned-TV commentator even suggested that he knew it was going to happen last summer.
Such self-aggrandizing, back- patting claims are the stuff of those who are legends in their own minds.
The lesson here is hardly earth-shattering.
Indeed, it seems lost on those who perpetrated this mess. Other than snipe at one another on Twitter — a most juvenile and unappealing display — few are willing to step up and admit a mistake (one notable exception is local radio host JMV).
Perhaps that is because it doesn’t really matter in their business. There are no consequences for missing the truth. At times like these, it seems that facts are quite malleable, twisting to adapt to current theory.
Now, for instance, it is a matter of Irsay changing his mind in response to public reaction, according to at least one indignant commentator. This time, he doesn’t bother to base it on an unnamed source. How convenient. Let’s completely forego the pretense that there is some basis to your reporting.
The real pity is that this rumor machine has real consequences for real people. Pagano is a big man, but no doubt the regaling of his firing was hurtful.
Is it too much to ask that those who claim to know what is going on in the local sports world actually practice responsible journalism? Print facts, not rumors. Check sources, and discount those unwilling to go on the record. Show restraint, even when ratings may suffer. And, above all, quit following the pack mentality that perpetuates the reporting of an unfounded story.
Reporters are supposed to get out in front of a story, not create the story. There is a difference that matters, and most local media missed this terribly.
Pagano is fired. You can find the story broadcast and written as fact in a dozen local sources.
It is with satisfaction that I can say you did not read it here.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal of Johnson County, a sister paper to the Daily Reporter. Send comments to dr-editorial@ greenfieldreporter.com.