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Does information justify the cost to get it?

Jeremy Evans

I’ve heard rumors about how the newspaper business is dying, how newsroom staffs are shrinking and might never swell again. One glance at the Kobe Bryant fiasco and it’s not difficult to deduce how those rumors started–newspapers are wasting money.

Nothing happened on Wednesday that Bryant–and the entire world–didn’t already know. A quiet town in the Rocky Mountains was turned upside down by the media so it could report that a judge told the Los Angeles Lakers guard he was being charged with felony sexual assault.

It took Frederick Gannett all of seven minutes to do as much, then Bryant made his way toward a private jet and flew back to Southern California. The arraignment probably didn’t even last as long as the alleged incident that occurred July 1 between Bryant and a 19-year-old woman. But newspapers and television stations reacted, in the form of a ridiculous amount of stories and live reports, like he had been sentenced to life in prison.

ESPN’s Shelley Smith isn’t a print reporter but her behavior qualifies for this story. In an attempt to define Bryant’s demeanor while Gannett talked, she detailed every motion he made in those seven minutes. In the midst of her babble, she mentioned how Bryant’s eyelashes fluttered. Does ESPN really need to send Smith to Colorado to report that Kobe Bryant can blink?

Meanwhile, the Associated Press printed almost 10 stories on his arraignment. Each had something more than the previous story, which meant each had something more meaningless than the previous story. The pertinent information required only two sentences. But the stories with an Eagle, Colo., dateline printed in various newspapers prior to Wednesday were even more pointless.

Newsday’s Laura Price-Brown wrote a snazzy lead in a story on Tuesday that read ‘Like stratified rock, the layers in the sexual assault case against Kobe Bryant continue to build, with experts agreeing most signs point to a trial.’ The Lakers star’s brief appearance at his 4 p.m. arraignment in an Eagle County courthouse Wednesday is just a splash in a sensational case that already has spurred a tidal wave of Constitutional, legal and social debates across the country.’

That profound, literary prose provided Newsday readers with a steady flow of synthetic journalism. However, she will still earn a paycheck and have her monthly expense account honored. But will her editor continue to allow those things to happen in December, when a hotel room near the skiing mecca of Vail costs $200 per night? Of course. I’m sure she’ll fluff up another lead in a story that states how pretty the snow fell at Eagle County Courthouse, and how the shape of the snow crystals could influence the judge’s mood when the trial actually starts–in three months.

On July 31, it took three Los Angeles Times reporters, Lance Pugmire, Steve Henson and Rob Fernas, to uncover the exclusive, breaking story that ‘Following a three-hour courtroom debate, the judge in Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault case postponed a decision Thursday on whether to release sealed court files. Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett said he did not expect to determine whether to unseal arrest and search warrants until at least Wednesday, when Bryant is scheduled to appear at the Eagle County Justice Center for a bond hearing. Gannett denied a request by Bryant’s attorneys that the Laker guard not be required to appear in person at Wednesday’s hearing.’

I could’ve woke up with a hangover on a Saturday morning in college and been able to report on those findings. Does the Tribune Company, which owns the Times, along with the Chicago Tribune, really need to buy Pugmire, Henson and Fernas breakfast, lunch and dinner for a couple days so they can put together that earth shattering story?

The reporters aren’t the problem, though. Who wouldn’t want a Colorado vacation on someone else’s nickel? Needless spending for unimportant stories, which are assigned by misguided higher ups, isn’t the only thing that started the rumors about newspapers dying. But it sure doesn’t help the business.

I’m also sure that by the time Bryant’s preliminary hearing happens on Oct. 9, the monetary consequences of over-covering something that doesn’t need to be will be uncovered. Just so reporters can interview each of Eagle’s 3,500 residents and create enough stories that won’t include the one thing, assuming there is a trial, that is important–a verdict. And that probably won’t come until after the Lakers win the 2004 NBA Finals next summer. With Bryant in uniform.

Jeremy Evans is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal.