Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is attempting to explain the reasons he has revoked the media credentials for ESPN reporters Marc Stein and Tim MacMahon, all but banning them from his team’s home games. In an email to the Associated Press, he said he’s taking action against the two scribes to warn people about an alleged growth in automated content, where news organizations use computers and not reporters to create stories.
“Maybe I will be wrong but I see a direct path from the trends in coverage of games we are seeing over the last couple years to the automation of reporting on games and the curation of related content,” Cuban wrote to the AP. “This isn’t a knock on wire services or their reporters. They are valued and valuable in sports coverage.
“While it may seem counterintuitive to ban someone from covering us as a way of stopping automation, it really was my only option,” Cuban continued. “As is evident by the AP partnership with Automated Insights, it’s not if but when.”
The AP partners with a company called Automated Insights to produce computer-generated stories for minor league baseball only. It has an actual live reporter at all games in the four major professional sports, and ESPN sometimes relies upon that human-generated content.
In other words, Cuban is striking back at ESPN for something it isn’t even doing, which is nonsensical.
Taken out of context, the reasons for Cuban’s protest are admirable: No journalist wants to be replaced by a computer. But Cuban’s application of this protest to ESPN’s coverage of his team strains logic and suggests something else is at play here. Perhaps he’s upset that ESPN has moved MacMahon from full-time Mavericks beat writer to more of an at-large NBA role, giving him a wider net.
Tim Cato of the Mavs Moneyball blog says this has a lot to do with it:
Mark Cuban was unhappy that MacMahon's role at ESPN changed and he wasn't covering the team on a full-time basis, per source.
— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) November 7, 2016
But Cuban denied this in a chat with Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com.
“I’m not concerned about ESPN’s coverage of us this year; I’m concerned about the future coverage being automated,” he said. “I want actual people covering our games, not AI. And that is the direction the AP (Associated Press) is going. Thirty percent of our NBA game coverage is now coming from AP . . . and they are automating the coverage.
“This isn’t just a Mavs issue, or even an NBA-wide problem. It’s a ‘tech-vs.-sports-reporting’ issue. They are automating the whole process.’’
But the AP isn’t doing anything of the sort; it will have an actual human reporter at every Mavericks game. ESPN won’t, however, even if it wanted to, and that’s where the disconnect lies.