The danger of "People don't care"

Last week, Yahoo broke a story about accusations of fraud leveled against NFL agent Drew Rosenhouse by one of his company's former vice presidents. The Big Lead wondered last week why the story wasn't getting more attention in the mainstream NFL press. He e-mailed Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk. Florio's answer to The Big Lead: A mainstream NFL audience doesn’t care about pissing matches between agents over money. If there’s a physical altercation between agents or if an agent is arrested or if an agent runs down the street drunk or naked or both, then it registers on the radar screen.  The overriding goal is to write what I think people want to read, not what I think a handful of agents or anyone else wants me to write.”

Now, let's set aside the access issue for a second, the belief/hint that reporters like Florio (and Peter King and the ESPN guys, all referenced in The Big Lead's post) rely on agents like Rosenhouse as sources for stories, and that reporting these allegations would jeopardize that access.

What stands out is Florio's quote. He's not writing about it because people don't care.

There's no quicker way to shoot down a potential story than those three words. Of all the dimensions of newsworthiness that scholars have identified throughout the years, relevancy is one of the most important. For a story to get covered, journalists have to think people will care about it.

The problem with this, of course, is that it creates such a slippery slope. Why cover women's sports? People don't care. Why cover concussions in the NFL? People don't care. Why keep writing about PEDs in sports? People don't care. Why worry about whether college athletes should be paid? People don't care.

Why cover a third-rate burglary in Washington D.C. People don't care.

It's such a sucker's argument, and a dangerous assumption for anyone in the media to make. Our job in the press is not just to present what people do care about. It's also to present what people should care about. Maybe a "passing match between agents over money." is not a big story. But maybe it is. Maybe it influences which players sign with which agents, which can affect which team they go to, which can affect which teams win or lose, which can affect which teams get new taxpayer-funded stadiums and which ones move to new cities.

Maybe Florio's right. Maybe people don't care.

But that alone doesn't mean it's a story that should be ignored.