Rich Sandomir of the New York Times is upset that Sports Illustrated let LeBron James pen a James-bylined first-person account of his return to Cleveland rather than insisting on a more traditional reported scoop.
I don't really see a problem with what SI did. But what I think is really missing from Sandomir's story is any sense of what's the counterfactual here. Suppose SI did refuse to run a first-person story from James. Suppose ESPN and other legacy outlets also played by the same rules. What happens then? Well, James publishes the first-person story on Medium or he does a Fanpost for Fear The Sword or he posts the story on his website or his Facebook page or he does it as a tweetstorm.
I'm not someone who thinks media brands are irrelevant.
Editors and publishers have enormous value we can add to 95 percent of the work that 95 percent of the people who'd like to write stuff would be interested in doing. But we can't add anything to LeBron James announcing he's returning to Cleveland. He doesn't need Sports Illustrated's help getting that story distributed. It is guaranteed universal, instantaneous pickup wherever it's published. Now LeBron probably does need help with the composition and editing of his account. But the guy is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. If he didn't work with a Sports Illustrated writer, he could have hired any number of freelancers to work with him to publish on any platform.
Under the circumstances, SI made the only reasonable choice.