What Journalists Can Learn From Greg Gumbel.

At some point today, you will probably be watching college basketball. Your favorite team will be playing, and it’ll be a good game — maybe even a great game.

And then, for reasons unexplainable, this man will appear on your screen.

You will go nuts at the sight of this man’s face. He’s interrupted your game for no good reason, you’ll say, and there’s no amount of TiVo-ing that can make him go away.

Meanwhile, I, too, will go nuts, because I love Greg Gumbel.

Actually, it’s not that I love Greg Gumbel. It’s that I love what he represents: the Live Look-In.

You can argue for the ESPN Bottomline or the First-and-10 line. I think the Live Look-In (1) is the greatest sports invention of all time.

That’s why it’s the focus of the latest installment of “What Can Journalists Learn From….”

Be User-Friendly: I am a college basketball nut. I love college basketball. But more than anything, I love a great finish to a college basketball game.

CBS knows that their target audience is, essentially, me, the college basketball crazy who’d give up a month of Sundays to get the first day of the NCAA Tournament off work. So instead of making me work to find the best games, they just do it for me. Back at mission control, they’re monitoring all the action, and when something great happens in a game, they have Greg Gumbel deliver it to me. It’s college basketball nirvana — on demand. Except that I don’t even have to ask for it; I just know that if there’s a great finish going on, CBS will bring it to me. It’s the most user-friendly experience on TV.

Even better: I have placed my full faith in CBS to do exactly this. I trust them completely. My brand loyalty towards CBS college basketball is basically unbreakable, and I think most college basketball fans feel the same way. The experience of March Madness on CBS is that good.

Deliver the Best Content Available: There’s nothing in sports quite like the adrenaline rush of three or four NCAA Tournament games all coming down to the wire at once. Thanks to the Live Look-Ins, you’ll get to watch all of them. Better yet: if you’re watching a blowout, CBS will automatically switch you over to the best game available. You’ll never watch the tournament and worry that someone else is watching a better game than you. If it’s good, it’ll be on your TV. CBS filters out all the bad content and just gives me what I’m interested in: great basketball.

Don’t Make It Hard For Your Audience to Share: Here’s a bit of a twist on Clay Shirky’s sharing lecture from South by Southwest Interactive.

We love to share information and ideas. But nothing compares to the experience of shared emotion.

Which brings me to Drew Nicholas, and this shot from the 2003 NCAA Tournament.

I remember where I was (my living room) when he made that shot. I remember who I was with (my dad and my buddy, Shoe) and what I spent the next 20 minutes doing (jumping up and down uncontrollably). Across my block, I remember hearing what sounded like the entire neighborhood explode in cheers. There’s shared emotion, and then there’s ‘HOLY CRAP DID HE JUST MAKE THAT!!!’ kind of shared emotion.

As a Maryland fan, that shot’s one of my favorite NCAA Tournament moments, so you can imagine how I felt when I found out that AT&T had produced a 30-second ad featuring that shot for this year’s tournament. The ad shows a half-dozen fans, watching the game at home, online and on their cell phones, and they’re all going completely nuts. (2)

What’s incredible about that moment, looking back, is that it wasn’t just the entire state of Maryland watching. At that moment, every CBS station in the country had cut to the Maryland game. It wasn’t quite the audience of the moon landing, but when Nicholas hit that shot, America was watching.

Without the Live Look-In — if, like most sporting events, the highlight had been seen only regionally, and only the highlight played nationally — would anyone outside of D.C. even remember Drew Nicholas’ shot?

But the power of that memory isn’t in the shot. It’s in the knowledge that millions shared that buzzer beater with me. Great moments deserve to be shared — and good journalists will find ways to share them as widely and simply as possible.

  1. And its NFL cousin, the Red Zone Channel
  2. There’s also the flip side: fans of the losing team, UNC-Wilmington, are still mildly traumatized by the incident.