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Trent Crimm, The Independent
Journalism Ethics, Reporter Routines, and the Depiction of sports journalism in Ted Lasso
Sometimes, research in my field is important. Sometimes, it deals with critical topics about the present and the future of journalism and news media.
Sometimes, it's about Ted Lasso.
This weekend, I have the honor of presenting at the IACS Summit on Communication and Sport, in Barcelona, hosted by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the University of Alabama. The project I'm presenting is a little outside of my normal purview of the sociology of sports journalism, but it's one I've had a lot of fun with.
To start talking about it, a little word association. What's the first thing that comes to mind when I say the following:
The Independent, right?
No question that's what came to your mind.
If you're reading or subscribed to the blog, you probably know who Trent Crimm is. A quick refresher: Crimm is an English sports journalist who serves as first a foil and then a supporter of the title character, the manager of the fictional AFC Richmond on the Apple-TV+ streaming series.
Although not a main character in the series — he appears in 10 of the 21 episodes across the first two seasons — Crimm (portrayed by James Lance) plays a pivotal role in the Ted Lasso universe. A profane, cynical sports columnist, Crimm is initially critical and skeptical of Lasso’s unique approach to coaching but eventually becomes a supporter.
My project critically examines the depiction of Trent Crimm as a sports journalist in Ted Lasso, within the context of how journalists have been portrayed in other movies. In their book, "Heroes and Scoundrels" authors Matthew Ehlrich and Joe Saltzman wrote that journalists’ depictions in popular culture “are likely to shape people’s impressions of the news media at least as much if not more than the actual press does … popular culture is a powerful tool for thinking about what journalism is and should be.”
The project compares Crimm’s actions and attitudes in the show to those of real-world sports journalists. Crimm’s behaviors, although at times exaggerated for storytelling purposes (and to serve as a foil to or plot device for Lasso and other main characters), broadly match the routines and attitudes of real-life sports journalists. It also does a bit of deep dive into the ethical situations Crimm finds himself in, with a special look at his Season 2 arc.
Spoiler alert: This project (and blog post) contains spoilers for Season 2 of Ted Lasso, which came out in the summer of 2021. If you haven’t seen it by now, I’m going to assume you don’t care that much about spoilers, since if you did care you’d have already watched it. If you do care, you can leave now, take a day and watch Season 2 on Apple TV. It won’t take more than a day to stream the whole thing, and it’s so good. Anyway, spoiler alert. You’ve been warned.
Let's get to it with a little introduction into Trent Crimm.
He's a columnist for The Independent, which is a newspaper based in London that was founded in 1986, has been online since 2016, and is generally viewed as a labour-leaning, left/center left newspaper.
Our introduction to him comes in the first episode, when calls out Ted Lasso at the coach's introductory press conference, pointing out that he has no soccer knowledge or experience, and when pressed to ask a question, asks "Is this a fucking joke?"
Crimm spends the first few episodes taunting Ted with questions exposing the coach's lack of soccer knowledge (which is not a surprise, since Ted was an American college football coach). His behavior is exaggerated at times, of course. This is fiction. But by taking part in press conferences, recording and taking notes during interviews, and waiting outside the player's entrance to talk to players after games, Crimm's professional work practices are in line with real-life sports journalists.
Crimm fits the mold of the columnist as "a popular villain," to use Ehlrich and Saltzman's words. This fits with the practices of British sports journalists, who starting in the 1960s and then in the 1980s began using their columns to, in the words of Ken Jones, "debunk heroes and myths that didn’t stand up to scrutiny, measuring athletes as people as well as performers." At least early on, Crimm also appears to embody Ehlrich and Saltzman's idea of the journalist as Outlaw (a renegade, dedicated to the truth) rather than the Outsider (much more respectable, keeping the order of things).
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In the first season’s third episode, team owner Rebecca Welton convinces the owner of The Sun newspaper to kill a potentially scandalous story about Ted and Keely Jones in exchange for giving Trent exclusive day-long access for a column.
Now, this is an ethical issue in and of itself. Trent got access in exchange for his newspaper’s owner killing a potentially scandalous story. Using the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics as our guide, this violates the following notions:
Trent got special treatment and got access in exchange for a favor (killing a story).
Be Accountable and Transparent.
Nowhere in his column does Trent say that he got special access to Ted in exchange for a favor his boss did for Ted’s boss.
The difference is Trent did not do this. This was done by ownership, at levels far above his payg rade. So if we are splitting hairs, Trent did not act unethically. The newspaper(s) did.
Back to the episode, where (over biscuits with the boss), Rebecca tells Ted that he will be doing the interview with Trent Crimm.
"He's very good, and the supporters really listen to him," is how Rebecca pitches it to Ted.
This is a direct reflection of Ehlrich and Saltzman's notion of journalism power. They found that, in pop culture, the "notion that the press is a uniquely potent force to do ill or good is consistently underscored.” The press is always shown to have real power, and that is shown here. Trent Crimm is depicted as a kind of kingmaker. His opinion matters because of the power and influence he has a columnist.
Trent spends the day with Ted, attending practice, an event at a school with Roy Kent, and dinner.
The column, shockingly ends up being supportive:
And though I believe that Ted Lasso will fail here and Richmond will suffer the embarrassment of relegation, I won't gloat when it happens. Because I can't help but root for him.
And, speaking to the idea of the power of journalism, this is a major turning point in the series. If Ted can turn Trent Crimm, The Independent, maybe he can turn anyone.
Which brings us to Season 2. And The Column. If you've seen the show, you know what happened.
Night before win-and-promotion match, Trent texts Ted about a column he has written. The column, citing an anonymous source, reports that Ted did not leave a match earlier that season due to stomach trouble but instead due to a panic attack.
Trent tells Ted the source for the column was Nate, Ted's assistant coach.
Trent asks Ted him for comment AFTER publishing.
And sports journalists on the internet, well, they kinda lost it. It makes sense. Whenever your profession is portrayed negatively in pop culture, it's natural to want to correct the record.
In this case, it's plainly obvious that Trent acted unethically here. Burning a source, and publishing a story before seeking comment, is patently unethical. But it's worth breaking down exactly why. And to do that, we go back to the SPJ Code of Ethics.
Seek Truth and Report it
Did he consider Nate’s motivations for telling him about Ted’s panic attack before granting him anonymity? Did he seek Ted’s comment, or the team’s comment, before publishing the story?
Did he show compassion to those who might be affected by this story — whether it was Ted and his mental health, readers who are struggling with their own anxiety disorders, or the impact it might have on Nate and his career?
But here's where things get interesting. Because after that episode, sports journalists lost their damn minds awful Trent’s behavior was, how it was wrong, how it was insulting to the profession.
And yet by the next episode, Trent had faced real professional repercussions. He was fired from his job. Interviews with the actor and writers seem to indicate Trent knew what he was doing was wrong and did it anyway.
This speaks to the idea of professionalism that Ehlrich and Saltzman write about. "Bad journalism ... is routinely stopped or punished," and that allows the world of journalism to engage in paradigm repair and boundary work. In other words, journalism norms and values remain undefeated.
Which is why he is now Trent Crimm, independent.
In working on this project, it was interesting to see that most of the study of journalists in pop culture deal with journalists who are the protagonists of movies or TV shows.
Trent Crimm is different. He's not the protagonist of the show. To use the language of theater, he's much more of a supporting than principle role.
He's not a protagonist in this story, but in many ways, he's the story's catalyst. His Season 1 column indicated a growing, grudging acceptance of Lasso among Richmond AFC faithful. His Season 2 column changed the arc of the entire series. You can't have Ted Lasso without Trent Crimm.
His depiction fits comfortably within other pop-culture depictions of journalists. Like those depictions, it upholds traditional beliefs in the power and influence of the press and the proper professional behavior of journalists.
As a smart reader, you’re probably asking yourself “Why is Moritz using code of ethics created for American journalists when Trent Crimm, The Independent, is British and British media/newspapers have different norms, routines, and practices?” Fabulous question. I chose this because the TV show is produced primarily for an American audience (through Apple TV+), and so it made sense to me to use a code of ethics that applies to the journalism audience members would be familiar with.