Mar 16, 2011

Sports teams increasingly doing their own publicity*

Sports journalism has carried more than a few newspapers through fat and thin times. Readers might intend to care about Congress or city council, but somehow they jump right to the sports page. Television and radio news have similar rhythms. Which is why the push by professional and college sports leagues to hire their own reporters to cover their own business has led to court battles and First Amendment arguments, as Paul Farhi reports in the Washington Post.

Aside from the money issues, this burgeoning battle raises questions about what sports journalism should look like. Is there a more adversarial form the non-team media could employ to counter the in-house PR? Would it keep the audience? Perhaps this new reality could free reporters from the PR transcriptions no one likes to do. But there are risks: After all, people root for "their" teams, they don't often root for Congress. Adversarial coverage could drive people away.

From the story:
“The larger picture is that sports lives in this uncomfortable space between news and commerce,” says Rich Gordon, a journalism professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School. “Journalists want to think of sports as news, but at the end of the day, it’s about entertainment and making money.”
This isn't strictly true. There are cultural and social identity issues tied to sports. Human drama, too. People spend lots of time thinking and watching sports teams for reasons that go beyond simple entertainment. Which is why, having the "entertainment and making money" side of the equation controlling coverage is a bad thing - and why self-reflection is a good thing.

The relationship is already troubling, however. News organizations sometime make deals to ensure their coverage does not impinge upon the money making. As professional sports grow in profits, these conflicts are going to multiply. A possible concern: Do news organizations start making deals to run the sports team-owned coverage on their websites or on air. After all, if the Lakers inside news crew gets the best photos and footage, wouldn't there be a temptation for, say, KTLA, after being shunned from the building, to run it?

More troubling still is the fact that this proprietary coverage is reaching down through college and into high school. Prep sports are the bread and butter of local papers, so this could sting badly. Then there's the nauseating thought of "monetizing" sports teams at public high schools - something budget-crushed districts are likely to consider. But, hey, then newspapers will have something else newsworthy to report on.

*Update: Former colleague Edward Barrera sent me a story that illustrates what happens when sports teams own their own news. From the New York Times:
Chris Botta, who publicized the Islanders for 15 years, had his credentials to cover the team on his blog revoked Tuesday, a day after the last-place franchise fired Coach Scott Gordon. 
“I was about to leave for practice, and I got a text from Kimber saying they would never issue me credentials for games and practices,” Botta said by telephone Thursday, referring to Kimber Auerbach, the team’s manager of communications. Botta said the only reason that Auerbach cited was management’s increasing concern that he had gone from “reporting the news to making the news.”
Oh, and in case you were hoping for some AOL convergence:
Botta spent 15 years in public relations with the Islanders before leaving in 2008 to start his blog, NYI Point Blank, which the team financed for a year. The blog has helped fill a media void for the moribund, publicity-starved team. 
The blog is now sponsored by AOL FanHouse, where Botta is a senior N.H.L. reporter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But then you have the example of the LA Kings and Rich Hammond. His coverage has only made the Times stand up and do better (of course, it helps the team's been better, too).