Subsidizing the Papers: Bad Call

Poor Steve, he has no idea what he has gotten himself into.

Hello from the field.  For those of you that don’t know me, I’m James “Tapeleg” Gralian.  I run a little blog called Jerseys and Hockey Love, and have a podcast called The Rink.  I was going to kick this guest hosting thing off by telling you the real reason Steve had to be away, but then I saw the other, more classy talent he picked to guest host, and I thought better (Steve, your secret is safe…).

First off, be here tonight for an old school live blog (none of this interweb 2.0 stuff for me, folks) of tonight’s game on Versus.  I won’t be covering the game so much as covering how Versus broadcasts the game.  Commercial counts, analysing the analysis, and Brian Engblom’s hair: in or out.  Tomorrow, Steve is going to be liveblogging the Islanders vs. Flyers game.  I’m sure he will be much more interesting then I am.

But this is what I want to talk about now.  Paul at Kukla’s Korner turned me on to a post by Chris Botta at NYI Point Blank.  Here’s the hook:

According to Long Island Business News, Newsday will eliminate the category of “sports columnist,”  potentially affecting mainstays such as Shaun Powell and Johnette Howard. Shaun, for one, has been a major proponent of the Lighthouse Project in the newspaper. The photo desk is expected to take a major hit, with 13 photographers likely to lose their jobs.

According to Newsday, the travel budget is expected to be cut.

I understand there are far greater issues here, but I recommend that Newsday and the Islanders broker an appropriate travel arrangement that’s beneficial for the newspaper and maintains the coverage of the team. Just as the Islanders travel with their radio and TV broadcasters on the private team charter, beat writer Greg Logan and any other assigned Newsday writers should fly with the team to and from games. (Needless to say, the Post and Daily News should be welcomed, too).

Compelling, right?  Nobody wants to see people lose their jobs, especially in this economy, when writing gigs can’t be easy to come by.  Hell, I don’t want to see people lose their jobs.

But this is a horrible suggestion, from many angles.

First, any team that pays for it’s media talent just bought the press.  Television and radio hosts are often employees of the team.  In Denver, the team’s owner also owns the cable station that the games are broadcast on.  And in that case, they can put anyone they want on there, and get away with it just fine.  There are no illusions as to who is running the show.  Also in Denver, there is one newspaper are two newspapers run by the same company.  Things are so “integrated” (ie: non-competitive) that one paper is published on Saturday and one paper is published on Sunday.  I couldn’t even make that up.  So much for independent media.  Now, would you take an entity like that and feed it money from a covered subject?  Me neither.  If a politician fed money to the New York Times, they would be burned at the stake. Every time I think about this, I think of the financial ratings agencies paid by the big financial houses to rate the investments that knocked the economy down a few pegs. That worked out well, eh?  Or better yet, anyone see a good side to ESPN infusing newspapers and newspaper people with cash for “Around the Horn?”

Second, who are we talking about here?  We are talking about sport columnists.  The most critical thing a sports columnist does is be critical of a team, while maintaining access to that team.  Minus the access, that’s basically the blogosphere.  The sports columnist’s job is going away anyways, since we now have ten sports columnists per team online, and even though they do not have access, there isn’t enough of a difference in quality to warrant what is basically newspaper welfare.  Sorry, this doesn’t get me riled up.

Third, do we really need the media on the plane with the team?  We have the media in the stands, in the dressing rooms, at the practices.  What else do we need?  The airplane is a place the players should be allowed to be away from the media for a little bit.  What happens if there is an interpersonal incident at the flight?  Do you ask a beat writer to leave that out?  Are the flights off the record?  Should the flights be on the record?  Does a hockey player need to have a record every moment of every day?

When you subsidize a columnist, you compromise his objectivity.  When you subsidize a beat writer, you compromise his integrity.  And even if the person is a true professional, the ink on the checks come from the team, one way or another.  It still looks bad, and perception is enough to make it reality in this case.

This is Mr. Botta’s second to last paragraph:

NHL teams can laugh, pooh-pooh the idea, have a screw-the-media attitude, declare the-team-is-the-team nonsense (yeah, like those Dallas guys who anonymously ripped Avery)…and, well, in a few years they can be nostalgic about the days when newspapers used to cover hockey games on the road.

Or, they can have a thoughtful discussion about why this is a bad idea.  And his closer:

I’m real sorry for what’s going on at Newsday. Let’s hope everything possible is done before anyone else gets hurt.

I hope so too.  But hey, I like nostalgia.

2 Responses to Subsidizing the Papers: Bad Call

  1. 7th Woman says:

    I think you were missing the point. The idea was to save the newspaper money. And PS… this is not a new idea. Years ago, the reporters WOULD travel on the charter with the team. So what’s the difference now? Why today do we question their possible integrity if they didn’t have to make their own way on a road trip.

    Of saving money means saving jobs, it should be done. No integrity would be lost. This isn’t payola. Believe me… have you SEEN the size of the plane they charter? It’s simply a CONVENIENCE. WHat is the big deal??

  2. tapeleg says:

    I don’t think I’m missing the point. I understand what he is saying, I just think it’s a bad idea.

    We always hear about the accountability that bloggers are (supposedly) not held to, this is an area of accountability that newspapers should be held to. Which is to say, a certain distance from their subject. And being close in proximity is a lot different from having your bills paid for you by your subject.

    Perhaps the reason the idea hasn’t become reality so far, is because it isn’t a good one.

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