The rise of social media as a primary news source opens up a variety of professional sports media conundrums, particularly in the NBA.
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Once upon a time, locker-room media access was limited to a select few reporters from local newspapers, television and radio stations. Eventually, certain elite cable sports channels’ media members joined their ranks, but now, as blogging has become the de facto means of spreading (unverified) information across the Internet, the game of sports reporting has inexorably changed. Unfortunately, the media rules have yet to catch up with the new reality.
Recently, a verbal dustup ensued over comments made by Michele Roberts, the executive director of the NBA Players Association (NBAPA), regarding this very topic — media access to players in the locker rooms after games. Roberts was not pleased over what she perceives as a lack of journalistic professionalism being displayed, specifically, by those “journalists” who tend to stand around and not ask questions:
“Most of the time I go to the locker room, the players are there and there are like eight or nine reporters just standing there, just staring at them,” Roberts said. “And I think to myself, ‘OK, so this is media availability?’ If you don’t have a f—-ing question, leave, because it’s an incredible invasion of privacy. It’s a tremendous commitment that we’ve made to the media — are there ways we can tone it down? Of course. It’s very dangerous to suggest any limitation on media’s access to players, but let’s be real about some of this stuff.
Later, during an interview presumably intended to give Roberts an opportunity to clarify her comments, SB Nation’s Sarah Kogod brought up an interesting subset of sports “journalists” who Roberts apparently hadn’t considered: bloggers.
SK: I can’t speak to the specific situation that you were in, but I do feel like I need to advocate for the younger media members and bloggers. A lot of times they’re told to observe, especially when they’re not used to being in a locker room or a scrum situation. I’ve seen situations where a young blogger or intern is just trying to get their lay of the land.
Kogod then segued into a brief discussion with Roberts about the NBA’s media credentialing policies — or, more specifically, their lack thereof — which naturally leads one to wonder: what, exactly, constitutes “media” these days?
The answer, as it turns out, varies from team to team.
The league itself doesn’t have any hard and fast blanket rules regarding media access, other than the standard “don’t pretend you’re media in order to gain illegitimate access” legal jargon. Instead, media credentialing is up to the thirty individual clubs themselves. And while one won’t find any specific definition of “media” — perhaps to keep up with social trends — any assumption that bloggers are, in fact, included under the media umbrella, might be specious.
Although NBA teams don’t specifically designate media outlets of choice, preference does seem to be given to the more traditional varieties (e.g., newspapers, local and national TV stations, or established publications like Sports Illustrated). William Bohl of the popular sports blog Hardwood Paroxysm summed up the pecking order nicely. Sometimes, bloggers don’t feel like the hassle to gain credentials is worth it, as SB Nation’s Blazers’ Edge (the fan blog for the Portland Trailblazers) noted in response to this season’s change in the Blazers’ credentialing process.
Sports blogs, of course, are very popular with both die-hard and casual fans, and with the low barrier to entry online they will only continue to proliferate. Some, however, seem to focus more on the “social” part of social media, largely ignoring even the most rudimentary sports reporting. And therein lies the conundrum.
To her credit, this is presumably what Roberts was referencing originally, blogs prioritizing ring boxes over stat boxes, dinner dates over game dates, and baby mamas over baby hooks:
“But there has been a sense among the players that there are people in the room that are not really there to ask questions. Watching the players, I suppose, is gathering news. But watching them change clothes? What, watching them listen to music? Watch them have their pregame meal? Is that really news?”
Surely, it’s not surprising that sports journalism has become, in many circles, more entertainment-focused over performance-focused. Even TMZ, the infamously unapologetic gossip source, now has a dedicated sports division.
Sports journalist Jeff McDonald, of the San Antonio Express, has also noticed this trend, and its detriment to the sports journalism profession as a whole:
Bloggers have long since pushed back at their relatively limited access, citing the notion that their content is what today’s fans crave. They argue, in part, that their presence and inclusion can only help teams’ marketing efforts across a variety of platforms and and access points, which leads to increased paraphernalia sales, ticket sales, and the like. Those who manage blogs also bristle at blanket stereotypes of bloggers, insisting that most are productive members of society, and not, as Joe Dunman states in the above linked article, “losers in their underwear blogging from their mothers’ basements.”
There’s a flip side to this coin, though.
The players already see the erosion of their private lives as an intrusive nuisance, rather than the fulfillment of a public service, and the perception that there are too many people “in the room” than deserve to be there is sure to make the problem worse over time. Nowadays, athletes are demonstrably making their independent media presences felt, anyway (see, e.g., The Players’ Tribune, Bleacher Report’s Uninterrupted, and this very publication), and they have made themselves heard that certain boundaries should be respected by those with access. Unfortunately, the current state of social media has blurred those boundaries, a point Roberts was trying to articulate.
So, what is the ideal solution?
That depends on which side of the fence you’re sitting. Bloggers, of course, want to open up media access even further, making credentials more accessible to nontraditional media. If you agree, then you likely believe that fans are legitimately seeking a different perspective on what goes on inside the locker room. Indeed, a precedent for this approach has already been set at both the college and professional levels, as access to St. John’s University sports, the NBA Draft, and the Boston Celtics has certainly been made easier — or, at a minimum, has become more formalized and transparent.
To the contrary, some leagues, teams and players will argue that the press is all-powerful enough as is, and that granting access to an even greater number of media members would be to invite only more drama.
Neither view is 100 percent right. In the end, fans simply want to learn about their favorite players; whether that means drilling down into their turnovers per game average or their apple-turnovers-eaten-at-the-postgame-buffet average.
Regardless, social media—and, by extension, blogs—as legitimate news outlets have undeniably become the rule and not the exception. If traffic is king in the digital age, the league themselves might do well to take the reins, get on board with the reality of today’s landscape, and promulgate more formalized media credential policies that grant wider access to nontraditional outlets while still preserving whatever sanctity of the journalistic profession is left.