There’s an illuminating story over at the Washington Post today about how sports leagues and clubs are, ever so slowly, trying to squeeze out the traditional media when it comes to breaking news about them:
For sports journalists these days, the playing field isn’t always level. As the Iowa incident suggests, teams and leagues can break their own news, over and around the independent news media that cover them. Professional and big-time college teams aren’t just news sources now; they’re in the news business, too, with their own radio, TV and Internet operations.
Meanwhile, the Post notes, the leagues and teams are getting increasingly strict with unaffiliated media outlets in terms of how many pictures they can use, how much game footage, and how much one can tweet or blog while events are in progress.
To which I say: good. Let them monopolize the propaganda business. Because that’s what we’re really talking about here.
For the most part, the content the teams and leagues are moving is the sort of “commodity news” we’ve discussed here in the past. Things that everyone was going to get anyway and, as such, provide no real value to the reporters who pass it along nor any unique value to the readers and viewers who consume it. That day’s lineup. The player’s “I’m just happy to be here” press conference after joining the team. The coach’s appearance at the local YMCA.
The stuff they do that isn’t pure commodity news — team-sanctioned coach and player press availabilities and the like — are so controlled to begin with and the subjects so conditioned to say nothing interesting anyway, they’re quickly approaching the realm of the worthless too. At least, worthless beyond drumming up generalized buzz, excitement and season ticket sales which shouldn’t be the business of the sporting press.
Indeed, the faster newspapers and other unaffiliated media get out of the shallow-quote-snagging, photo-op creating and press-release distributing business the better. And it’s actually not that hard for them to get out of it. There’s a pretty broad swath of content in which to traffic that avoids those areas in their entirety.
Specifically, there are three main areas where the content is simultaneously interesting to the fans and valuable and unique to the media organization that disseminates it: opinion writing, in-depth and/or investigative reporting and gossip. There may be a couple of others — suggestions requested — but those are the areas where I think the sports media can still make money and still make a difference. These are also the areas the teams and leagues will never get into because being credible in these arenas require that actual criticism be made or negative information come to light, and teams hate that.
If you’re in the sports writing business and you’re not either (a) helping your readers put the day’s news and/or game action in some kind of intelligent context; (b) digging deep to tell them things about the personalities or the events they’re not going to get from reading the team’s website; or (c) spilling information from inside sources that the teams would prefer not get out into the open, you’re basically competing against the team’s PR department,not other journalists. And you will lose that competition, because the PR department has access to everything and everyone.
The best work out there doesn’t require official access to official events. It requires a brain and an angle for the opinion stuff. It requires some good reporting chops for the investigative/in-depth stuff. It requires Daulerioan-sized cajones for the gossip. If you have one of those things you have a niche. If you have two of those things you’re going to be a superstar. If you have three, you’re a media empire.