Writers’ watchdog role needed

Posted May 17, 2009, at 11:22 p.m.

On the scale of importance, sports journalism may not rank at the top of protecting the common good, but it’s still on the list — at least for now.

With newspapers struggling to survive and the consolidation of media ownership and resources, we have diminished the diversity of news journalism. That diminishes the number of stories covered, the depth of coverage and the quality that comes from competition.

The same can be said of sports coverage. In its own way, that diminished coverage is both sad and dangerous.

For one thing, as newspapers cut staff and coverage, the number of sports media writers/critics is reduced. For one on the broadcast side of the ledger, it may seem strange to mourn that loss, but I do.

Team organizations hate virtually any public criticism of their activities, on or off the playing field. Organizations have long been sensitive to criticism their broadcasters may say about the team.

However, in all my years in this business, being employed by networks, local stations and teams, I have never had anyone come to me directing me to say or not say a certain thing.

That does not mean we in the booths don’t feel the implicit tension that comes from covering a particular team. One knows what that team wants said without anyone having to express it.

Still, so long as the tension is there, the system works pretty well. Announcers can take their responsibility as sports journalists seriously, and still recognize legitimate interests of the team regarding coverage.

However, one of the reasons that tension exits is the fear of team organizations that if pressure is put on a broadcaster to spin for the team, it may make the written press and turn out to be more negative than just leaving the situation alone.

Where is the buffer if the media critics of the written press are gone?

One would hope there is still some sense of integrity and ethics within sports organizations regarding the need for media independence of some sort, but one knows better than to put much stock in that as regards the overall picture.

Sports are big business and those businesses are far more interested in the buck than broadcast journalism.

For sportswriters, the same thing is happening. MLB.com now hires writers for daily stories on every team that appear at the MLB.com Web site. MLB.com makes clear they do not censor what is written, but the writers feel the same tension in that job as we do as broadcasters.

The protection that comes from writing for a paper where the only interest is getting the story right is compromised.

So, buck up sports broadcasters and writers. You are going to be tested anew in this the day and age of diminished print journalism, irresponsible unsigned internet bloggers and tweeters and the breaking down of a neutral buffers.

The degree of danger done to finding the truth will be measured by audience (your) demand, or lack there of, for it.

bdnsports@bangordailynews.net

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