“The platform needs to provide media the freedom to do their job, which is not simply reporting, but probing, questioning and researching it.”
Those are the words of Marc Altieri, VP/Marketing Communications for the Leader Enterprises PR firm. He and others in the field were asked by SportsBusiness Daily to speak to the decision of Tiger Woods to hold a controlled press conference Friday.
Sports journalism is in deep trouble these days. The very fact it was a group of PR representatives who were asked to comment on Woods’ decision is evidence of the now common practice by athletes who need to deal publicly with a problem to hire a PR firm to “manage” the response.
Woods followed closely on the heels of new Cardinal hitting instructor Mark McGwire (he of the steroid admission) in managing a public response that commonly includes picking the media who can attend an announcement, limiting or not allowing questions and then saying, “That’s it, I’m not going to talk about this again.”
In fact, they haven’t talked about the issues at all.
Those who cover sports, no matter what the media outlet, are pushed and pulled daily to figure out what sports journalism means today.
Sports stories, like so much of the rest of the “news” today, is filled with the personal aspects of lives that were once left unspoken and unwritten about.
How much of the Woods story should be about his relationship with his family, his treatment, his off-the-links life? Should the emphasis be on the effects on his golf game and the business of golf, leaving the personal issues to the periphery?
Let me assure you that no media member today is allowed to take that tack. The more titillating the tale, the more demand is made on the reporter to get it all.
That’s where the PR firms come in. They fight from the other side and try to minimize the titillation and make the story go away as fast as possible, answering as few questions as possible.
Complicating the matter in terms of delving into the issues is the dwindling number of reporters available to chase the story. All sports (and news) outlets have cut personnel and those who work the beats have fewer resources and less time to investigate.
PR firms and athletes know this, so if they can just delay answering questions and avoid the media, there will be another story that will overtake theirs.
Additionally, as the independent media outlets make cuts, they are being replaced by reporters who file daily stories on league sites (MLB.com is an example).
The sports leagues say they do not control the content of such stories. MLB notes at the end of such stories that they are “not subject to the approval of MLB or its clubs.”
There is in the First Amendment free speech lexicon the term “chilling effect.” Does the very nature of who’s signing the check affect the content?
Most distressing is the question is this what the public wants? Are we content to call traffic accidents and robbery videos the news?
Do managed athlete forums constitute sports journalism?