Online Sports’ Lament: ‘We Want Respect’

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By: Steve Outing

Sports journalists rely on the good graces of the teams they cover in order to do their jobs effectively. Press credentials, for pro teams and championship games especially, are highly coveted. Anyone can buy a ticket to a game and write about it, but it takes press credentials to gain access to the players for interviews in order to produce a credible sports story.

Trouble is, online sports journalists are often denied access to the teams they want to cover. Teams have a finite number of seats in their press boxes, and some of them outright refuse to grant any to online sports organizations — no matter how “legitimate” or large they may be. Even print sports journalists, the recipients of those credentials, often are not supportive of efforts by online sports journalists to join the ranks of the credentialed.

So say Mike Emmett and Steve Klein, both online sports editors and founders of a new Web site and discussion forum designed to air issues being experienced by online sports journalists. Emmett is managing editor of Total Sports, and Klein is sports editor of USA Today Online. Their new project is called SportsEditor.com, and has been created as a non-profit entity designed to aid in addressing problems faced by online sports journalists.

A little help, please

Part of the problem is that print sports journalists have not exactly embraced their online brethren. The Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE), the major association for sports journalists, has been largely unsupportive in the fight to get credentials for online organizations, says Klein. “It would be nice if APSE was interested in our interests, but (it) remains interested only in maintaining its own credentials. Therefore, we (online sports journalists) are going to have to establish our own credibility, even if we share a brand name with a print product, and demonstrate to teams, schools and other organizations that we are a legitimate medium,” he says. APSE was created largely around the credentials issue, “and online journalists threaten limited credentials.”

Emmett sees the credentialing issue as more than just sports teams feeling overwhelmed by the number of journalists asking for access. Some teams have denied access to Web sports journalists largely because independent online coverage would compete with the teams’ own Web sites. Emmett fears that as teams get more seriously into the Web site business, and it becomes a lucrative revenue stream for them, they will try to treat the Internet as they do television — perhaps licensing rights to cover their team to large Internet organizations willing to pay the price while blocking others from providing Web coverage via refusal to grant credentials.

Total Sports has tried to get credentials for all major league parks, and Emmett says his company has run into problems with about 10 teams. In a couple of those cases, Total Sports was able to appeal and win over the teams’ public relations executives to win credentials.

The teams get a lot of requests from online journalists for credentials, and Emmett thinks that some of the team representatives aren’t particularly online-savvy and thus have trouble figuring out which online organizations are legitimate. The lure of getting free tickets to big games could cause some people to get sports-minded Web addresses (URLs) and concoct phony online sports ventures, and that’s a legitimate concern of the teams.

Says Klein, “I wonder why online is confusing so many (public relations directors and sports information directors). It isn’t rocket science to figure out the difference between CNN/SI or ESPN or USA Today with a .com after it and some other URLs.”

An answer to the problem may be in devising a system to legitimize professional online sports journalists and their organizations. SportsEditor.com is open to anyone with an interest, but Emmett says one idea being bandied about is to set up different levels of membership. A member with “professional” credentials in the group might make teams or schools handing out press credentials more comfortable. Emmett says he and Klein are considering creating a small steering committee — a spin-off of SportsEditor.com — that would explore creating a more formal association or society that would lobby and act on behalf of online sports journalists on the credentialing and other important issues.

Teams and schools also are skittish of online sites because it’s not easy to know how large of an audience they have. Emmett suggests that a better audience tracking mechanism is needed that would give teams information that would help in their decision about whether or not to grant credentials to a particular online applicant.

Credibility — inside and out

Online sports journalists face credibility problems from several fronts, including internally. For those who work in the online world within traditional media organizations, the struggle for credibility is ongoing. “Still, to some extent, a lot of print people still think that online is going to come and go,” says Emmett. A print journalist covering news and sports since the late 1970s, Emmett says many of his colleagues “think I was crazy for moving online.” Such newsroom attitudes also make it difficult to get adequate budgets for online sports operations, and most sports components of traditional media Web sites remain modest.

Online sports sites also face credibility problems with other traditional media. Emmett cites what he says is a typical example from earlier this year, when his Total Sports site broke a story about baseball legend Ted Williams coming out in favor of taking “Shoeless Joe” Jackson off the banned from baseball list so that sports writers could vote for him for the Baseball Hall of Fame. That story was not picked up by the wire services until a newspaper picked up the story and ran it. That’s typical, says Emmett.

No ads, please

Emmett and Klein’s SportsEditor.com project is largely about giving online sports journalists their due. Online forums have been created for online journalists, but none till now to serve online sports journalists specifically. Both men have full-time jobs, and SportsEditor.com is a labor of love; the site has no profit motive and will not accept advertising or sponsorships.

Contact: Mike Emmett, irish@litesports.com
Steve Klein, sklein@usatoday.com

Management moves at Zip2

Zip2, the dominant vendor to the U.S. newspaper industry in the online city guide space, has done some top-level management reshuffling following the failure of the company to complete a proposed merger with CitySearch. That deal fell apart during the due diligence process due to the appearance of serious conflicts over each company’s business strategy.

Rich Sorkin leaves his position as CEO and becomes chairman of the board, replacing Elon Musk, who maintains the title of chief technology officer. Acting CEO is venture capitalist Derek Proudian, one of the original investors in Zip2 who was acting CEO before Sorkin took that position. A new CEO will be brought in at a later date.

Sorkin says that he will still be doing “80%” of what he has been doing as CEO. Had the proposed merger gone through, the plan was for Sorkin to be CEO of the combined company, and CitySearch CEO Charles Conn was to have been chairman of the board.

Correction

In a previous column about the ex-Nashville Banner owner who has moved into new media full time, I incorrectly stated the position of Lyle Graves, who was new media editor at the Banner before the newspaper shut down. Graves is now operations manager for the CitySearch operation in Nashville.

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company

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