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.
At the same time, teams and leagues have imposed an increasing array of restrictions on news organizations limiting how and what they can report. The trend has even trickled down to the high school level, with some state athletic associations signing “exclusive” TV and media contracts that prevent independent journalists from certain kinds of reporting.
In an earlier age, teams welcomed coverage as free publicity. Now, in an age when technology permits almost anyone to broadcast text, photos and videos instantly, some are far more wary of reporters, viewing them as info-competitors.
For special access to most professional and major-college events, news organizations are given a lengthy list of restrictions on their behavior. Reporters, for example, are sometimes prohibited from live-streaming and live-blogging from a venue, or tweeting in a manner that gives a running, real-time account of the action, because of exclusive contracts. No unauthorized media organization can post clips of a professional game, either. The NBA and Major League Baseball permit news sources to display only two minutes of interviews and practice-session footage per day; the NFL allows just 45 seconds’ worth.
Even photos taken by news photographers are subject to limitations. The NBA last year objected to news sites that had posted multiple action photos taken in quick succession; the league was concerned that such high-volume “galleries” could mimic the action of a video, much like a flip book. The NBA now says a media organization can use “a reasonable number” of game photos.
“We want to have as much [news media] coverage as we can have,” says Tim Frank, an NBA spokesman. “But at the same time, we have to walk a fine line between giving the media what it wants and running our business.”