Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sports access issue sparks lively debate during panel discussion

Media representatives and officials from two sports enterprises squared off Thursday morning at the Associated Press Media Editors conference in Denver to talk about the tension over media restrictions on access to sporting events and athletes.


Generally, the four panelists agreed that there is room for both the media and sports enterprises in delivering information to fans. They also agreed that disagreements are not rooted in First Amendment issues but in contract law, which panelist Dave Tomlin, assistant general counsel for The Associated Press, said leaves room for negotiation.


But there is strong disagreement about how much access the media should have and how important that access is to fans and other readers.


Tomlin riled panelist Bob Bowman, chief executive officer of MLB Advanced Media, when Tomlin said that independent reporting benefits sports enterprises, because it "confers credibility and respectability," and that it will help grow a fan base.


Bowman bristled, saying that it was insulting to the "125 hard-working, independent" members of his reporting staff to suggest that their work is suspect because they report for an organization connected to Major League Baseball.


"I'm not suggesting that it isn't professional; but it's owned by baseball," Tomlin said. "What I'm saying is that you don't want the only voice about baseball to be baseball's."


Bowman agreed and said he wants to own live streaming of games and video recaps, but he does not want to supplant the analysis and commentary found in most newspapers.


Mobile delivery of text and images from sporting events had been an issue in the past, but it appears that has subsided. Most of the specific flashpoints discussed by the APME panel were around photos and video.


Mike Colbrese, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, said that high-school associations such as his are fairly collegial when it comes to working with the media or others who seek to report on or videotape sporting events.


"The tug-of-war comes in the fact that we're all looking for that dollar," he said.


He said there is little tension over still photos, but video is another matter.


"We're going to be very vigilant about things that are important to us," Colbrese said. "A lot of us have contracts with video, and we're making some money from it, and we're not going to jeopardize that because a local newspaper wants to live-stream a game."


The reality of covering college and professional sporting events today was brought home by John Leyba, a photographer for The Denver Post.


"We have to make friends with everyone you meet at the stadium," he said. "In past, you were allowed to go pretty much anywhere you wanted. Now, they limit you to certain parts of the stadium or arena. Now, I make friends with anyone I can in stadium so that I can get where I need to be."


Leyba said he has to ask permission for access to locker rooms and players, and "a lot of times, we're shot down."


He fears, he said, that one day, there will be one entity supplying photos, "and we'll have to buy them."













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