One of the most interesting aspects of the sorid Ray Rice story this past week has been the attention that's being paid to the elite sports press, its coverage of the NFL and its collective relationship to sources.
It's a theme I'm going to be coming back to a lot in the next few weeks on the blog. As I get settled into the new gig at SUNY Oswego and come up from My Year in Dissertation, I'm really interested in writing about and studying the relationship between sports journalists and their sources. It's a fascinating subject, especially in this age when Deadspin and TMZ — news sources that flaunt their lack of access to official sources— are such major players in sports journalism.
But there were two pieces in the past week that really caught my eye and capture my current scholarly obsession. They're the kind of pieces that are so good, they make me mad I didn't write them in the first place. The first comes from my friend, and the man who once tried to get me a job at the Bucks County Courier Times, Mike Sielski.
Always, this story would have to be broken by someone outside the league's purview, which meant that the likes of Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, Peter King, and Jay Glazer - those insiders feeding us morsels of preapproved info - were never going to get this scoop. They are not outside the NFL's culture. They inhabit it. ... To get those transactional tidbits, to find out who made the practice squad or who signed that 10-day contract, to get "a source" to say what might happen if a particular player happened to be traded, we develop relationships and grant anonymity and conveniently ignore that the source might have an agenda or might earn his paycheck from the same company that owns our all-sports network or newspaper or website, and that we might be nothing more than a mouthpiece.
Like Wall Street and other big institutions, the NFL prefers and—in the case of reporters like Schefter, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King—facilitates access reporting. It’s good business. The steady flow of information on the ESPN ticker keeps NFL fans engaged with the product and wanting more of it. As far as accountability journalism is concerned, it seems like no coincidence that the Rice story broke thanks to the gatecrashers at TMZ—a bunch of outsiders who have much to gain from knocking pro football down a peg, and are willing to write checks to buy up the sort of photos and videos that tarnish the NFL’s vaunted shield. ... The problem with access journalism comes when reporters serve as mere pass-throughs for information, especially when that information is a lot weightier than the Chargers planning to sign Doug Legursky.