The Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League (a longtime rival of the Portland Winterhawks), raised eyeballs yesterday when they banned a local member of the press from talking to team personnel, essentially for being too critical of the team.
The banned journalist is The Daily News (of Kamloops) sports editor Gregg Drinnan, who has covered the team for a long time and is regarded as very knowledgeable about the Western Hockey League. However, he has been critical of the team (which has been suffering from poor on-ice performance and dwindling attendance); and as a result team GM, Craig Bonner (with the support of owner Tom Gaglardi) has decreed that Drinnan will no longer be allowed to talk to team personnel unless he starts writing more favorably about the Blazers. So far, the Western Hockey League has declined to intervene in the dispute. The paper and the team are discussing the ban, though the paper maintains that it will not permit the Blazers to exercise editorial control over its coverage.
Obviously, discussing hockey is off topic on BlazersEdge, even if it's a team called the Blazers. However, the relationship between the media and sports, is certainly on topic. Especially given the history between our Blazers and the local press.
Five years ago, relations between the Trail Blazers and the local press were at a nadir. Former president Steve Patterson was allegedly conducting a reign of terror at One Center Court looking to eliminate "leaks" from the Blazers front office, and Oregonian columnist John Canzano (the primary beneficiary of said leaks) was howling with outrage. Jason Quick was peeking through curtains and watching Ammo getting schooled in a pre-draft workout, which prompted a sharp rebuke from the team. Other league executives called the relationship between the paper and the team "the most dsyfunctional" such relationship they could recall. The paper caught they team lying about the Darius Miles suspension. The team demanded the right to record interviews between its staff and the press (a demand which outraged the press, who seemed to think that they were the only ones entitled to record interviews). Canzano called the team's VP of communications a "bootlicker", and the Blogfather wrote that the team had "gone off the rails". An outside consultant was brought in by the Oregonian to examine the relationship, and nobody seemed to like the report.
Over twenty years ago, the current general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves (David Kahn), then a sports columnist for the Oregonian, called for fans to boycott the team due to its decision to start Jerome Kersey and bench Kiki Vandeweghe. (Kahn has apparently learned diddly-squat about basketball in the interim).
Today, the team enjoys far better press relations, despite the fact that the local media is still frequently critical. Steve Patterson is long gone; Quick and Canzano are still here. Many in the local media are contemptuous of current team president Larry Miller, who is frequently portrayed in the press as a yes-man and empty suit; but Miller hasn't made any attempt to retaliate. A blogger (our own Ben Golliver) has been credentialed by the team--and Ben is frequently critical of team personnel. But at least the media and team management have a working relationship.
However, my fear is that long term--the situation in Kamloops is where the sports world is heading.
We're starting to see it in politics. We've seen several prominent politicians (including VP candidate Sarah Palin and Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle) essentially decide to ignore the mainstream media, accusing them of political bias and bad faith, and instead use "friendly" press outlets and social media such as Twitbook :) to take messages directly to the public. (Don't laugh. There's an iTunes app called "Twitbook". Seriously.)
We've seen it in business for a long time, where virtually every large corporation in existence has blanket policies prohibiting employees (outside official spokespeople) from ever, EVER talking to the press about anything having to do with the copmany. I can't talk about my employer's policy, BTW, you'll have to ask the corporate communications department about that.
We're also seeing the decline of the daily paper as an institution that Must Be Dealt With. Many local papers have folded already. The Oregonian grows slimmer each week. And the Trail Blazers have invested more and more in their own media personnel--the team's media operation has gone beyond TV and radio broadcast to what I call "PReporting"--marketing campaigns packaged as journalism. There's been a profound shift in national sports coverage from independent television networks (the former "Big Three") to dedicated sports networks like ESPN, TSN, and the like--who have a dual role in both covering sports as journalists, and in presenting and promoting it as broadcasters.
I can see a world where this is the tip of the iceberg. I can see a world where a Ben Golliver, or a similarly situated blogger for another team, is taken aside and told that if he doesn't ease up, someone else (Portland Roundball Society, BustaBucket, etc.) may get his press credential instead. In the past, it was simply unthinkable for a team to blacklist the local paper; the media had the advantage in the relationship ("never get into an argument with someone who buys ink buy the barrell"). Today, it's happening 500 miles up the freeway (800 km for you Canucks). I can see a world where a team (or even a league) simply decides that the press isn't worth the hassle, and that independent media will be kept at arms length from players, coaches, and staff. I can see a world where the only people permitted on press are team employees and "broadcast partners". I can see a world where the relationship between sports teams and reporters is the same as the relationship between movie studios and critics--the latter can write about the finished product, but are systematically excluded from the movie set or the locker room. And I can see a world where athletes become increasingly the subject of paparazzi reporting that focuses on their private lives rather than their athletic (or artistic) prowess--we see that already with athletes in relationships with Hollywood stars (i.e. Tony Parker) or living in certain cities (i.e. New York, and its intense tabloid media culture)
In the case of politics, this scares the heck out of me.
In the case of sports--what do you think? Would the "Hollywood" model be a good thing, or a bad thing, for sports?