Will social media lead to less access for sports reporters?

Social media has given fans a completely new level of access to the lives and thoughts of many professional athletes. As I write this, I can see that Kevin Durant and a few teammates are spending part of their off day at the Mall of America. This isn't something a reporter could use in a postgame article but we've already seen athletes use Twitter to share their thoughts from the locker room and other technology could make the content even more rich. One has to wonder, even skeptically, if reporters will be eliminated as a middleman and athletes will be capable of communicating with athletes directly.

Brian Gleason of PR In Sports has a great post on the subject. In it, he compares Bill Simmons' views on the subject and those gathered from an interview with NBA public relations expert Terry Lyons.

First, Simmons:

Fast-forward to the Twitter era. Access for reporters and writers has dwindled faster than A-Rod's pectorals. With newspapers dying and the Internet not yet subject to the same libel scrutiny, journalism is getting nastier and more detached -- fewer stories broken, infinitely more snark. That will cause stars to weave even stronger cocoons, and the chasm between us will keep growing.

Simmons goes on to state that today's technology is gradually rendering reporters obsolete. He claims access is decreasing and athletes will soon have the ability to completely control what information is relayed to the general public. Lyons disagrees, stating that access is as good as it's ever been and that things are simply evolving.

Media access has changed, but according to Lyons, it’s better. Like in the “old days”, reporters just have to be willing to build relationships. “People have to develop relationships,” Lyons said. “PR people can assist in that process, but the individual personalities get it done. The media that take time to get to know the players are still the ones that the players end up trusting more, and they’ll get the access.” [...]

“Access is tremendous,” said Lyons. “NBA players are available more than ever. Shoot-around is a great time, it’s a little easier on the road when there’s less numbers, but if a reporter can develop a close enough relationship with a player, there’s no reason they can’t get the player to walk back to the hotel and grab a cup of coffee with them. It isn’t hard if they spend the time, then they’ll get all the access they need.”

Lyons explains that the advent of social media is no more a transformation than live interviews on the radios, then TV, were. This is where I disagree. Social media presents something completely different. If you've ever seen a press conference on ESPNEWS, it certainly isn't the candid unfiltered view sometimes broadcast via social media.

However, I agree completely with Lyons on the importance of relationships; reporters who don't take advantage of their access and only do the minimum when it comes to interaction are denying their readers of the best possible content. Where I'm less sure is who those relationships will be with. Newspapers and print outlets are struggling financially, some cutting the amount of coverage. The Washington Times let their entire print staff go. If the number of individuals from traditional news outlets covering teams continues to decline, it could create a void for others to fill. The idealists would like to think it would be bloggers and while I don't disagree, I believe it's even more likely inhouse personnel (marketing teams, the PR staff, etc) will pick up the ball and push out more content.

From there, we run into the dilemma Simmons writes about. Organizations could have the ability to shape and control some of major parts in the coverage. The balance is that they get an even greater level of access, beyond what traditional press credentials would get a reporter. I know I wouldn't mind seeing some informal interviews from the team plane.

Whichever way things go, it's obvious they are changing. Reporters will continue to have access but if they fail to build relationships and produce high quality content, they could very well be outperformed by inhouse personnel or even those without access who have taken that content and provided a deeper level of analysis.

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Brian Gleason - January 22, 2010 8:47 PM

Hi Colin,

Great post, and I appreciate you linking to my post and taking a closer look. I also disagree with Terry's comment that social media is an evolution of radio, live interviews, etc. I did agree with pretty much everything else, though. Relationships are so key.

Traditional media will be the main player in sports reporting, for a while at least, although their medium will be changing. As Terry mentioned, Boston Globe reporters will just be Boston.com reporters. Partly, because I don't see independent bloggers having the payroll to travel, and that's a huge part. It's amazing how much closer the beat writers that travel are to the players than the writers that just cover the home games.

I remember when in-house reporters started becoming huge for teams in the early part of last decade. I was the first real "reporter" for Celtics.com. Interesting thing was that my "news" pieces got far fewer hits than the "behind the scenes" features. The public wanted news from the Globe and Herald. From the team they want exactly what you said, items from the team plane, photo galleries from road trips and in the locker room type stuff.

I could go on all day on this topic :). Thanks again for linking, and really enjoyed your thoughts on this as well.

Brian

Colin O'Keefe - January 25, 2010 9:09 AM

Brian, thanks for the comment. I agree completely, the role of mainstream sports reporters will be around for the foreseeable future but I don't think the idea that they'll always be there, just moving online, is a guarantee. There may not as many Washington Times-like scenarios immediately but you could see more and more situations like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer where papers are forced into a much-reduced online role, cutting their staff drastically. It's very hard to see a time when bloggers will be able to travel on a full-time basis but I could certainly see the crew of beat reporters covering each team reducing in size.

But like you said, fans will always want their hard news from the mainstream media, not the team itself. While the number of local papers decreases, there will still be radio, tv and national print outlets. We'll still have much of the coverage we have today but I do think a slight decrease will open up the door for coverage from the team's. This may not be the hard coverage fans are necessarily looking for but I do think what they're putting out will receive a little more attention.

- Colin

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