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Mark Cuban and allowing online media access

This is a response to a blog from Mark Cuban about the role of the online media in NBA locker rooms. I would suggest reading that before reading my response. Also, several people have already weighed in on this issue (here, here, here),  and I read a number of posts before publishing my own.

In 2011, the debate of web-only reporters vs. traditional media is dead. I thought.

Online news organizations have risen to the top of media world, and some of the most prominent, respected journalists are employed by companies that never print a newspaper or broadcast a daily news program.

Despite the growing presence of online reporters in the media marketplace, some still question their benefit, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who recently challenged the value of web reporters.

Cuban, an adopter of technology and new media, stirred up some debate in the sports media world when he wrote a blog arguing that web-only reporters have no place in an NBA locker room.

Reporters from websites like ESPN.com, YahooSports.com and local news websites do not serve the purpose of the Mavericks, Cuban said, and the team would be better served without them around.

Cuban argued that reporters with an online medium cause more trouble than they’re worth, and that instead of allowing those reporters access to the locker room, the Mavericks could reach that online audience using DallasMavericks.com.

He writes: “I think we have finally reached a point where not only can we communicate any and all factual information from our players and team directly to our fans and customers as effectively as any big sports website, but I think we have also reached a point where our interests are no longer aligned. I think those websites have become the equivalent of paparazzi rather than reporters.”

Cuban brings up an interesting debate, but ultimately, his suggestion of eliminating online reporters from the locker room would detract from coverage of the team, without serving the interests of his business.

Cuban argues that the team can provide enough online content for its fanbase, and interact with them in new ways using social media outlets. Sure, team websites, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages provide excellent outlets for engaging fans, but they can’t replace coverage of the team.

Sports fans—whether online, in print or on television—want objective coverage and analysis of their teams. People don’t want to feel like they’re being fed spin, and as much as a team wants to control its message, the storyteller or reporter typically needs to come from outside the building.

Providing content through team websites and social media is a great approach for organizations, but that material is a supplement—not a replacement–to balanced coverage of the team.

Public relations is public relations, and that is what DallasMavericks.com is. A team site is designed to provide positive information about the franchise to ultimately increase the bottom line and sell tickets. Content from the Mavericks promotes the company, and fans want information from journalists who provide balanced context and perspective, not spin.

Most people I know tend to find those stories from journalists online, without ever picking up the newspaper.

In making his argument, Cuban says that online reporters are often publishing some of the more outlandish stories—most often transaction rumors or negative headlines–all in the name of driving page views. By eliminating those people from the locker room, Cuban says, that will remove some of the hassle for players.

“So why do we let them in the door ? What value do they serve to the Mavs ? Its not like they are journalists. They are Fox News/MSNBC for sports.  They may be popular, for now, but whatever benefit they served 4 or more years ago seems to have quickly disappeared.”

The reality is, and Cuban knows it, that kicking these web reporters out of the locker room won’t stop the rumors. The irresponsible websites will still be irresponsible. The websites with journalistic integrity will still have journalistic integrity—they just won’t have access, which limits coverage of the team.

The main point that I think Cuban missed in the blog is the recognizing that some people only get news about the team from online entities, whether it is non-traditional blogs, national websites, or local news sites. A growing number of people don’t have (and likely never will) a newspaper subscription, and don’t watch traditional television newscasts.

Instead, they consume content from websites, gathering links from social media, sharing that content online, and using the web as a forum for discussion. People still want news from objective sources, something that teams are not providing.

Cuban says that he needs the newspaper and television reporters because they reach an audience that he can’t get to because some people use those sources as their only news outlets. However, I think he, and all sports teams, need the online audience and objective content more than they might recognize.

As more and more people turn to the web as their primary (and sometimes only) source for news, consumers will seek out the best content, which often requires the reporters to have access. If the only online source for Mavs coverage is DallasMavericks.com, then fans will quickly turn their attention elsewhere.

It is much like the White House saying that only traditional media reporters can be part of the press corps, and that for online coverage, people can turn to whitehouse.gov an the president’s Facebook page.

That would never work, and neither will eliminating web reporters from NBA locker rooms.

The Internet has changed the rules for the media business, but even though the delivery methods are different, the expectation for quality content remains the same, and reporters need access for that to happen.

Category: Commentary, New Media Thoughts, Social Media, Sports Marketing

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