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Apr 6 / King Kaufman

Mark Cuban asks: Why give access to Internet writers?

Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban (Flickr/Creative Commons by Jesús Gorriti)

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has a post at Blog Maverick in which he asks, “What’s the role of media for sports teams?”

That’s a pretty interesting question for those of us in sports media, and I’d recommend going to read it before you read the rest of this. I’ll wait right here.

From Cuban’s perspective, as the owner of a sports team, the role of media is to help his business. At first blush this might sound ridiculous. What hubris to say that the role of the media is to help him make money! That’s not exactly why we have robust press freedoms in this great country!

But Cuban’s only interested in his own company’s interaction with the media. The Mavericks grant access to various reporters, and some of those reporters ask questions and write or say things that he perceives as damaging to the business.

So he’s asking: Why should I grant that access? Let the journalists and policy makers debate what the role of the media is outside the Dallas Mavericks locker room. Cuban wants to know what’s in this specific deal for his specific business, and if there isn’t enough, why make it?

We can debate that question with him some other time — in fact, I have — but let’s look at a couple of things that are interesting to us as Bleacher Report writers.

First, his rant wouldn’t pass Bleacher Report’s writing standards. He makes accusations without being specific. He complains about the questions reporters ask without ever naming a single incident:

Have you ever watched TMZ where they catch someone walking down the street and ask questions like “are you upset about your divorce?” or “Who is better, Kobe or Babe Ruth”. You know the type of questions that make the recipient look at the person asking and either roll their eyes or wonder why that person is even there. Those are the type of questions asked in locker rooms today. They are asked not for some journalistic purpose, but as a traffic generating opportunity.

Do we really need to ask Dwight Howard and Deron Williams where they think they will be going in TWO YEARS? Do we need to ask players “are you upset about the loss?”

As Craig Calcaterra points out at Hardball Talk, these are straw men:

It’s easy for us all to agree that people who simply make up rumors or act like TMZ reporters are useless, but who are they? Do they exist? Who at is simply inventing things from whole cloth? Who at Yahoo! is? Have any of them asked any players any “have you stopped beating your wife?” questions in the name of tabloid journalism?

If you’re going to accuse someone of something, you need to back it up. You need to show the evidence you have and tell us where you got it.

I love Mark Cuban, think he’s the smartest owner in North American sports. But I’d never let him get away with that kind of writing!

The other interesting thing about Cuban’s rant for Bleacher Report writers is the simple fact that it exists and what that says about the media landscape.

Cuban writes that he wants to give access to newspaper and TV reporters because those media help him sell tickets, and to what he calls unpaid Internet writers because while many of them “just rant and rave … enough realize that if they work hard and provide support for their writing, they may just get noticed by a big website who will pay them to write.”

At that point, Cuban won’t want them around because to him paid Internet writers are “the least valuable of all media,” with interests “diametrically opposed” to those of his team. That is, they measure success by page views, and the shortest routes to page views, Cuban writes, are trade rumors, gossip and controversy, which can be distracting and harmful to the team.

That’s what’s fascinating here: Cuban can afford to contemplate excluding certain classes of reporters because in this new media landscape, he feels he doesn’t need them. He and the Mavericks — the business and the individual players — have no trouble getting their stories out to the public through Blog Maverick, the team website and social media.

What that means is that the very access Cuban wants to withhold from some reporters is of diminishing value. Sports fans have greater access to information today than they’ve ever had, and that would still be true if every single reporter were locked out of every single locker room.

Here’s Calcaterra again, in a post last month about how sports teams are now in the news business:

If you’re in the sports writing business and you’re not either (a) helping your readers put the day’s news and/or game action in some kind of intelligent context; (b) digging deep to tell them things about the personalities or the events they’re not going to get from reading the team’s website; or (c) spilling information from inside sources that the teams would prefer not get out into the open, you’re basically competing against the team’s PR department, not other journalists. And you will lose that competition, because the PR department has access to everything and everyone.

“(A)” is pretty much what Bleacher Report is trying to be all about.

  • Caleb

    Great post.
    At the risk of smiting B/R, who does send me a check for my work, I believe the issues lies simply in the expectation we set with the reader. When a(nother) article is titled “Why X-team needs to/will trade Y-player” I think it’s really important to communicate: “This is one guy’s view, not that of B/R. You’re essentially reading his blog.” As I’m tagging my columns “Opinion” before publishing, I often wonder if the reader knows this.
    Inadvertently, I think B/R may start to fall into a parallel niche Fox News has (intentionally) placed themselves in for global journalism: toeing a blurry line between Opinion and News. To me, B/R toes more of a line between News and Conjecture.
    Why not have a “Theories” tag? (And totally separate section)
    Perhaps someone can make a really good argument for why the Mavs should and could trade X-player. And it would make for a great theory to banter about over a beer.
    Yet, until it’s a sourced discussion or rumor, B/R should own the responsibility of never allowing a reader to be confused into thinking they’re seeing “the team’s reasoning behind a trade” but rather “a reason why, if it were ever discussed, this trade would work, according to [this writer].”
    I get that the bottom line is that “news” sells better than “some guy’s opinion”—unless it’s a branded writer—but if B/R wants to lead the charge of taking back respect for internet reporting, communicating to the reader, outside of the context of the article, exactly what they’re seeing and reading is probably the first step.

  • King Kaufman

    Thanks for writing, Caleb. You make good points, and being clear about what we’re doing — what is rumor, what is conjecture, what is just spitballing for fun, etc. — is definitely something we’re trying to emphasize, and something we’ll be talking more about in this space.