The other side of access: When a team “doesn’t like” what you do
But it’s always wise to keep in mind that access can never be primary in your work. If you can get it, great. Use it to your best advantage. But remember that access, in the sports world at least, in the sense of the right to be in the locker room or press box and to interview players, is something that’s granted, and it can be taken away.
And that means it can be used as both a carrot and a stick by those who grant it.
Author and freelance sportswriter Howard Megdal, who writes for the LuHud Mets Blog, posted this week that the team had denied him a credential for the 2012 season.
Since taking over the LoHud Mets Blog in March 2011, I have been credentialed numerous times by the New York Mets-100 percent of the time my editor here, Sean Mayer, has requested credentials. This is nothing new. In my years covering sports, I have been credentialed by every major sports team in the New York area, writing for ESPN.com, The New York Times, New York Magazine, The New York Observer, and many other outlets.
So it was odd that last week, Sean received a call from Jay Horwitz, the Director of Media Relations for the New York Mets, telling him that while the Journal News [the suburban New York newspaper that runs LoHud.com] can continue to receive credentials, the Mets would not be credentialing me.
Sean asked why that was, and Jay responded that the Mets “don’t like his reporting”. The team declined to respond to my multiple attempts to reach them for a fuller explanation.
Megdal points out that, since he was credentialed as of the end of last season, it’s very likely that the reporting the Mets don’t like is his ebook, “Wilpon’s Folly: The Story of a Man, His Fortune, and the New York Mets,” about the Mets owner’s involvement in the Bernie Madoff scandal and how it affected the team’s finances.
But access is the Mets’ to grant and theirs to withdraw, whether it’s for good reason or not. The obvious point of the Mets’ move is to make it difficult for Megdal to do his job, which puts pressure on the Journal News to replace him on the beat with someone more palatable to the team—that is, someone less likely to criticize the club and its owner.
Megdal is lucky that the company he works for is backing him and keeping him on the beat. As Megdal writes, “I will continue to write about the stories that I think impact the New York Mets in the most significant ways.” He points out that the only way the credential ban affects his work is by denying him “the chance to give you a better sense of the Mets players as people, thus giving the fans a greater stake in the success and failure of the team. Why they think that is somehow to their advantage, I couldn’t possibly say.”
I think the other outlets that cover the Mets should turn down credentials, or at least take some action to send a message to the Mets that the team punishing reporters for writing things the Mets don’t like will is not acceptable. It’s in any publication, site or broadcaster’s interest to send that message.
But for individual writers, it’s a good lesson that access should never be the goal. If access becomes too important, you’re in danger of tailoring your work to the desires—or whims—of the team your covering. The better writer you can be without access, the less it’ll hurt you if you lose it.