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Oct 22 / King Kaufman

Who needs who: Jackson State, Clarion-Ledger in stare-down over access

There’s an interesting state-of-the-media conflict going on in Jackson, Miss.

In response to the Jackson State football program closing practices and not making players and assistant coaches available to the media for three weeks,

the Clarion-Ledger, a Gannett newspaper in Jackson, announced that it would “cease day-to-day beat coverage of Jackson State athletics until the situation can be resolved.”

In a statement published by the newspaper as an update to the story linked above, the university defended the right of coaches to decide to close practice, and said it had closed off media access to players and assistant coaches so the team could focus on adjusting to a coaching change. Head coach Harold Jackson was fired Oct. 6 and replaced by interim coach Derrick McCall, the only person in the program who has spoken to the media in recent weeks.

It’s unusual for this kind of conflict to blow up into a public announcement of the kind the Clarion-Ledger made. Disagreements over access are usually hashed out behind the scenes.

It’s also unusual for a football program that’s not a major power and the subject of intense media interest to restrict access. Jackson State is an FCS school—that stands for Football Championship Subdivision, and used to be known as Division I-AA—with a 1-5 record. They’ve drawn 24,457 fans to their two home games so far. Teams like that rarely try to dictate terms to the media. They’re usually happy with any coverage they get.

On the other hand, this column by Billy Watkins of the Clarion-Ledger illustrates why the newspaper takes access so seriously. Watkins laments the old days of unrestricted access to players and coaches, and writes that the people who lose out in the current atmosphere of limited availability are the fans of the team.

Watkins argues that Jackson State cutting off access completely makes a beat writer’s hard job all but impossible. He says he agrees with his paper’s decision to pull coverage, even though he wasn’t part of that decision.

Someone’s going to blink here, probably pretty soon, and it’ll probably be the university. A football program trying to put people in the stands wouldn’t seem to benefit much from alienating one of the biggest media outlets in town. But in the meantime, it’s an interesting test of where we are.

“Just how much is a paper’s coverage worth to a team,” asks Andrew Bucholtz on Awful Announcing, “and how much is covering the local team worth to a paper? We may soon find out.”