When Money And Media Get Entangled in Sports
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Is there - or should there be - a wall of separation between ownership of newspapers and ownership of sports franchises? Apparently some think so.
Ken Doctor wrote an article that appeared in the September 5 edition of the Nieman Journalism Lab's blog in which he posed the question, "When the leagues, the owners and those who cover them are all glued together by money, how independent can sports journalism really be?"
Doctor is a news industry analyst and the author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get (St. Martin's, 2010). A 21-year Knight Ridder veteran, he was a vice president of Knight Ridder Digital with deep insight into this lack of separation between church and state.
Why was he bemoaning the fact that there is a trend among sports franchises to buy newspapers? When was there ever a wall of separation between sports franchise and news media company ownership?
If a beer company and a chewing gum company can own baseball teams what standards are there for sports franchise ownership? Besides, newspapers and media companies have owned sports teams for decades.
Is not turnabout fair play?
Doctor wrote, "Our cavalcade of news and sports convergence now seems to be happening by the month. Last week, it was Los Angeles Dodgers principal owner Mark Walter publicly mulling the possibility of buying his hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times the same week, ironically, that soon-to-be Boston Globe and current Boston Red Sox owner John Henry flew to L.A. to visit the Times, mission unclear. Now, many of us love both baseball and the news trade, but our instinct is to keep them separate. Modern forces now militate against that instinct."
They do not seem as if they have ever been separate. The Chicago Tribune bought the Chicago Cubs over thirty years ago. Ted Turner bought the Braves in the mid-1970s. The largest media company in the world, Walt Disney Company, used to own the Anaheim/California/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from 1996 to 2003. News Corp. owned the Dodgers from 1998 to 2005. CBS used to own the Yankees decades ago. Indeed, Doctor used to work for Knight Ridder, and Ridder was one of the original owners of the Minnesota Vikings.
Maybe the objection is not to media companies' ownership of sports teams, but to sports teams' ownership of media companies. Why are media companies given the benefit of the doubt as being more ethical than sports franchises?
"The issue isn't one of ethics, but mission," Doctor said. "The mission of sports franchises, like all businesses, is to promote the business and maximize profit. The mission of news companies has long been twofold. Certainly, to promote the business and maximize profit, but also to inform the public audience without fear or favor. That's been a delicate balance, but one that has served readers -- sports readers included -- well over the years."