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Local TV Cameras Kicked Off Sidelines: Does it Matter?



I'm about to committ some serious media critic heresy here, and I figure the blog is a perfect place to start.

For a week or so, journalism organizations ranging from the Society of Professional Journalists to the Radio and Television News Directors Association have been complaining about NFL owners' decision to bar local TV cameras from the sidelines of football games. While the owners originally offered some platitudes about cutting down on the clutter of cameras on the sidelines, eventually the NFL acknolwedged it was all about keeping tighter control on images of games.

The RTNDA letter was typical in the arguments it made, noting, "“the National Football League should not be in a position of subverting the American tradition of a free press.”

Hmmm. But what exactly is getting subverted here?

Turns out, local TV crews will still have access to pre-and post-game opportunities, along with highlights of every play provided by the networks. What they won't get, is access to follow specific players around or to film footage for special reports; usually fawning profiles used to flesh out pre-game specials.

Indeed, one local TV news executive I spoke with couldn't understand why the NFL was kicking out the local crews -- since they get mostly boosterish positive press out of the stories the cameras generate, anyway.

So we're not talking about losing the ability to ferret out blockbuster news such as the steroids story -- which criminal investigators mostly dug up, anyway. We're talking about access to shoot b-roll footage of linebackers for feature stories on their charity work.

While I hate to see any abridgement of press access on general principle, TV and newspaper cameras are already given tightly controlled access to a wide array of events in publicly financed buildings, including hockey games, baseball games and concerts. Is this new restriction really awful enough to attract the attention of three different professional journalism organizations?

I'm sure you'll let me know if I'm being hardheaded here....

It Wasn't a Shakedown, It was an Investing Pitch

Those of us who hate the rule-breaking "coverage" presented by newspaper gossip columns such as the New York Post's Page Six, can only wallow in the schadenfreude as Page Six writer Jared Paul Stern tries to weasel out of allegations he shook down a subject for hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide positive (or non-existent) coverage.

Speaking to the New York Times Saturday night, Stern offered the Marion Barry "set me up" defense, claiming that he was asking supermarket magnate Ronald Burkle to invest in his new clothing line. (top is Burkle, bottom is Stern)

OK, never mind that a newspaper reporter developing a clothing line is kinda like Barry Bonds opening a charm school. How backwards is the world of gossip "journalism," when a reporter's defense is that he wasn't extorting a billionaire -- merely suggesting a totally inappropriate business relationship with a source?

Of course, these types of relationships are hardly news in New York media circles. Gossips such as Page Six editor Richard Johnson have accepted free flights, hotel rooms, meals and more from the people they cover, all the while insisting their business and personal entanglements with subjects do not affect their accuracy or fairness.

We are well past the days of Walter Winchell and such wink and a nod reporting (a friend who works at the Post snorted at editor Col Allan's remark about the paper's ethical code -- noting he'd never seen one while working there), and the Stern case may serve to rip the lid off the increasingly troubling practices of such "reporters."

Tinkering with

Alan Jacobson of BrassTacksDesign in Virginia, loves to buck the conventional wisdom of newspaper and Web design. So he's come up with a typically passionate argument for why the recent redesigns of and our own are off the mark.

Alan's points are simple: We don't let top stories dominate the page, we ue too many different logos, we don't mimic the look and feel of the newspaper enough, we don't feature the classifieds prominently enough, we don't use photos well enough and we don't fit all content on a single screen.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

Anyhow, what Alan says makes some sense -- though I always thought the idea of the web was to let people serve as their own editor -- deciding what they think is the most important news in their world. It seems his critique boils down to the notion that these newspaper Web sites aren't laid out enough like newspapers -- which seems a backwards way of looking at a medium limitless as the Web.

His railing against the blizzard of logos and unprioritized stories also reminds me of those who complained -- and continue to complain -- about the cable news channels' penchant for filling their screens with all manner of unrelated information. My hunch is that those accustomed to the breakneck pace of the modern media cycle find such displays ratrher appropriate.

What do you think?

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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