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January 13, 2010
Take Me Out to the News Conference

The erosion of traditional media continued with Mark McGwire's confession and apology for steroid use, carried on the MLB Network rather than ESPN or the networks. When McGwire decided it was time finally to come clean, he engaged Ari Fleischer's PR Firm, and reports philly.com sports, Fleischer saw major league baseball's own network as the most advantageous outlet for the news,  "even though the network has about half the subscribers that ESPN does."

Tim Franklin, director of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University, sees McGwire's in-house news conference as "a historic, seminal event in the evolution of sports media in America. I think it's that big a deal."

"It symbolizes the diminishment, to some degree, of mainstream news organizations," Franklin added. "It symbolizes the fracturing of the media market. It also symbolizes how the creation of all these new media, league-owned, team-owned, conference-owned, have a powerful megaphone and are increasingly using it."

This isn't to say the MLB Network handled McGwire with kid gloves. We're not close enough to any of this to appreciate nuances that may have been involved. What is interesting, however, is that the "fourth estate," at least in sports reporting, is now in box seats and we wonder where that can take news coverage, in sports and elsewhere. 

"In Philadelphia," advises philly.com sports,  "the Eagles and Flyers employ writers for their respective Web sites who travel with the teams. The Phillies have a writer for their Web site who is employed by Major League Baseball Advanced Media. All of the team-driven outlets compete for readers when it comes to disseminating news."

"And Comcast SportsNet has reporters who cover the Flyers and Sixers for both TV and the Internet. The teams and the network are owned by the same parent company, Comcast."

The sports-owned sites are being beefed up while traditional media outlets are laying off staffers. Whether this is an insidious trend or just reality -- it truly makes one uncomfortable to have corporate channels providing the news -- will take close observation over time. 

"There really aren't any guidelines or constraints,"  Brian Monihan, senior vice president and general manager of Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia, tells philly.com sports. "We challenge our reporters to go out and get the best information that they can on all the sports teams. We've proven over the past 12 years that they deliver the stories and information that the viewers want."

Still, the separation of news and corporate interests has always been a worthy ideal and, in our book, continues to be. 




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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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