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Mark Cuban would like the reporters out of his locker room

Apr 6, 2011, 8:20 AM EDT

Mark Cuban horizontal

Mark Cuban is a basketball owner, not a baseball owner, but I’ve gone on enough in recent weeks about team and league-controlled media usurping the role of the outside press that Cuban’s little rant from the other day is still within my bailiwick. So let’s talk about it, shall we?

Cuban’s piece is long and has some interesting and valid observations, but it boils down to this: teams have their own websites and players have their own Internet outlets, so there’s no point to deal with sports media websites and “internet reporters.” Not unpaid bloggers — he likes them — but professional Internet reporters that work for big media like ESPN.com, Yahoo! and, presumably, NBC Sports.com. This, combined with the fact that the internet reporters are TMZ-style, rumor-mongering paparazzi (at least in Cuban’s mind) means that the internet reporters should not have access to locker rooms. “Their interests are not aligned with the team’s interests,” Cuban says, and thus they are useless.

He’s right about the first part. As I discussed at length last month, teams and leagues are better positioned to disseminate certain types of information. Switching to baseball, this includes that day’s lineup. The press releases. The injury report. Anything that is information in its most neutral sense and is not given much value by virtue of its source (and actually, is closer to its original source if it comes via official team channels).

If I run a media company, I don’t want my reporters tweeting that day’s lineup or merely passing along press releases. I want my people to be offering opinion and critical thinking. Tell the readers what the lineup means and what the news release means.  For this, locker room access is not important or — if it comes with too many conditions from overly-controlling team personnel — even preferable.

But Cuban loses me when he starts going after straw men. It’s easy for us all to agree that people who simply make up rumors or act like TMZ reporters are useless, but who are they? Do they exist? Who at ESPN.com is simply inventing things from whole cloth? Who at Yahoo! is? Have any of them asked any players any “have you stopped beating your wife?” questions in the name of tabloid journalism?  If they did, they’d be laughed out of the business or kicked out of the clubhouse by media relations people for acting like idiots. The working press — even the online press — is overwhelmingly professional when they enter the clubhouse, and Cuban’s demonization of them in this regard is fantasy.

Or misdirection. Because one of the more notable things about Cuban’s piece is that he exempts a large swath of reporters from his ire: TV and print newspaper journalists. Cuban is just fine with keeping these guys in the locker room. This despite the fact that these are guys who do the same thing that the Internet reporters do to annoy Cuban. The less-salacious things Cuban complains about, anyway, such as constantly asking players about the latest rumors swirling around even if they themselves didn’t invent the rumor. Asking players “how they felt out there today” questions and other such inanities.

Why are the newspaper and TV people exempt? Cuban is actually pretty up front about it:

Newspaper has to be in the room. I know this is counter intuitive to some, but it is a fact. Why? Because there is a wealthy segment of my customer base that does not and will not go online to find out information about the Mavs.  If I don’t have a PRINT beat writer and /or PRINT columnist showing up and writing about the Mavs, both sides lose … The same logic that applies to newspapers, applies to TV.

Note use of the word “wealthy.”  This isn’t about information and accuracy and professional journalistic ethics. It’s about favoring those outlets who buy advertising panels on his scoreboard and purchase broadcast rights. Outlets that actively sell tickets for him. This is about Cuban, as an owner of a profit-generating business, wanting to control the message, limit bad publicity and, in his exception for TV and newspaper people, push customers through the turnstiles.

This is all pretty chilling, in my view. Especially considering that the fans don’t view the Mavericks as solely Cuban’s private business but, rather, they view it — rightly or wrongly — as something akin to a public trust in which they have invested their lives and their tax dollars.  The interests of the media don’t align with you Mr. Team Owner? What a shame. Unless and until your interests are something other than generating profits for your team, there’s a really good reason for that and you should understand why that is.

But yes, in the end it is Mark Cuban’s team and he can do what he likes. It wouldn’t particularly bother me on a practical level if he — or if the baseball owners — severely curtailed clubhouse access. I don’t need to get into the clubhouse to do my job. I’d probably lose three to five posts a day that I write based on clubhouse interviews conducted by others, but we’d manage, because most of what we traffic in is on-the-field action or news that occurs far enough off the field where clubhouse access isn’t an issue.

But I do wonder whether Cuban has thought this through all the way.  Whether he’s realized that even if he cut off access to his locker room, that the “Internet writers” would still write stuff and people would still read it. And that, without the need to maintain decent enough relations with the team to ensure that their credentials are in order, the aggregate coverage of the team will likely get more critical, not less. That reporters will feel liberated to rake muck and offer opinion and rumor without checking back to an official team source for comment because, hell, if they don’t need us, we don’t need them.

There’s a Faustian bargain between the media and those they cover, both in sports and on every other beat. Allowing reporter access is annoying for those being covered but useful as well. It’s empowering for the reporter but it limits them in important ways. When you’re outside and not beholden, you can’t deliver a certain sort of coverage, but thanks to direct access from newsmakers to the public via their own Internet outlets, that kind of coverage is becoming less and less important.

What does that leave? The kind of coverage that gets a lot closer to the truth of any given matter than that which Mark Cuban wants Mavericks fans to read. And if he thinks he doesn’t like the way things are, God help him if he ever decides to give a lot of smart and curious reporters a bunch of free time and a reason to resent him.

  1. bigperm33 - Apr 6, 2011 at 9:02 AM

    ” Because there is a wealthy segment of my customer base that does not and will not go online to find out information about the Mavs.” Even taking out the word “wealthy” and replacing it with “large” this statement makes no sense. Because can’t is just as easily be said that there is a large segment of Mavs fans who do no and will not read a newspaper or watch TV news to get information about the team – that many if not most people only get their news from online sources.

    Cuban has a sinister angle with this rant. I don’t particularly like him but there is no questioning he is an intelligent person. He knew what he was saying. So, I don’t believe he really thinks internet reporters pose any danger to his team that is not present from traditional reporters. If there is a reporter, online or otherwise, routinely inappropriate questions, that reporter can easily have a press credential revoked. If Cuban had concrete examples to prove his point, he would have offered them.

    Nope, he is after something much different with is complete message control. And what worries me is that in the world of sports, if we are cut off from information about the Dallas Mavericks, then who really cares at the end of the day. I can live without knowing what JJ Barea really thinks about. But this is just a step – we sit it all over the place in outlets far more important to every day life than just sports. Businesses and politicians are exceedingly controlling the message by only offering press releases, granting access only to friendly reporters. Because of that, we are almost always now just left with one side of a story. No analysis. Cuban sees this working in other areas, and he is now taking the steps to have it apply to his sports team.

    I am just wondering if Cuban can point to any examples of where a reporter of any kind asked a question that should not have been asked? Not one that he did not want asked, but one that should not.

  2. Old Gator - Apr 6, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    Your resident Trotskyite here with an alternative interpretation of Cuban’s use of the term “wealthy”: the whole fan base isn’t a slave to their keyboards. The point is that just because you can afford a computer or laptop and the monthly cable bill doesn’t mean you prefer digital media for your information. Perhaps you have an aversion to eyestrain. Perhaps you find much of the content of digital media inane, even callow. You still like to relax in the local coffee shop with the morning paper. I suspect there’s even an inference of “educated” or “literate” in his use of the term “wealthy.”

    Okay, I was just speculatin’ on a hypothesis. I know I don’t know nothin’.

    On the other hand, it’s too bad someone like Cuban wasn’t around to deal with all the print media weevils and character assassins who ganged up on, say, Roger Maris. Would’ve been nice to see him take one of those bastards by the shirt collar and pitch him out onto the Bronx pavement on his ass.

  3. pwf207 - Apr 6, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    first, my thanks craig for the insightful analysis present throughout this post. it is this type of thoughtful and layered writing that made shysterball what it was and what separates you from a lot of other excellent baseball analysts.

    second as I posted before here are the principles of journalism agreed upon after four years of surveys and research among academics and practitioners stemming from the Project for Excellence in Journalism:
    1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
    2. Its first loyalty is to citizens
    3. Its essence is a discipline of verification
    4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover
    5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power
    6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise
    7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant
    8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional
    9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience
    10. Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news

    @bigperm33, do these principles sound like they are aligned with the Mav’s interests? cuz they don’t necessarily seem that way to me either. and you are of course correct on the larger issue of controlling the message and access to info only to compliant media members. this is what the powerful do, they leverage their power to their advantage, same as bankers who claim the economy will fall apart if any reforms are implemented on asset size or politicians who hold middle class tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for the rich. power if allowed to act unchecked will continuously aggregate more and more power until it collapses the whole system upon itself. welcome to the 21st century; as the Chinese curse goes, may you live in interesting times.

    • ta192 - Apr 6, 2011 at 4:09 PM

      Those principles don’t sound like they align with the Mav’s interests, indeed, they shouldn’t. They should not align with the interests of any individual or corporation, save maybe for some kind of “National Ombudsman”. The truth, however, is that we do live in an “interesting” time…and scary and dangerous to boot. Too bad journalism as described in your principles is all but dead.

    • markcuban - Apr 6, 2011 at 5:19 PM

      Thanks for taking the time to consider my blog post. Of course I think you are off on a few points:
      1. No chance i can control the media. Its the internet. Everyone has a platform and will write whatever they please, whether i give them access to the locker room or not. This is not an effort to control what is said about the Mavs. Thats impossible.

      2. My problem is not what they write , but how they present it. In a conversation with “internet writers” this morning they all gave responses similar to yours. When I asked when they were reporting and when they were providing opinion as columnists, they agreed that there is no line between the two. They converge in everything they do. That this “was the nature of the sports media today”. To which I responded very simply that I would have no problem allowing them complete access if before every article they wrote, they simply stated wether the article was reporting or opinion or both. IMHO, most , if not all “reporters” identify themselves as such and play off the objectivity readers expect from a reporter to make their opinions appear as fact or to have a foundation of facts behind them.

      The writers i spoke to were adamant that readers knew the difference between facts and their opinions. I disagreed.

      Its a simple proposition. Much like full page advertisements in a newspaper say “advertisement” across the top. if they simply state whether the article is reporting or opinion, im good with whatever they write. Unfortunately, at least one of the writers in our discussion didnt feel it was necessary to do so. Although he self-identified himself as a reporter when asked what his job is, because his name and picture on his website page identified him as a columnist, that was sufficient. Readers were smart enough to know when he was reporting and when he was opining .
      I disagree and that is the root of the problem.

      But thats not why I responded here. What caught my attention was one of the other replies with the journalists credo. I think its important to note that what we get on the net in sports media is very often not in any way shape or form journalism.

      From the post with my opinions interjected:
      e here are the principles of journalism agreed upon after four years of surveys and research among academics and practitioners stemming from the Project for Excellence in Journalism:
      1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
      Can opinion and fact be mixed together and still be journalism ? At what point does too much opinion impact the integrit of the journalism ?
      2. Its first loyalty is to citizens
      Would ESPN or NBC agree with that ?

      3. Its essence is a discipline of verification
      Where does opinion sit in this model ? Is it journalism if there is no verification ?

      4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover
      ESPN , NBC, CBS all pay more to sports leagues for their games than any other single content source.

      5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power
      Im not quite sure where the power is. On an NFL/MLB/NBA broadcast or with the team or league

      6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise
      Fair and needed. But what happens when they refuse to cover themselves or open themselves to criticism. Should Jalen Rose be covered as a story by ESPN ? Erin Andrews ? Where is that forum ?

      7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant
      THrough facts and in depth reporting or quick opinionated blog posts ?

      8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional
      Does comprehensive even exist in sports reporting ?

      9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience
      fair enough
      10. Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news
      fair enough

      this can definitely be identified as my opinion. And its part of the equation of how I evaluate the future of media and its impact on my businesses

      thats for the opportunity to reply

      • Matt - Apr 6, 2011 at 5:42 PM

        I am ecstatic that you brought point number 2 up here. This has been a long running pet peeve of mine in both sports journalism and journalism at large. Too many individuals in the profession intermix their facts with their opinions, and while most readers of the actual article may be able to discern the difference, it is further down the line where trouble really lies. If one person misreads the situation, and then quotes the opinion as fact in his/her own article on the matter, and it continues again and again, then suddenly we have the original journalists opinions being reported as fact because it takes far too many steps for the individual readers to follow the trail back and discover the misreporting.

        Additionally, this is extremely prevalent during the draft/hot stove sessions in sports where one person says “hey, I wonder if a Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols deal makes sense for both sides” which then gets picked up as a headline or one liner in future reporting as an actual deal being discussed, spiraling out of control. While this is ultimately harmless, it typifies the way that things can get so easily misinterpreted when that distinction is not made obvious by the author.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Apr 6, 2011 at 5:44 PM

        Mark: thanks for coming by. Criticisms aside, one of the reasons I’m a fan of yours is that you walk the walk and interact in real ways. Would that other sports owners do that. Anyway:

        Question: you made a very big exception in your piece for the print media. The alpha dog in sports print media are the columnists. I don’t know the basketball guys, but in baseball I’m talking about the Bill Maddens, Joel Shermans, Phil Rogers and the like.

        They routinely mix factual reporting and opinion. Indeed, they slide their reporting in almost innocuously into their columns in ways that make it hard to tell which it is. How are they OK if the Internet people aren’t? 95% of my stuff, for example, is opinion and people know it to be. When I write news, I make a big point of saying so.

      • deepflakes - Apr 6, 2011 at 9:11 PM

        Please everyone — I realize that we are talking about something very important to all of us . . . but this is sports, after all. When I read something about the budget or Libya, I want (as much as it can be) straight. Sports? There’s always kind of slant — which most of the time with local sports coverage — tends to be of the fanboy variety. Unless the team really sucks for an extended period. Then it turns toxic, as it should.

        If you don’t like the stupid questions, do more media training to fend it off. Mr. Daily View reporter: “Where will you be in two years?” Athlete: “I don’t know — where will you be in two years?” Stupid questions deserve stupid answers.

      • macjacmccoy - Apr 6, 2011 at 11:38 PM

        I agree with you Matt. For example take NFL Network I will be watching the channel when a story comes on about Brett Favre often changing the plays at the line scrimmage when he sees the defensive alignment . Which is fine thats good fact based reporting. But then Rich Eisen will chime and say ” We’ll this could possibly be a sign of schism in Minnesota” that maybe Brett doesnt respect Childress or he doesnt think he knows what hes doing so he changes the plays. Then the entire panel of analysts chimes in on the matter. They are no longer talking about the orginal story of him changing the plays there talking about why his relationship with Childress could be influencing him into changing the plays. Then it will take on a life of its own. Websites like pft and other media sources will start writing stories about possible schisms in Minnesota. Then we start to hear from people with “sources” who are confirming that there is a problem in Minnesota.

        But no one seems to remember that it startered from an opinion that had no bases in fact. That only after they discussed the possibility that this might be occuring did we start hearing people talk about it. Its like they create there own facts just by talking about something enough.

        This wouldnt happen if they kept the opinion and the facts seperated. If they did that people would know that when someone was giving there opinion that that was all that it was. Because no matter what you do if you start opinionating about facts it will get misconstrued. Some people wont be able to tell where the opinion ends and the facts start and thats where these stories create a life of there own.

        Im sure most people in the media arent creating these falsehoods on purpose but some are. They make a living by perpetuating these controversies. When there are stories like that going around is when they have the most page views or the highest subscription rates. Shouldnt legitimate writers or reporters be doing everything they can to distant themselves from those shadier charactors in their line of work. And if that involves being clear about when your just giving your opinion and when what your reporting is fact so be it. Its a small price to pay to for your integrity.

        By the way I am not talking about PHT writers here I believe you guys do a good job in discerning when what your saying is fact and when its not.

      • dadawg77 - Apr 7, 2011 at 11:02 AM

        Mark, you may not be able to control the media however you want to control the message. Through out history and all facets of life when people/organizations protest against reporting by the media, it is because the message isn’t want the person/organization wants. If the message was what the person/organization wanted there would be no protest.

        A reporter interjecting opinion into an article can be helpful to the reader as it can guide the reader to the truth behind the facts. A beat reporter has much knowledge of the team then the average fan which gives them a better chance correctly interpret the facts. If the reporter just reported the facts then readers would be left to interpret the facts without context or articles would become bogged down with the small details. Without context spin from concerned parties (team, players) would have greater weight or fans would have no idea what the facts mean. In sister blog profootballtalk, I appreciate the opinion on the legal matters around the NFL lockout. Not being a lawyer, a former lawyer offering facts and opinion on the legal matter surrounding the lockout provides me useful information. I’m sure that this will occur here if there a lockout in the NBA this off-season.

        Now giving opinion is different then impartiality, which something reporters should have, well at least until the facts dictate a stance one would have to take ie Anderson Cooper in New Orleans after Katerina.

      • dolphinphan - Apr 7, 2011 at 12:03 PM

        Mr. Cuban,

        As a sports fan who realizes this is all played out for our (viewer) entertainment, keep up the good work. You are the best.

        -Heat fan

  4. mrznyc - Apr 6, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    There wasn’t a reporter who stepped into a Major League locker room during the steroid era who didn’t know what was going on, yet hardly any one wrote about it and the ones who did couched it in such oblique language that it would be impossible to know who he was talking about. When getting into the area of reporters integrity it’s best to remember that.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Apr 6, 2011 at 11:21 AM

      I suspect the biggest reason they didn’t say anything was because they feared that by doing so the team would pull their credentials. We saw the backlash against the AP reporter who reported on McGwire and andro. We saw the team go after that writer from Tacoma last year when he reported on Ken Griffey sleeping in the clubhouse. You piss off the team, your access is jeopardized.

      If the media in the mid 90s was assigned to do deeper, less team-friendly reporting, is it not possible that the steroids stories come out earlier?

  5. cur68 - Apr 6, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    What is it with sportswriters/commentators? Are they like squid? The moment they become flustered they spew a cloud of ink? All I take away from Cuban is it’s his team (which it is), he wants to keep the profits rolling in (logical), he wishes reporters would stop harassing his players because it hurts their performance (seems true) & he needs to cater to a certain segment of the press because the wealthy patrons rely on them for news (duh). His major crime here is being candid. The guy puts bums in seats and consistently fields a winner. What more does the sporting public want?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Apr 6, 2011 at 11:28 AM

      All business would love for media coverage to be a one-way street. Please report our press releases, but please don’t question anything we do. Don’t criticize us. It upsets us. And, really, if you’re not helping us make money in you’re in our way.

      You’re cool with that?

      Yes, it’s sports, but every institution that touches the public in important ways, be it government (especially government), business, major sports, the health care system, what have you, are improved by scrutiny. That’s what the press is doing. It doesn’t always do that well, but if the doors are closed to anyone who isn’t advancing Mark Cuban’s agenda, there will be none of it.

      • cur68 - Apr 6, 2011 at 11:52 AM

        Yeah, no worries, I get that. I just wish you’d written the above rather than that long slog I read to get exactly the same sentiment from the original post. Cuban’s on one side of the balance beam and you lot (and some of us sports fans) are probably on the other side. The whole thing works providing we are allowed to be who we are. Compared to Wilpon, Loria, McCourt, certain Stienbrennars etc? They’re the other type of owners. I’m in favor of more “Cuban-ness”; care about your team, act like you care, look out for your players, and never lose sight of the fact that its about putting bums in seats. I think too many people buy into that ‘insane man’ act Cuban puts out there. When he’s candid you actually see why he does it. Now, if it didn’t work, I’d be all over him for it. However, by the metric of filling the stands, fielding a winner, and entertaining (and no, I don’t mind an owner being part of the show; why not? He makes me laugh) it seems to be working.

  6. patmcauley - Apr 6, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    There’s baseball and there’s media. I like baseball. I can’t stand media coverage of baseball.

    “Ramirez ‘in best shape of life'” and “Jones sees positives in loss” and “Soriano blows up, shuts out media” and “Gritty O’Donovan takes it one base at a time” and just about everything Phil Rogers excretes. One has nothing to do with the other.

    Doing anything for “the fans … (that view a sports team as) a public trust in which they have invested their lives and their tax dollars” is catering to an insane subset of the population. If that was a good idea, the Supreme Court would have appointed Donald Trump president already. Everyone invests their tax dollars in the team and the stadium, but 98.7% don’t care (or else, through voting, there would be no place for baseball teams to play baseball games). Invested their lives? There are six of those people (outside of New York and Boston). Season ticket holders don’t go to the park to hear how a player feels about possibly being traded. They invested to watch the games and root for home team wins. Same with people who watch games on TV or listen on the radio.

    I say keep ‘em all out. Sure, they can watch from the press box … but no catering!

    Pat

  7. Chris K - Apr 7, 2011 at 12:04 AM

    Toronto FC in the MLS got in trouble for trying to exclude media from the locker room. The new coach, coming from Europe, tried bringing over the traditional “no press in the locker” approach and it flat out didn’t fly. MLS intervened (and, from a business perspective, rightfully so). Would the NBA REALLY let Cuban get away with blocking out people capable of growing their market share?

    Press seem to be one of those things that these days are indispensable for the mere fact that everyone else believes they’re indispensable.

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