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School Sites

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Thomas Goldkamp, Jun 19, 2012.

  1. This is an issue that has been bugging me for quite some time - the growing trend of school websites trying to do more of what the traditional media does. It's obvious that universities are realizing there is money to be made on the exclusive access they can grant themselves or professional journalists who are under their employ.

    Couple bullet points here, and I'll try to streamline them.

    1. These sites are competing for the views traditional newspapers and other media entities get. The ones pushing it more obviously compete for views moreso than most other school sites.

    2. Let's not kid ourselves, while some schools have hired professional journalists, these guys are basically writing PR pieces for the school. They aren't going to break negative news unless they know for a fact it will get out there and they can "scoop" it.

    3. Obviously the major issue is the question of unbiased coverage.

    4. If this school site idea continues to grow, at what point do schools just cut off media access and become the only place for news on their team, at which point all objectivity and transparency is gone?

    Anyway, reason I finally posted something to get thoughts after biting my tongue for a while is that the school site just posted a headline that literally had me laughing hysterically for about five minutes and then got me all worked up over.

    "These Gators Didn't Win a CWS Title, But They Conquered Perhaps a Bigger Challenge"

    Link: http://www.gatorzone.com/story.php?id=23330

    Now, full disclosure this story comes from a guy I really, really respect. He does great work and many of you know him personally. To be perfectly clear, I have no issues with Scott Carter, who I think is a terrific guy. The story itself is fine, even if it's a PR fluff piece, I'm just using it as a mode of discussion for the bigger topic.

    So, I guess what I want to know, is does anyone see this trend as another threat to what we do? If so (and I do), what do we do to explain to readers why they cannot rely on this type of coverage? Should we do that? Will doing it even matter? Or are we all just hosed sooner or later?
  2. Jake_Taylor

    Jake_Taylor Well-Known Member

    That could backfire on schools if they ever take it that far. Right now most sports departments more or less play ball with the sports info departments. We follow their rules about scheduling interviews and don't live tweet press conferences when they ask, etc., all to keep those credentials and reasonable access.

    If we get shut out then all bets are off. I want to talk to the quarterback then I'm calling his cell phone or meeting him at his apartment. SID can't tell you players and coaches won't answer questions about a certain topic and expect you not to ask anyway because he's got nothing to threaten you with.

    And fans may think they only want to read positive stories, but that will change once they start wondering why nobody is offering an explanation for why the starting cornerback who keeps getting burned hasn't been benched or why players keep getting arrested.
  3. All good points. I'm not sure it ever gets that far, but it does seem to be becoming a bigger and bigger issue where I am from a competition standpoint. At first, we didn't think it would be, but the more and more "scoops" they get and the more references I see our readers make to the school site, the more I worry about it. There are now two paid staff writers for the the school site who have journalism backgrounds, which is as many as most media outlets covering the beat.

    The obvious advantages the traditional media has are negative news and recruiting, which the school sites are kind of hamstrung on.
  4. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Not bothered by schools creating their own content. It's a free country. If people don't want to consume the content you produce, that's your outlet's problem.
  5. crimsonace

    crimsonace Well-Known Member

    It's not surprising. Colleges have an army of SIDs and SID interns to provide cheap labor, and because they're in the business of trying to recruit, they want to control the message as much as possible.

    Not only that, but it's another way to monetize the website.

    Colleges also have a lot of sports that don't really merit coverage in the traditional media, but they can cover them pretty adequately on the website.

    Not only that, but pro teams have been hiring their own beat writers for years ... once Major League Baseball and several NFL teams began providing news directly to their fans and hiring their own "beat writers," that was the beginning for everyone else.

    I interviewed for a D3 SID job about 15 years ago. They were saying then that "online is the way to go. Newspapers/traditional media don't give us much space, so we need someone with Web capabilities, so we can go directly to our fans."

    Now, we're seeing that in high schools. iHigh (disclaimer: I run an iHigh site) has a business model of essentially trying to do for high schools what the major Web developers/SID departments do for colleges.
  6. It's not necessarily the coverage I'm against. I'm all for those smaller sports getting the coverage they deserve and the readers deserve. I just hate the controlled message and blatant disregard for objectivity. But I guess that's my problem and I should just get over it.
  7. It can be a win-win for newspapers and schools, and here's why I think so. It gives the minor sports an outlet that otherwise you wouldn't give column inches or cyberspace to, unless it's a big deal, like someone making an Olympic team or winning some conference championship. Also, if you need to grab a couple of grafs for your roundup, those night games hit the site pretty quickly.

    I can't count how many times I've been able to put together my women's college basketball roundup from Internet stories posted by the home-team schools when my teams are on the road. And AP won't move stories on unranked women's teams.

    As far as objectivity goes, they're not a newspaper. They're in-house PR. Just roll with it.
  8. crimsonace

    crimsonace Well-Known Member

    No, it's not just your problem, and you shouldn't just get over it. Because colleges -- especially -- have an insatiable desire to control the news, and make sure no "bad news" gets leaked out there. There is -- and always will be -- a need for independent media. However, those who own the teams (colleges, pro teams) are producing their own media, and their fans who want the party line (when things are going good) like to get it straight from the team ... until the team starts losing, the starting QB gets tossed in jail and nobody knows about it until the next game because the only reporters at practice worked for the school and covered it up ...

    This is a concern, but from the school/team perspective, why rely on independent media when you can produce your own and control the message ... and you have enough money or willing free labor to do it.
  9. crimsonace

    crimsonace Well-Known Member

    But I will say this from the school perspective: We put links to our iHigh site in everything we hand out to fans at the games, announce them in our public address announcements, et al. We *want* people going to our site to get info.

    If the local paper wants the same treatment, they can be a corporate sponsor.
  10. Well this is a really good point, and something I haven't really thought of. I know our members are always asking for more smaller sports coverage and the frequent answer we give them is that we'll cover the major postseason events, but we simply don't have the manpower to cover them like we cover the major sports on a daily basis.

    Maybe there's something to be said for using the school sites to our advantage with a little aggregation. Thanks for the post.
  11. crimsonace

    crimsonace Well-Known Member

    The SE of the local paper says he lifts stuff off our iHigh site because it's usually informative and written in exactly the format they want it in (it's basically roundup-style). No problem with that -- part of my job.
  12. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I respect the hell out of Scott Carter.

    He's a great writer who knows firsthand what it's like to lose your job through no fault of his own. He has better job security at that job than almost anybody working at newspapers these days.

    Hell, before I lost my job, I wouldn't have taken a job for a school or a team for just about anything short of crazy money. The second you lose your job, you start looking at those jobs with the schools and the teams and MLB.com and NFL.com completely differently.

    Hell, Florida, which is infamous for controlling the media that covers it, hired two outstanding writers to write for its website. No paper covering that school has two writers the equivalent of Carter and Chris Harry.
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