Reporters for Hire Could Find Refuge with Sports Teams

The New York Times recently documented how the L.A. Kings and other franchises have taken to hiring their own reporters with coverage in the local dailies waning. This will obviously raise questions of objectivity, but may be a viable solution for teams, organizations, readers/fans and even journalists looking for stable work:

If your business depends on free publicity from newspapers, what do you do when the papers can no longer afford to send reporters to cover you? In professional sports, the answer, increasingly, is hire your own.

The Los Angeles Kings hockey team last week hired Rich Hammond, who had covered the Kings for The Los Angeles Daily News, to write about the team for its Web site, Michael Altieri, a Kings spokesman, said the team had given Mr. Hammond a multiyear commitment and complete autonomy to post reporting or commentary.

“We have a passionate fan base who want instant information about our team, but there’s been declining news coverage of us,” Mr. Altieri said.

After years of trimming jobs, pages and travel budgets, many big-city papers no longer provide regular coverage of every local sports team, and sending reporters on road trips has become rare. Mr. Hammond, 32, will travel with the Kings and cover all of their games. He said the job switch means a modest pay increase, and considering the state of newspapers, it may also improve his job security.

Last year, Chris Botta, a longtime New York Islanders executive, began writing about the team on its Web site. He developed an avid following, and when the team dropped the experiment this year, he continued with his own site,

“The Islanders used to get covered by four major newspapers, and now it’s one,” he said. “Teams have to do this kind of thing, and I believe more of them will.”

Major League Baseball has a beat reporter assigned to each team for But the Cincinnati Bengals football team was the pioneer in this field: a decade ago, the Bengals hired Geoff Hobson, a sports reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer, to write for its site.

But how sure can readers be of tough, impartial coverage when image-conscious businesses are paying for it? Mr. Hammond said it would be no use debating the ethics; teams will do what they must to generate fan interest, and fans can distinguish between reporting and public relations.

“I understand that people are going to have doubts,” he said. “The proof is going to be in the product.

UPDATE: Amy Mengel, a communications manager and freelance consultant, doesn’t seem to be buying this as a viable paradigm. Thoughts?

Hat tip to the Ragan PR Daily Newsfeed.