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Throw That Blogger From The Pressbox!

Monday, June 18, 2007 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 8:24 PM, under , ,

Athens, GA (Jun 18, 2007) - Bloggers should have the same rights as regular journalists! Free speech should not be restrained! Does this sound like some of the cries and arguments you hear from bloggers and others in the new media? Well that is certainly what Brian Bennett of The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky is saying. The New York Times reported that Bennett was evicted from a baseball press box for blogging about a game while it was in progress. The Times states that the eviction has stirred a debate about First Amendment rights, intellectual property rights and contract law. In fact, the newspaper is considering filling a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) that will contend that their first amendment right of free speech is being curtailed.

But is that the case? Is having a seat in a press box for a sporting event a free pass to do whatever you want, when you want? The simple answer is "no". The simple answer is that the coveted press pass comes with an explicit contract that states that any "live" transmission of the sporting event in question is not allowed. Why? Because the television and radio networks have paid for the exclusive rights to provide live broadcast of the events in question. This has always been the case for years. If you are a print reporter, you can write about the events for your print publications. This has never really been a problem in the past because there has usually been a delay between the ending of an event and the publication of the next newspaper(s). This brings an interesting nexus. How is technology changing this and how could or should the rules be rewritten?

The first thing that I think about this question is the way many University of Georgia fans tune into broadcasts of their beloved Bulldogs. They love the fact that they can get television images of their team when they cannot be inside of the stadium. But these same fans love and adore Larry Munson, the radio voice of the Bulldogs. So what they will do is turn the volume down on the television and listen to the play by play as called by Munson. It does not matter that the audio and video images will be out of synch (caused by satellite or "bird" delay of television. They will get the best of both worlds. Both WSB radio and the broadcasting network have paid for exclusive broadcast rights. But does this mean that the fans are exclusively watching or listening to only one form of media? No, they are combining them to get what they consider to be the best experience for them.

So how does the Internet change this? There are indeed many ways. Organizations such as the University of Georgia Athletic Association provide live in-game statistics for people to access during a game. But this is not something done free. Money has changed hands somewhere along the line. Most college athletic program websites are hosted by CSTV, which is owned by CBS Sports. The services are being provide for the fans on the hosted web sites. In order to drive advertising revenue from the sites, they want the eyeballs there, not anyplace not paid for or sanctioned by the schools. Eyeballs are very important. This is intellectual property they want control over.

Then we have to deal with the reality of today. People are taking their pictures and posting them on Flickr and other photo sharing sites. People are shooting their own video and posting it to YouTube. People are recording podcasts and posting them online. People are blogging about the games in progress. Are these people sitting in the press boxes? No, they are sitting in the stands. They are sitting outside of the stadium, in a bar, or in their homes using the technology in their hands. In one sense, the intellectual property control genie is out of the bottle.

What the owners of this intellectual property (and please, no jokes or cracks about sports not being an intellectual pursuit) have to realize is that the live blogging of a game from the press box is not a liability. First, a reporter or blogger cannot type and post fast enough to keep up with video or audio broadcasts of the events. Second, the number of eyeballs being drawn by reporters such as Bennett are probably minimal compared to those watching or listening to a broadcast of an event. Third, unless fans are prohibited from bringing cameras, cellphones or other electronic devices into the games, there is only the illusion of control.

An important point about the Bennett situation is that the NCAA was in control of the event, not the University. The University had contractual obligations with the NCAA that had to be enforced. For Bennett, there was no restraint of free speech. What sportswriter has ever been blocked from writing what they want? Bennett was not required to submit his content for NCAA or university review before his articles were published in the newspaper. For the newspaper to file a lawsuit is absurd. They accepted their press credential(s) that had clear limitations and the contract was breached. So he was removed from the Press Box, as the rules agreed to said he would. Is is disingenuous for him or the newspaper to cry foul after the fact.

But the NCAA, and the member universities, needs to crawl out of the cave and look at the current technological environment. Rather than try to overcontrol the message, they should embrace the messages of the new media. Corporations such as IBM and Microsoft have done this in many ways. They are encouraging employees to blog. IBM recognizes the importance of the outside voices and encourages them. You will find links to outside blogs on their web site. You will see links to "Taking Notes", unofficial podcasts by and from the Lotus software community. They are inviting bloggers to media events.

From this writer's perspective, I would rather see the
NCAA and universities take this approach rather than getting in bed with organizations such as, which is more about gambling than sports. Don't believe me? Just go look at discussion fora on that site, and it is all about betting lines. From this view, it seems that the NCAA would rather support betting on their sports rather than opening up the ways sports are covered. Hmmm, which would be better for everyone on the long run?

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