Sunday, May 20, 2007

Rewarded for good reporting

A friend of mine has a relative who produces a morning news show in Detroit. Recently that friend got to accompany his relative and the news show staff to a Detroit Red Wings playoff game and sit in their suite. As a big hockey fan, I was naturally very jealous (not to mention the free food and drink). Then he told me the suite was provided by the team's owner.

I was a little supsicious about those circumstances but he was emphatic that the owner had provided the suite. According to my friend, the owner called up his relative and commended him for the morning show's fine reporting on the Wings' latest playoff run. As a thank you, he offered the suite up to the news team.

I first wondered about what kind of coverage would get a team owner (or perhaps a corporation, etc.) to call and say "good job." Did that mean it was actually quality reporting, favorable reporting or just a lot of coverage? People pay attention to themselves (or their properties) when it makes the news, but do they value quality coverage (accurate, fair, balanced?) or just being in the news?

Then I began to wonder why they would take the owner up on the offer? Of course stations want to reward good ratings and good reporting, but couldn't they have done it on their own nickel? I don't even accept sodas from sources let alone lots of sodas inside a suite at a major sports arena.

If my friend's story is right, it really makes me wonder. I don't think it was acceptable to attend the game on the owner. Even if the owner was commended them on fair, accurate and balanced reporting, I think it may get altered to "favorable" coverage after attending the game.

It is probably hard to be too negative about a team that is on a playoff roll (and sports are one of the few things Detroiters can rally around), but it can't all be favorable coverage. Ticket prices are a major pain for fans in Michigan's bad economy and there were lots of empty seats throughout the first two rounds. I'll bet this didn't show up in any of the morning show highlights. There are also always opportunities to discuss bad in-game decisions and to have tough interviews with players.

In journalism we all walk a fine line between news and promotion. I know you can't do a "high ticket price story" for every game, but that would be one way to have a balanced collection of newscasts.

This just shows me that there are more decisions in a newsroom that need to be vetted. Outside-the-newsroom factors deserve the same kind of careful examination that in-story decisions receive.


At Sunday, May 20, 2007, Blogger EJW said...

What an interesting topic! I have been faced with this issue even during our Chicago Broadcast quarter. I had a source offer me a meal after an interview and another source, after the story ran, wanted my home address so they could send me a thank-you gift. It's so weird that this is happening already with our little stories. Something tells me this whole issue of gifts will be something we will have to contend with.


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