The LA Times, in a bold move, has decided to stop covering USC and UCLA football practices. On the surface, this seems like a puzzling decision – readers will be outraged! – but the media landscape in 2012 is significantly different than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Athletic programs used to want to be chummy with the media in hopes of maybe getting more favorable coverage.
That’s not the case anymore.
Athletic programs now have their own websites and their own twitter accounts and Facebook pages, and they want to break news on them to generate traffic and connect with fans – and more than anything, slant coverage in a positive night. (That darn negative media!). Essentially, school websites are battling the traditional media for traffic and even influence. Increasingly, practice has become a waste of time for newspaper reporters (well, those who are invited to practice) because the day-to-day stuff – pithy quotes from players and coaches – are on the school’s website and aggregated by blogs hours after practice and ages before the morning paper is out.
I’ve got a source at a Pac-12 school who will occasionally throw me something. If you read this site closely enough, or follow me on twitter, you could probably figure out the school. Once, this person told me: “I’d love to give you this, but we have a new edict – if it’s school related, we need to tweet it to boost our followers.” The discussion essentially amounted to this: If the football program’s twitter account had 50k followers, and the local beat writer only had 10k followers and the beat writer’s paper had 15k followers, who wins in the battle for influence among passionate fans – “I trust [enter coach here]” – of the school’s football team? If the local paper is spinning a negative narrative, the school has a powerful tool to fight back – social media. This person argued that eventually, the school wouldn’t need the local media. (National media like ESPN? That’s another story.)
Earlier this month, Lane Kiffin banned the LA Daily News from practice for reporting on injuries. Then, Kiffin bolted on the media at practice in an awkward, 28-second presser. More recently, Jim Mora, the UCLA coach, threw an ESPN camera crew out of practice. Who can forget Jeremy Fowler famously going at it with Urban Meyer two years ago? So we won’t be getting more of those? Drat.
RIP coaches vs. the media at practice.