Experts discuss what happens when the same person owns the newspaper and the team it covers at 'Sports Matters'

By Paul Sarconi

March 3, 2015

The Newhouse Sports Media Center at Syracuse University recently hosted a daylong symposium called "Sports Matters," examining current issues in sports and sports media. The third and final panel of the day, “Sports Content and Message: Who Controls Them and How?” included the following speakers (pictured above, from left to right):

  • Joe Giansante, executive senior associate athletics director/chief communications officer/external affairs for Syracuse University Athletics
  • John Garcia Jr. G’10, regional recruiting analyst for FOX Sports/
  • Kimberley A. Martin G’06, New York Jets beat writer, Newsday
  • Phillip Hochberg ’61, sports media lawyer
  • Kevin Cooper ’01, director of communications for the Houston Texans

ESPN play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti ’05 began the discussion by asking about the implications of Boston Red Sox owner John Henry’s purchase of The Boston Globe. Does ownership of both create a conflict of interest, asked Benetti ’05, who is an adjunct professor at Newhouse and moderated the panel. The overarching opinion of the analysts was that there was no problem with Henry’s purchase. Cooper compared it to if Henry had purchased a hospital.

“I don’t think he would tell the surgeons how to operate,” Cooper, of the Houston Texans, says. “I think they are going to allow the journalists to do their jobs.”

Martin works for Newsday, which is owned by Cablevision. James Dolan owns a controlling interest in both the New York Knicks and Cablevision, which owns Newsday. Martin says the connection does sometimes affect coverage.

“I think, sometimes, it does put our Knicks writer in a tough position… I don’t think our coverage is compromised, but it can be a slippery slope,” Martin says. “If you are covering a team that is owned by the guy who owns your paper, you have got to be aware of it.”

The panel also addressed the often-complicated relationship between sports teams and the media. Giansante, who works for SU athletics, says not everyone should automatically expect a courtside credential to a Syracuse basketball game.

“We have a traditional amount of credentials. We have a certain amount of space. We have people that cover us every day,” Giansante says. “There is an order to how we distribute credentials based on the media entity, the amount of years they have covered us, (and) the various people that have been around the program. We have a hierarchy on how people get credentials.”

The session’s last point of discussion addressed how today’s deadline and social media pressures are affecting journalism. Demand for clicks and traffic to stories can compromise a reporter’s morals, Martin says.

“It has changed everything. As I journalist I find that our mission is to provide clarity. We are supposed to honest. We are supposed to provide context. When your objective or your motive is about getting clicks, that changes your standards,” she says. “That changes how you go about your job. Now your focus isn’t about ‘Well I am going to write the right story, or the best story.’ Now it’s ‘What’s the most sensational story? What’s the story people are going to want to read.”

Paul Sarconi is a junior broadcast and digital journalism major at the Newhouse School.

Photos by Chase Guttman, a freshman photography major at the Newhouse School.