A Matter of Access to Sporting Events

Student and professional journalists dealing with restrictions on sports coverage

By Frank D. LoMonte
Executive Director, Student Press Law Center

Fueled by billions in television and licensing revenues, college athletic departments are increasingly stiff-arming journalists by restricting access to practices and games. Meanwhile, media industry leaders are looking for ways to respond.

The start of football season in August 2012 brought a wave of new restrictions on journalists–professionals and students alike–who cover college athletics. Threatening to revoke press credentials or close practices, coaches at several schools, including the University of Southern California, Washington State University and the University of North Carolina, ordered journalists to refrain from reporting on player injuries observed during practices.

In recent years, colleges and athletic conferences have become increasingly assertive about controlling how media organizations use the information and images they gather at sporting events.

The Southeastern Conference’s standard media credential, for instance, prohibits the sale for profit of any photo that includes recognizable athletes or coaches, and prohibits anyone other than a broadcast news outlet from posting online any game-action video other than video clips provided by the conference. The NCAA maintains – and colleges have occasionally threatened to enforce – limitations on the frequency with which blogs (including Twitter feeds) may be updated with game action in order to prohibit “live blogging” that might draw viewers away from officially licensed telecasts.

In response to these restrictions, the Student Press Law Center and leading organizations representing the professional news media. including the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Sports Editors, have formed an informal working group to exchange information and to advocate for better access policies.

“First, and foremost, sports events are big news,” said attorney Kevin M. Goldberg of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, P.L.C., who represents ASNE on these issues.  “Not just in terms of reader interest, but in many cities and towns around the country, especially those with a large university prescience, they can often be the biggest business or social issues as well. Second, the restrictions being levied are so outrageous that they simply demand a response.”

“These issues will become more complex and difficult to manage going forward,” Goldberg said. “Sports teams, leagues, venues and events, at the professional, college, high school and local levels are trying to harness technology in ways that make them competitors to the local news outlets, effectively cutting out the local media. They are seeking not only to control the message but commercial aspects of that message as well. They are learning from each other, talking to each other and occasionally working with each other to perfect these restrictions.”

While public universities are governed both by the First Amendment and by open-meetings laws that grant the public a right of access to government activities, there is no clear legal basis on which to demand unfettered access to sporting events.

Public-access laws cover only “meetings” where government policy is deliberated or decided. The fact that an event takes place inside a publicly financed stadium is not, by itself, a basis for claiming a “right” to attend. A government agency can restrict access by issuing credentials, and can impose and enforce reasonable conditions for receiving credentials.

Courts have held that the First Amendment does provide a right of access for journalists to observe important government activities, such as criminal trials and official police activity occurring in public spaces. It is questionable whether a court would recognize a constitutionally based right to insist on sideline access to a football game.

Once access is granted, it cannot be selectively revoked for retaliatory reasons, such as when a journalist expresses a viewpoint contrary to the government’s. And government agencies cannot selectively discriminate only against journalists. They cannot, for example, enforce a policy that enables fans in the bleachers to shoot and share video freely but restricts journalists from doing the same.

Most sports teams specify that ticketholders may not rebroadcast any game action, though it is questionable how that can be enforced. It’s also not clear whether live-blogging or live-tweeting restrictions will actually hold up in court if they’re challenged legally. However, news organizations should consider whether they are willing to forfeit their credentials while being a “test case.”

There are no known cases of media organizations actually losing credentials for providing live-blogging coverage, but the closer the coverage gets to a literal play-by-play description of events in real time, the more likely it is to draw a reaction. If threatened with the loss of credentials, journalists on the scene would probably be best advised to:

  • Immediately involve a sports editor or editor-in-chief.
  • Avoid a potentially heated on-the-spot argument that distracts from covering the event.
  • Go along with the sports organization’s requests—thereby defusing the confrontation—by agreeing to post fewer blog updates or changing their vantage points on the sidelines.
  • Carefully document which official made what threats; this documentation would be important for any legal challenges that could arise.

Student journalists have a particularly strong argument for leeway, since they, just like the student athletes they are covering, are in college to receive training and prepare for careers. A college that uses its authority to de-credential and expel student journalists is both harming the college audience and harming the career preparation of the students it hopes to place in professional employment.

Journalists who have issues with access to sporting events – including restrictions on what they can post online when covering sports – are encouraged to report concerns to the Student Press Law Center at splc@splc.org or 703-807-1904. The SPLC is building a database of sports access issues in collaborating with the ASNE and other professional media organizations, to assist in identifying the restrictions that trouble journalists most frequently and that are most in need of reform, whether by regulators or by the courts.

Election Coverage on Campus

College journalists can and should cover the presidential race: Here’s how

By Sarah Maben and Dan Malone

Barack, Mitt, Paul and Joe. Their names are all over professional newsfeeds regarding the U.S. presidential election.

Illustration: League of Women Voters

If their names aren’t part of college media newsfeeds, they could be. The student press corps has an arsenal of tools to cover the 2012 presidential campaign and election night with relative ease and very little money.

“To prepare journalism students for the media world they are entering, I think it’s essential to have them cover election night in real-time,” said Jake Batsell, adviser to smudailycampus.com at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. “Election night provides journalism students with a perfect laboratory to perform under real-time pressure during a major news story.”

Continue reading “Election Coverage on Campus”

Research Spotlight: Still in Growth Mode

Newspaper revenues, salaried positions grow; Online editions expand as well

By Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver
Florida International University

College and university student newspapers have long been positioned as training grounds for the professional press, modeling them in many aspects.

The newspaper business has faced financial challenges and technological change. So too have student newspapers wrestled with some of the same issues. This study was designed to look at how college and university student newspapers and online editions have fared in these economic times, and how they have also met some of the same challenges as their professional counterparts. Results show that total operating budgets and the number of salaried staff have increased. More papers report revenue from advertising, the first step to gaining greater independence and professionalism. In addition, the student press has welcomed technology and created and expanded online editions.

Continue reading “Research Spotlight: Still in Growth Mode”

Editors note

It’s payback time

Bob Bergland

The year was 1989. Reagan had just ended his term as office and I was an undergraduate searching for a topic for my senior honors thesis. As editor of my college newspaper at Millikin University, I was interested in researching media ethics at college newspapers. After discovering the existence of College Media Review (actually College Press Review, before the name change) and finding several valuable ethics articles in the journal, I was on my way.

Continue reading “Editors note”

Bullying at a glance

Bullying can occur in all workplaces, including college newsrooms

Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done.

Continue reading “Bullying at a glance”

Research Spotlight: Caught in the Balance

Information Access in an Era of Privatized Public Higher Education

By Alexa Capeloto
CUNY in New York City


Public information laws at the federal and state level enshrine a citizen’s right to petition public agencies for access to records and meetings related to the business of governance. Most such laws make no explicit mention, however, of private entities that do public work either instead of or in addition to what public agencies provide. As a result of vague or insufficient laws and ambiguous court decisions, information that might once have been accessible could potentially be withheld from the public because it has moved into the private domain. The tension between privatization and public access today is intensifying as public agencies increasingly contract out services, accept corporate sponsorship, create quasi-public entities or otherwise transact with private organizations and individuals. Nowhere is this more evident than at public colleges and universities, which are turning to privatization as state revenue, fiscal prioritizing and even the philosophical underpinnings of public education shift around them. In every state, student media journalists and advisers at public colleges should study relevant legislation and case law surrounding this issue, review contracts and communications with private entities and, when warranted, push for access when schools close the door on information that might once have been obtained with a simple request. This article is meant to provide a beginning for that process.

Continue reading “Research Spotlight: Caught in the Balance”

Newsroom bullying will take tolls on students, adviser if left unchecked

Consequences of bullying are very real in workplace

By Jamie Tobias Neely
Eastern Washington University

Newsroom bullies, who may target other students out of earshot of their advisers, can be tricky to spot.

But the consequences of bullying, such as increased absenteeism and turnover, are not. An adviser who ignores newsroom bullies risks hampering student learning, damaging the quality of the publication and even hindering his or her own career.

Continue reading “Newsroom bullying will take tolls on students, adviser if left unchecked”

Book Review: Journalists around the world killed while doing their jobs

“War on Words: Who Should Protect Journalists” full of  in-depth research and interviews with 60 sources

By Pat Winters Lauro

During World War II, 37 American journalists were killed on the job, including the famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was shot dead by a Japanese sniper in the Pacific.

In contrast, more than 1,000 journalists and their essential support staff, including drivers and translators, have been killed in just the last 10 years, according to the International News Safety Institute – and not necessarily because they were caught in crossfire. In a number of cases, they were targeted because of their jobs.  And their murderers got away with it.  According to INSI, eight of 10 murders of journalists have never been investigated.

Continue reading “Book Review: Journalists around the world killed while doing their jobs”

College Media — a look back at 2011-2012

College media enjoy, endure numerous revolutions, large and small

By Daniel Reimold
University of Tampa

The year began with a bombshell.  On the first day of school last August, The Red & Black, one of the largest and most-feted college newspapers in the country, announced it was switching from a daily to a weekly print edition.

The University of Georgia student paper simultaneously rolled out a digital-first workflow and publishing philosophy that made redandblack.com the “main arm for delivering the news of UGA to the masses.”  In an announcement message on a popular college media advisers’ list-serv, Red & Black editorial adviser Ed Morales dubbed the whole shebang Red & Black 2.0.

Continue reading “College Media — a look back at 2011-2012”

The Red & Black: The making of a student media revolution

The move from daily print to digital impacts advertisers, readers and, most of all, students

By Ed Morales
University of Georgia

The Red & Black: The Next Generation

Dynamic shifts sometimes find roots in the oddest of places, so the genesis of The Red & Black‘s move to a digital-first format can trace back to a summer night when an athletic director was caught red-handed with a pair of women’s underwear resting in his lap.

It was an early Thursday in the summer of 2010 when Damon Evans, then the athletic director at the University of Georgia, was pulled over in Atlanta and charged with driving under the influence. With him in the car when the arresting trooper approached the driver’s side window was a young woman who was not his wife, her red panties in his lap.

The news broke at 6 a.m., just as a weekly summer edition of The Red & Black (the paper was daily during the fall and spring semesters, weekly during the summer) hit the boxes.

Continue reading “The Red & Black: The making of a student media revolution”