UPDATE: That didn’t take long. The United Soccer League stepped in a few hours after this happened (on April 8, 2016), and the Post & Courier has its credentials again. League president Jake Edwards’ statement spanked the club owner: “We will be taking the appropriate steps to prevent instances like this from happening again.”
A Charleston Post & Courier reporter this week did exactly what quality journalists do: He sought comment from a party in a lawsuit before publication.
The subject is Eric Bowman, the multimillionaire owner of the Charleston Battery, a minor-league soccer team. His response was even more minor league: He removed the press credentials of the P&C’s sports staff.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning paper responded by announcing that it will not cover the the team, with editor Mitch Pugh saying “our news coverage cannot and will not be swayed by the withholding of media credentials.”
Some quick thoughts on why banning journalists for doing their job is foolish:
* If the paper had published the story without seeking comment, Bowman would rightfully howl. It’s right there in the SPJ code of ethics, under the “Seek Truth and Report it” section that says journalists should “diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.”
Trying to punish someone for doing right is a rarely good strategy in business, PR or life.
* It’s a legitimate news story, because the team owner was part of a major Charleston business. And in civil lawsuits – where a plaintiff can pretty much claim anything against a defendant – it’s particularly important to seek a defendant’s response to allegations.
* The sports section has nothing to do with the business section. (If you’re mad at a spouse, do you kick the dog?) Grownups who deal with media know that business, sports, news and opinion are separate parts of a news organization, and the advertising side is separate from the news operation.
* It doesn’t help the United Soccer League, of which the Battery is a member. SB Nation explained a few reasons why, but it missed one: Often, news organizations make deals with each other to swap stories so they don’t have to travel to away games, particularly for smaller-time sports such as soccer.
* It doesn’t work. Florida International University learned this the hard way in 2014, when it tried to ban a Miami Herald reporter who was writing tough stories about the hapless program. It led to lots of stories nationwide about FIU’s shenanigans, and FIU quickly backed down.
* The business story doesn’t go away.
* Major league sports don’t do this. While reporter access (at least to those working outside of the networks that pay billions of dollars for rights) is tightening, major leaguers know that scrutiny and criticism is part of the definition of being a major leaguer.
* If other media in Charleston do the right thing, they will ask the same question about the lawsuit so they can be banned, too. Or they may simply choose not to cover the team out of solidarity. While news organizations revel in their independence, a fact that PR practitioners use to their advantage, media occasionally join together when one is slighted. This seems like a good time for that.