By Nicole Saavedra
ATLANTA — When USA TODAY Network’s Dave Ammenheuser met with the Memphis Grizzlies, the NBA team made it clear they weren’t just hoping to compete on the court.
They were planning to use their in-house media entity, Grind City Media, to compete with local outlets as well.
“They basically told me, ‘we don’t care about you. We plan to put you out of business,’” Ammenheuser said.
The anecdote was the starting point for the general session “The Blurring Line” at the 2019 APSE Summer Conference in Atlanta. The panel, which included USA TODAY columnist and ABC News commentator Christine Brennan, Advance Local Southeast leader Izzy Gould and Boston Globe sports editor Matt Pepin, discussed the blurring line between journalists and the teams and events they cover.
The Grizzlies’ approach was different from the approach of NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“I think the thing that was most refreshing about going to the commissioners meetings was speaking to people like Adam Silver and those people saying to us, they need us to survive,” Gould said. “They want us to survive and be able to tell stories. It’s important to their businesses that that happen.”
In some cases, the newspaper business can become part of a team owner’s portfolio. That’s exactly what happened when Red Sox owner John Henry bought the Boston Globe.
It’s something Pepin is asked about often.
The Globe discloses Henry’s relationship to the paper on first reference when he is included in a story. They still occasionally get beat on a Red Sox story. And when it comes to helping with stories, Pepin said Henry prefers not to be asked.
“Usually my response is that the company-owned newspapers and outlets I’ve worked for have had far more influence and editorial oversight than John Henry does,” Pepin said. “He’s never been in my office. He’s never given me any instruction whatsoever on how to cover the Red Sox in any way, really.”
The discussion examined a variety of potential conflicts and issues, from how to handle issues to team representatives to how teams can use perks and gifts to influence coverage.
“I really believe strongly in having a professional relationship with the media representatives of the primary teams you cover,” Pepin said. “That’s not to say be friends with them by any stretch. But I do believe in meeting with them, explaining your side of the equation on a pretty regular basis.”
But where is the line? Brennan highlighted the Masters’ tradition of holding a lottery for media members to play a round of golf at Augusta National.
“They think we’re coming into their home,” Brennan said. “What they’re thinking when they see all these journalists falling over themselves to get this freebie, I can’t even imagine.”