Sports teams hiring their own reporters– but is this ethical?

This seems to be a trend I’ve read about a lot recently. Local sports teams across the country are hiring their own reporters when the local papers cannot do the job due to less staffing, cuts, etc.

The New York Times writes about the Los Angeles Kings hockey team hiring a Los Angeles Daily News reporter to be the team’s new beat reporter. The journalist, Rick Hammond, had already been covering the team. With his new job, he got a pay increase and more job security. Hammond will write about the team for its Web site.

The story briefly touches on if this is ethical or not. If the sports team is paying the writer, what are the odds negative news will get out? Not surprisingly, Hammond doesn’t really answer the question.

But how sure can readers be of tough, impartial coverage when image-conscious businesses are paying for it? Mr. Hammond said it would be no use debating the ethics; teams will do what they must to generate fan interest, and fans can distinguish between reporting and public relations.

“I understand that people are going to have doubts,” he said. “The proof is going to be in the product.”

If you Google “sports teams hiring their own reporters” a ton of hits come up. Forbes did a story on it, saying when it comes to reporters’ objectivity ” Fans can be won over on the idea that reporters working for team-owned sites will be given editorial freedom. And even if they’re not, how many fans will really care?”

Maybe that’s the point. People going to a team’s Web site don’t necessarily care if what they’re reading is objective or not. They are logging onto the team’s site, which is clearly biased from the get-go. But where will this lead? Will companies start hiring business reporters to cover them instead of PR firms? What about politicians?

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