Vol. 46, No. 3 April 2009 .pdf version
Jerardi: Plenty of issues to discuss
Mitch: Demise of newspapers a hot topic
Burwell: Negate networks' special access
Griffin wins Oscar Robertson Trophy
Kansas' Self wins Henry Iba Trophy
Paquette receives Katha Quinn Award
Most Courageous is cancer survivor
Izzo is fitting Good Guy Award winner
Bozich, McCann, Axthelm feted

Bryan Burwell

Negate networks' special access by outworking them

By BRYAN BURWELL / St. Louis Post-Dispatch

When it comes to the business of sports journalism, one of the most valuable assets to our jobs is access.

The most annoying fact of life is that some people get it and others don't. It is one of the biggest and most annoying issues in our business because too often, that access is dealt to reporters on an unbalanced and not so arbitrary scale.

The fact of our lives is that TV networks are going to get things given to them. They will get players who are supposed to be unavailable. They are going to talk to people who don't usually talk. A reporter from a network is going to make a phone call to talk to a big whale, and the whale will prefer their brand name over the unknown newspaper guy with no national profile.

And every time something like this happens, it frosts every ink-stained wretch who ever sat in front of a laptop to do their job instead of standing in front of a minicam.

Well, let me be the first to deliver some bad news: When it comes to access, TV is king, and no amount of complaining about it is going to drastically change that unbalanced hand.

Broadcast partnerships are going to have privileges, and one of them is going to be the easy instant access that print foot soldiers will always have to fight for. That's not going to change, no matter how many angry letters, emails for formal protests the USBWA writes to the schools, the coaches or the NCAA. When CBS, ESPN or any of the regional networks write large checks to broadcast college basketball, they are going to get that special access.

And while our organization will and should continue to fight to narrow the gap in the access between TV and print, here's something we need to stress with equal zest to our membership.

Don't forget to do your part in this battle to narrow the access gap.

The old-school members of our organization already know this. Before TV was the beast that ate our access, it was the dreaded "national media."

Or maybe it was the old guy on the beat who knew all the coaches and A Ds, or it was the guy who worked for the major newspaper in the area. In our business, someone is always going to get more access. That's just how it works.

I am the perfect guy to have this conversation, because I have worked in print, TV and radio. I have written for papers as large as USA Today and the Sporting News and as small as the Manassas (Va.) Journal-Messenger. I've been a young beat guy and an old columnist, a "national media guy" and a local grunt working for a 15,000-circulation daily. I have gotten the perks of media access that comes with working for HBO, CNN, T NT and ESPN. Trust me, I have been on all sides of this access dilemma.

I have benefited grandly from it and suffered greatly because of it. And here's the best bit of advice I can offer from all these experiences.

Ultimately, you have more control over this than you might believe.

Work on your relationships. Figure out what your advantage is as a reporter and work it hard. Everyone has an advantage if they're only smart enough to figure out what it is.

I am an old veteran in the business now, so I get good access. When I worked for TNT as a TV sideline reporter on the network's NBA telecasts, Michael Jordan would be escorted into a reserved room in the United Center before a big playoff game and sat down to tape a pre-game interview. MJ didn't make it a habit of doing pregame interviews for the most part, but the power of TNT's brand had special powers.

But I got similar access before I was a TV guy, too.

It's because I worked those relationships and worked them hard.

If you can't get it from the sports-information guy, then get it directly from the source. T he battle for access versus television is no different than the battle an inexperienced beat writer faces when going against an established veteran with a ton of well-developed sources.

If you feel like TV is getting special treatment from the school, the conference or the NCAA, find another way to get the information. If you're a beat writer worth anything, you should have already established some sort of relationship with the players. Text them, call them, call their parents, their girl friends, their cousin's barber.

Just get the damned information.

No one said it was going to be easy or fair.

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