Vol. 47, No. 4 May 2010 .pdf version
Bryan Burwell: Time for USBWA to diversify
Joe Mitch: A huge year for the USBWA
Wnedy Parker: Thoughts on new media
Kirk Wessler: Online sites' place on press row
Deadline approaching for Best Writing Contest

Kirk Wessler

USBWA can guide the way for online sites' place on press row

By KIRK WESSLER / Third Vice-President
Peoria Journal-Star

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The day after the NCAA championship game, I returned to my office and opened an e-mail from a Big Ten university. The e-mail contained a simple survey, requesting information about our newspaper's Web site and the traffic it generates. The school is trying to figure out new credentialing guidelines.

Once upon a time, this was easy. Local and state newspapers assigned beat reporters to cover a team, and those reporters received credentials. Everybody knew these outfits and the people who worked for them were legit. But the Webscape is muddy turf. Who's legit, who's not, and what criteria determine legitimacy?

It's not as easy as we'd like to think. At the Illinois state high school tournament this spring, some of the most pointed and probing questions in postgame pressers were posed by a 14-year-old high school freshman with his own Web site. His behavior and his reports, which included video clips of players in action, were more professional than some of the jokers who've been freeloading off IHSA passes for years. His audience might be small, but it's going to grow because he's offering information people want. He represents a future that's already here.

The NCAA and its member institutions face this dilemma with increasing frequency. Who's for real, and who's the pretender? And do traffic numbers alone provide the best answers? Currently, the NCAA requires one million unique viewers per month for an online publication to receive one credential for the Final Four. Big organizations like AOL and Yahoo! are even specified as eligible for a credential. But what about the smaller specialists, who are not unlike the credentialed regional and local newspapers whose readers seek a different perspective on big events? What about a site like midmajority.com, which was denied a Final Four credential this year despite being light years ahead of the traditional national print media on "the Butler Way"?

Tournament director David Worlock acknowledged the need for better criteria. Worlock said he would welcome USBWA input, and we should jump that opportunity.

The USBWA is perfectly positioned to participate in this task. We are 900 strong, and a membership of 1,000 is within our reach. Since our founding, we've been advocates for traditional print reporters and their needs. But as we know, the business is changing. Every one of us who writes for a newspaper or magazine is published online, too. More of us every year are found exclusively online, and that number will only increase. If our organization is to continue to grow, we need to recruit legitimate online journalists and represent their needs as well.

The Baseball Writers Association of America is a much more exclusive club than ours, and its members receive special preference when it comes to credentialing. I don't advocate such exclusivity, but perhaps we can provide a screening process, through which we help the NCAA determine whom to credential. I don't pretend to know what the criteria for credentialing online journalists should be and that goes for every level, from the Web site devoted to cover a local team on up to the NCAA Tournament.

But I know we can, and should, help figure it out.

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