Second Thought: Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Forgetting his (Geek) Roots

Cuban shouldn’t use bloggers as whipping boys.


Whenever I think about how technological innovations have changed the journalism business, I think of Moses and the Ten Commandments. When God had Moses up on the mountaintop and wanted to relay some basic rules of living to the Israelites, he carved the 10 moral imperatives on two stone tablets.
How would Moses get the commandments today? God would probably text them to Moses’ iPod, and then the prophet would post them on his page, and his friends would praise his good deeds. The burning bush would make good YouTube footage. God, as they say, would be working across multiple platforms, but with the same message.
I was thinking of that recently when Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban decided he didn’t want bloggers covering his team and banned them from the locker room. The only one this really affected was Tim MacMahon, who writes on The Dallas Morning News web site.
MacMahon had posted some criticisms of Mavericks coach Avery Johnson right before the ban, so Cuban’s timing was suspect. But the billionaire who made his fortune in the high-tech world explained that bloggers were being banned because there wasn’t enough space in the locker room to accommodate every geek who blogs from his parents’ basement, should they all want in. Well versed in irony, Cuban posted this explanation on his own blog.
Those of us who have covered sports know some rules of journalism never apply there. Denial of access is always a threat held over your head, and players and management avoid you if you write anything less than positive. That’s why current players are upstanding role models, and those who just got traded were cancers in the clubhouse.
But even beyond those inside-baseball rules, Cuban’s action is part of a movement by government and business leaders who are using technology to limit access for reporters. When we are doing a story about civic issues at this paper, many local government officials now ask for all questions via e-mail; respond in short, meaningless sentences; and ignore follow-up questions. They contend they are providing information to the masses. I contend they are finding ways to keep that info under wraps.
Which is what Cuban’s fake policy is aimed at: controlling the content of his team’s coverage. Cuban, more than anyone, should know how the corporate media landscape is constructed these days, since he helped build it. MacMahon’s employer publishes a print newspaper and online sites. Just because MacMahon has his writing published online first does not make him any less of a journalist. The only judgment call should be the quality of his work, and that is for his employer to decide. Of course, if Cuban had truthfully said that MacMahon’s criticisms were the real reason for the banning, News honchos might have threatened to pull all of their Mavericks’ coverage in response, or come to some compromise acceptable to both parties. Instead Cuban is using the blogging issue to cover his ass.
Cuban never mentioned any bloggers who don’t work for accredited media companies having applied for credentials. Teams have been dealing with that issue for decades — press passes are routinely denied to those who don’t work for accredited media companies. It would be understandable that Cuban wouldn’t want some crazed guy who writes about the Mavericks on his myspace page having access to his players. But lumping in writers from the News, Los Angeles Times, and with the amateurs makes little sense.
Part of the problem is the term “blogger.” All journalists working in this country, whether as newspaper columnists or reporters, radio commentators, or TV reporters, now find their work online. The public perception of bloggers has been that they are geeky amateurs who throw quick, unfounded, unresearched opinions out there to see what sticks. Mainstream media don’t like getting lumped in with those folks, but in response to the erosion of their readers and viewers, they’ve embraced the blog tag — a mistake. A guy like MacMahon is not essentially a blogger. He is a journalist whose sentences appear on a computer screen and not on a processed tree.
As you may recall, Moses came down from the mountain and smashed those tablets to smithereens when he saw the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. After Moses made his point, God gave him two more and told Moses not to smash them.
So, Mark, if you don’t like the content, throw a fit and admit what you’re really mad about. Using changes in technology to bully the messenger shows a total lack of understanding of how the media works and what they do to help you sell tickets.

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