Friday, September 25, 2009

Kings do the smart thing and hire their own beat writer

As Kings fans likely know by now, longtime Daily News beat writer Rich Hammond announced this week that he will soon be covering the team -- with the team as his new employer.

This is a good move, both for Hammond personally and the Kings. As bad as things are at the Newspaper Whose Name I Shall Not Speak (my former employer), they're even worse at the sinking ship that is the Daily News. So Hammond is smart to jump now rather than be pushed later.

As for the Kings, they've seen their media coverage shrink. Some of it is self-inflicted, of course, owing to the fact they haven't been in the playoffs since 2002 in a market that boasts a lot of other pro or pro-like teams (i.e. USC football). But it's also true that the media treats hockey as a second-tier sport for a variety of reasons -- including, in my view, the bias of editors toward baseball, football, the Lakers and USC.

The sad result was that too often the Kings were going uncovered last season. No area newspapers sent reporters on the road with the team and instead relied on Associated Press coverage. And some of the Kings games in Canada weren't even televised.

So the team did the smart thing -- something Major League Baseball and other pro teams began doing a few years ago. They hired a beat writer to cover them and, according to Hammond, gave him editorial freedom to write what he wants.

Yes, there's always the danger of self-censorship -- i.e. someone not writing something because they don't want to anger their employer. I tend to think that's mostly an aesthetic argument. My view is that on balance hockey fans will gain a lot more than they lose. Hammond is now freed up on a full-time basis to write about the team and travel with them. Being on the road will also help give him a league-wide perspective.

I'm writing about this issue because it hits home for yours truly. In recent years, I covered City Hall and the transportation beats at the newspaper where I worked. Now I'm working for some of those folks and one of those jobs will involve writing for a government agency that, like the Kings, isn't happy that the media doesn't cover them much anymore.

Is it an ideal situation? Yes and no. Like pretty much everyone, I'd like to see a free press pursue coverage of all the many things that make the world interesting, including sports and government.

That said, for many years now government hasn't been very effective explaining what it does because they relied on the press to do it for them. As someone who spent much of the past 20 years working in journalism, it's my firm conviction that the press is hardly perfect. Things go uncovered that should be written about, things are covered only because they're easy to cover and context is often missing or exaggerated to please the whims of editors -- who may or may not know what they're talking about.

So, all in all, this is a good solution for the Kings and, if anything, Hammond will find himself in the same position of the team he's now covering. Fans will expect him to deliver and will likely hold him accountable if he does not (in other words, he'll be tried and sentenced on other blog sites). But I doubt that will be an issue. Hammond has done a fine job over the years and it's hard to imagine him doing anything less this season.

--Steve Hymon

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