Wednesday word: King, Bleacher Report dispute represents larger issues in sports journalism

Disagreement stems from changes in competitive balance in field

Wisconsin athletic communications often have unlimited access to coaches, players that independent journalists fail to get. 

Wisconsin athletic communications often have unlimited access to coaches, players that independent journalists fail to get. 

Image By: Leah Voskuil and Leah Voskuil

On Monday morning, journalist Peter King posted an interview with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, looking back at the 39-year-old’s incredible comeback in Super Bowl LI.

While you’d expect King to be ecstatic after landing and publishing a sit-down with Brady, the longtime sportswriter spent most of his night angrily ranting on Twitter about a small, but significant attribution error committed by Bleacher Report.

After the site posted an unattributed quote from King’s article atop a graphic (which also included a Bleacher Report logo in the corner), the Sports Illustrated writer attacked the Turner Sports subsidiary, calling them “despicable” for stealing his quote.

King continued to go after Bleacher Report on Monday night, telling them to “have some respect for the business,” and explaining to his followers why he believed it was an act of plagiarism.

While websites like Deadspin and Awful Announcing seem to believe King’s fiery reaction and name-calling towards Bleacher Report was a bit much, they didn’t disagree that attribution is an extremely important element of good journalism. No matter the cause of Bleacher Report’s snafu, it undoubtedly committed a mistake from which their staff needs to learn from.

Bleacher Report’s mistake won’t be the last attribution error to occur in journalism, but it’s interesting to look at their oversight as a broader representation of the ongoing changes in sports journalism.

Though teams have always had great access to their players and coaches, the advents of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have allowed teams to speak for themselves as much as they’re being reported on.

This means there is a possibility, and perhaps even an incentive, for fans to read about their team equally on Bleacher Report as they might on the team’s official accounts, which feature access often unattainable to beat reporters. This legitimization of in-house journalism provides a level of competition that may not have existed to independent reporters in years past.

While beat reporters are still an extremely reliable source of team information for fans, they’re simply not able or equipped to provide the public with the type of behind-the-scenes looks that official team accounts can.

Furthermore, it’s no coincidence that teams are rarely embroiled in attribution controversies, given the fact that they have virtually all rights to the team’s multimedia content. This is the main distinction between an official team site and a site such as Bleacher Report, and the site’s mistake demarcates a clear separation between these types of coverage.

The Wisconsin Badgers hockey account can post a “Press Pass” video, player quote or picture with no threat of any attribution violations given that all of this content is produced and owned by the team.

However, if Bleacher Report or another website wishes to repost a quote or a photo, they must be mindful of crediting the original source.

Additionally, while many fans consume a healthy diet of both team-produced and independently-produced content, they’re likely cognizant to notice the subtle differences between the two forms.

A report on a Wisconsin basketball loss on will likely have a bias to it, making sure to not be harsh in its assessment of players and coaches. However, something from the Wisconsin State Journal or ESPN will probably provide a more objective look at what went wrong for the Badgers that game.

On the other hand, while team-produced and independently reported journalism can be viewed in separate veins, they both serve a similar role as informers to fans, inhabiting much of the same space online, and competing for clicks, retweets and views.

Beat reporters for the Badgers can view every GIF, video or photo that an official Wisconsin account posts with disdain, but the reality is that these two different types of content producers exist in the same sports media landscape.

It’s important then, to think of why the conflict between Peter King and Bleacher Report occurred. While King was incensed at Bleacher Report for their attribution mistake, and probably viewed them as an opponent for the rest of the night, his anger at them actually stemmed from the two parties being indebted to the same principles of journalism.

In other words, King and an official team account would almost never engage in a public dispute, because these two parties engage in types of content with different rules and standards. However, in King’s eyes, Bleacher Report, an independent media company, had a responsibility to attribute a quote in a way that an official team account would likely never worry about.

Ultimately, King may not drop his grudge against Bleacher Report for a long time, but despite his vitriol aimed at the media giant, they’re more similar than many people may realize.

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