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Mark Cuban’s idea to ban internet-only writers myopic — and silly, too

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has a curious idea about how to improve press coverage of his team. Get rid of the folks who only write for websites.

It’s an odd thesis for a guy who spends so much of his own time preaching on his blog and Twitter account. But that’s precisely the reason why he thinks writers for ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports should get the heave-ho from his locker room.

“I think we have finally reached a point where not only can we communicate any and all factual information from our players and team directly to our fans and customers as effectively as any big sports website, but I think we have also reached a point where our interests are no longer aligned,” Cuban wrote on his Blog Maverick Monday. “I think those websites have become the equivalent of paparazzi rather than reporters.”

Certainly, sports teams have the right to determine which news outlets get credentials, and everyone is tired of rumor mill tweaking disguised as earnest questioning. Any experienced journalist knows that if a bunch of us are gathered in one spot for open questions, some knucklehead will ask something stupid.

Still, I hope if Cuban ever actually gets up the stones to bar Internet reporters en masse from his team’s facilities, the other sportswriters from print, TV and radio will have the gumption to leave the press room too, until he gives up this lame crusade.

Because – just as the president shouldn’t get to say which widely consumed news outlets actually are news agencies, the subject of coverage shouldn’t get to declare a whole segment of media lacking in journalistic importance.

Cuban came to his conclusions by applying a business mogul’s myopic view to the situation, basically asking: What’s best for me and my team?

From his perch, allowing Internet-only reporters in the room who will upset his players and coaching staff by asking about thinly-sourced rumors or overly negative story ideas – focused that way, he says, to spark page views – makes no sense. Especially because he can reach that website’s audience himself with information outlets he and the players control.

“Why not just use Twitter, Facebook fan pages, Mavs.com and/or our own media platforms to communicate with online Mavs customers and fans?” he wrote. “How many customers and prospects could we possibly be missing by losing Internet writers ? And could we just spend money to reach whatever of their audience we don’t currently cover?”

But reporter access to sports teams has always been a delicate balance of interests. In exchange for reaching fans of the game with detailed reports and instant information, those covered must accept the independence of reputable news organizations. In other words, if they’re established outlets and aren’t lying or otherwise acting unethically, they should get access, regardless of whether they write stories the owner likes.

It’s not hard to believe that a guy who has racked up six-figure fines for protesting referee calls might overreact a bit to pointed press coverage. And taking on the Internet-only writers seems the journalistic equivalent of picking off the runty antelope from a traveling herd – much easier to cut off access to guys who have only been covering the league for a few years, anyway.

Still, if sportswriters allow Cuban this notion without protest, what comes next? Or who?

Is it the hometown newspaper columnist who goes a little too far in criticizing the Mavericks after a loss? Is it the local TV guy who wants to ask after a story floated in Sports Illustrated the day before? Or the radio journalist who thinks his audience might like to hear a popular player’s opinion on athletes doing Dancing with the Stars?

And should the only online voice presenting information from the locker room about the Mavericks be owned by the team itself?

Of course not. That’s almost silly as suggesting that players who have survived years in one of the toughest professional sports leagues in the world – the NBA – could be thrown off their balance by a few pointed questions asked in the moments after a game is done.

Cuban should spend some time talking to government officials to find out how it feels to really be in the media’s crosshairs. Stupid questions are one thing; having Bob Woodward or Scott Pelley looking into your business is quite another.

So perhaps Mr. Cuban could just relax his control freak tendencies and learn to live with occasionally unflattering headlines and web page posts.

Because the only thing worse than picking a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel, is throwing down with outlets publishing in the limitless size and reach of the Internet. Sometimes it may be best to quit while you’re behind.

Eric Deggans is TV and Media Critic for the St. Petersburg Times and a 1990 graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Village Voice, VIBE magazine, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times and many other publications. He also writes a blog on media, The Feed,  at  blogs.tampabay.com/media.

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