CRAIG GRAU: As they say, 'relationships' matter - Tucson Local Media: Sports

CRAIG GRAU: As they say, 'relationships' matter

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Posted: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 11:00 pm

You could argue that I’m bitter because both my beloved Chicago baseball teams flamed out in the Midwestern sky like Shoemaker-Levy 9’s spectacular slam into Jupiter’s surface back when the Smashing Pumpkins could still cut a good record.

But some readers and newsfolk ruffled when a local daily newspaper smiled on “unique and exciting partnerships” with an agency that advocates events the newspaper is tasked to cover without influence.

Must these ethical demons from journalism school resurrect themselves when I could be gazing on the upcoming hockey season, now available in Hi-Def?

A couple weeks back, the Arizona Interscholastic Association heralded an alliance with the Tucson Citizen, knighting them “the state’s only site in Southern Arizona to feature every score and schedule for all Arizona high school teams in each sport.”

Shouldn’t scores and schedules for publicly sanctioned events be available to all news agencies in the same manner — and not just the ones who write fat checks?

One might say there’s a conflict of interest here. When asked, Tucson Citizen senior editor Jennifer Boice felt otherwise.

“I guess I don’t,” Boice deadpanned.

To the point, and fair enough.

Boice explained that the deal — which mirrors one that fellow Gannett daily The Arizona Republic cut with the AIA — provides their Web site with “an easy feed” of “information that is of value to our readers,” for a fee she wouldn’t disclose.

To her credit, Boice revealed more about the electronic pipeline than Republic managing editor John Leach would. His jovial telephone demeanor sandwiched a stone.

“I’m not going to comment about the deal,” Leach said.

Personally, I’ve always thought every reporter secretly relishes the chance to offer “no comment” under questioning, paybacks for the all roadblocks they’ve hit.

But on a grander scale, the junctions of media and sports sanctioning agencies is nothing new, said AIA Chief Operations Officer Chuck Schmidt, who doused the fire with a shot of March Madness.

Schmidt pointed to the NCAA’s and CBS’s marriage during the spring basketball tournament for television and Internet feeds — not to mention the uptick in Pac-10 games delivered by FOX Sports.

“We have content, and the medium allows for these relationships to occur,” Schmidt said. “We were just happy that (newspapers) would see that value.”

The deal, in the works for four years, according to Schmidt, filters funds through the non-profit AIA and into items like scholastic programs, coaching certifications and fees paid to game officials.

Even better, said Schmidt, the links from daily Web sites allow readers to access video feeds from games anywhere across the state on sister-site

Such visibility could eventually lead students to produce “online fundraisers,” team-oriented segments that feature logos of local sponsors.

“Instead of selling candy, you’re using the technology,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt is enthusiastic over the AIA self-generating more news content in the long run. Whether news agencies would be willing to run those stories like traditional wire content is unclear.

Either way, Schmidt defends the AIA’s recent agreements with the Citizen and Republic to the end, painting perceived “conflicts of interest” as harmful toward financial efforts to benefit Arizona students.

“If people are detracting from trying to help the schools, then I don’t understand,” Schmidt said.

Asking these questions isn’t about pulling funds out of football helmets.

It’s about self-policing our own relationships, in fairness to those who love the games.

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