The National Football League is defending and promoting its own media brand by issuing new rules that would seem to penalize reporters who are just doing their jobs. Running interference for the journalists is Gilbert Bailon, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
CHRIS BANNON: In a few days, the National Football League will kick off its preseason by obstructing coverage. Now all news organizations except those affiliated with the NFL are limited to just 45 seconds of stadium video per day on their websites.
Gilbert Bailon, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, says that the 45-second rule applies across the board, from interviews with players to conversations with fans, and even official press conferences. GILBERT BAILON: I’ll give you an example. Last year when Bill Parcells in Dallas, I’m based in Dallas, when he did an after the game press conference, we would stream it live onto the webcast and a fan could sit there and hear every word he had to say.
We can’t do that now ‘cause that’s gonna be way more than 45 seconds. CHRIS BANNON: But what would the NFL gain by barring reporters from covering those games? I mean, don’t they need the press? GILBERT BAILON: We think they need the press, clearly, but what they would say is we have our own operations that we need to protect, our own websites, so what they’re trying to do is branch out into media on their own, under their own brand.
And my assumption is they want to make sure that we don’t undercut some of those movements. I think there’s room for both. I don’t – we’re not gonna try to out-NFL the NFL. We’re news gatherers. CHRIS BANNON: And what have you heard from your members at the American Society of Newspaper Editors?
GILBERT BAILON: Journalists across media all feel as though this is way too restrictive. It wasn’t really negotiated, the laws were put on the books and now we’re trying to negotiate them after the fact, and football’s right around the corner. The pre-season really starts this week, so it becomes a reality for us of now we’re going to cover this. Do we want to defy it?
Potentially if you say you run a two-minute video and violate it, they could pull your credentials or somehow block you from doing some coverage, so it’s not just an idle threat. There are potential sanctions were you not to abide by this 45-second rule. CHRIS BANNON: Do you think that this is going to lead to a more hostile or adversarial relationship between sports journalists and organizations like the NFL? GILBERT BAILON: I don’t know that it’ll become hostile. I do think there’s a definite tension, because they have decided that they want to get into the same business that we’re in. There are some legitimate First Amendment issues. Do we have rights to go into often partially publicly funded stadiums to do work and cover events that are there? They do control the credentials to the stadium. We cannot fight that. CHRIS BANNON: I’m surprised you say you can’t fight that, because if the stadiums are built with public money, why is it that the team, which has maybe a lease on it, or some other arrangement that doesn’t really include ownership, why is it the team is allowed to bar you from using the facility in the way that you see fit. I mean, is there a legal basis for a challenge to this rule? GILBERT BAILON: This is not a clear-cut First Amendment issue as it would be with public records or some type of government entity, when you say we have a constitutional right to access this information. And we may end up probably having some lawyers talking to each other.
I don’t know how far it will go. Do we want to completely boycott the covering of games? We don’t feel that’s a good strategy but we’re going to have to see how things go along if – GILBERT BAILON: Do you think the fans would support you if you boycott? GILBERT BAILON: The difficulty we have is they just want to see the games. They want to see the footage. I don’t think they think a lot about the journalists behind the camera when they’re watching games. But we can appeal to them as consumers of the sport, perhaps that this is not a good thing. CHRIS BANNON: Well, there’s a second rule that’s perhaps even more brazen that involves sideline photographers. Tell me about the whole vest issue.
GILBERT BAILON: Another rule they put down is photographers on the sideline need to wear a red vest with an NFL logo and it also has an advertisement for Canon camera, the photo company. Credentials is a long-held tradition in many events and we don’t have a problem doing that. CHRIS BANNON: And the vest is a credential? GILBERT BAILON: Yes, whether it’s, you know, World Cup, Tour de France, Super Bowl, we’re used to it. But this is a required mandatory vest that must be worn on the sideline, and it has advertising on it. I’m sure the NFL is reaping some financial benefit from that. I don’t know how much, but Canon is one of their big sponsors so I’m sure that they have a financial gain.
But for a photographer to be on the sidelines in effect promoting any company is insulting in many ways, and also it’s compromising their position there as neutral observers.
I’ve used the analogy with a couple of other people. I said, well why aren’t there advertisements on the NFL players’ uniforms? You see it in soccer, you see it in arena football. Obviously, they have a problem with advertisement on the uniforms.
I would say we also have a problem with what in effect is our uniform, if you want to call it that. CHRIS BANNON: Well, you sent a letter, I know, to the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell. You wrote, quote, “It is anathema to us that our employees should be put in the position of becoming walking billboards or be viewed as troublemakers for refusing to wear advertising materials just to do their jobs,” unquote. So what was their response? GILBERT BAILON: We haven’t had anything official from the commissioner’s office itself, so I think what their stance right now is, we’re gonna let this ride for now. A lot of the editors I’m talking to say they’ll probably wear the vest but in many cases they may obscure the advertising with tape or some other means, just to make a protest.
We do think any type of advertisement, on a press credential, is not a good idea. Now that doesn’t mean that it’s never been done but the NFL is the most powerful, the most lucrative sports organization in our country and we think that we need to fight ‘em on this. CHRIS BANNON: Gilbert, thanks very much for joining us today. GILBERT BAILON: Thank you. CHRIS BANNON: Gilbert Bailon is president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]