The Coronavirus, COVID-19, has made its impact felt on the world as a whole. The fear of the virus has quickly spread to all regions of the world has hurt the global economy recently. One sector of the American economy that the spread is starting to affect. Journalists and reporters that cover Major League Baseball.
Now, reporters will no longer have clubhouse access due to the ever-growing fear about the spread of the Coronavirus according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The media will still be able to talk to the players but through a press conference setting.
Almost all reporters, especially beat reporters that cover local teams, get the majority of player and manager quotes for their stories through clubhouse access by directly walking up to players before or after the game. Now, reporters will have to request media access through team public relations personnel. Thus, creating a concern that more players will be likely to say no to the third-party media request.
“My hope is that players act in good faith on this, and treat requests as if a reporter is standing in front of them,” writer Jesse Dougherty wrote in a Tweet. Dougherty is the Washington Nationals beat reporter for The Washington Post. He relies on clubhouse access for pre-and-post game stories, as well as feature pieces.
Major League Baseball will become the fourth major American sports league to limit clubhouse to players, coaches and ‘essential personnel.’ The NBA, NHL, and MLS already established policies that limit locker room access for the press in recent days. The XFL has not yet limited locker room or sideline access for reporters.
Owners who supported and ultimately implemented the policy, say that the rest of the season will go on as planned.
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Coronavirus: The Facts
First, I would like to say that I’m all for the safety of everyone in the sport. But, let’s look at the facts. Although the estimate of the death rate of COVID-19 currently sits around 3%, TIME magazine reports that the death rate might actually be lower. Numbers of those infected are likely to shift around at any given time. Some people, research suggests, can be infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, without showing any symptoms at all. Those infected by SARS-CoV-2 do not count towards the COVID-19 infection total. People can carry the disease without knowing that they are a carrier.
These precautionary steps limit the press. In a world where print journalism is dying, team owners aren’t exactly doing their best to keep it alive.
Baseball reporters are able to connect fans with their favorite teams in a way that we’ve never seen before. Writers are able to post their article to their Twitter feed that allows fans instant, inside access as to what is going on with their favorite team on any given day. From reading reports, fans are able to know what’s happening inside the clubhouse at any moment.
But, what gives way to the ease of instant access to a team? Clubhouse access to reporters. By limiting clubhouse access, owners are directly limiting quotes that writers can include in their stories and different feature stories writers can write about.
Good beat reporting is based on the relationships reporters make with players, coaches and front office staff. Relationships are built in private and through one-on-one conversations, these relationships are founded on trust between the player and reporter. A player isn’t going to open up to tell a story to reporters he doesn’t have prior relationships with. That just doesn’t happen.
The latest stories that beat writers are going to write aren’t going to give fans a whole lot of insight on their favorite teams. Some managers in baseball will meet with trusted reporters to give some insight to how the team might attack the next series by holding meetings in the Manager’s Office. Managers will be reluctant to give up some their strategy to reporters they don’t have a prior history with.
The reason that managers are willing to meet with reporters? The manager trusts the way the reporter will tell the story to the fans without giving up vital information in their article.
What is the Result?
The outcome of the limitation of media access could go a few different ways.
First and most likely outcome: the media is limited and isn’t able to report inside information or feature stories until the fear of the spread of the Coronavirus dies down. Following the Coronavirus panic, media access is reinstated and life returns to normalcy.
The second outcome: Players are okay with limiting media access in the clubhouse pre-game. In response, clubs allow reporters access to the clubhouse post-game.
The third and most unlikely outcome: The team bans the media from the clubhouse and are only able to contact players through phone calls, text messages and press conferences.
Major League Baseball has rifled a community of baseball writers with their choice for course of action Monday evening. Stay tuned to see how this change can affect reporting even more.
Follow me on Twitter @chrisjhirons for more!