Monday, August 31, 2009

Jon Solomon, Media Member?

Back in the day, TigerBlog's introduction to Princeton athletics was mostly through covering the men's basketball team for the local newspaper. TigerBlog was issued a media credential, which gave him access to the players and coaches. TB obviously wrote pregame stories, attended games, wrote game stories afterwards, wrote feature stories, focused on recruiting in the off-season and generally did the basics that sportswriters do.

Princeton played in the Oldsmobile Spartan Classic at Michigan State in 1990, and TigerBlog was the halftime guest of then-radio play-by-play man David Brody during one of the games (Princeton knocked off Arkansas-Little Rock and then fell by two to Michigan State in the final). It wasn't long before TB was part of the game broadcasts as the color commentator, with just Brody on the road and then with Brody and Rich Simkus during home games.

All of this brings us to Jon Solomon. For those who don't know, Solomon runs a Website called, the focus of which is obvious. Solomon does most of the same types of things that TigerBlog did back in his newspaper days, with a focus on the written word and on audio content. Like TB, Solomon has a media credential, which like TB gets him access to the players and coaches.

There is a major difference, though. TigerBlog did all this because it was his job; Solomon does it because he is a fan. He makes no secret of that, and the focus of the site is from the fan's perspective.

He follows the entire Princeton basketball tree, which means that the site offers links to stories about any former Princeton player or coach and their current teams, whether it be Will Venable in the Major Leagues or Judson Wallace in Europe or John Thompson with Georgetown or anyone else.

There can be no doubt that Solomon's site is a good one and a great source of information for any Princeton basketball fan, especially in one area: recruiting. (or TigerBlog or any official university publication) cannot talk about prospective athletes until they've been admitted officially and returned their card that signifies that they've accepted the admissions spot. Solomon's site can say anything it wants anytime it wants.

As a result, Princeton basketball fans can follow the recruiting process from start to finish and then get game-by-game updates on athletes who have said (or had their parents or high school coaches say for them) that they were attending Princeton. Solomon can link to information on athletes who have even remotely mentioned they were interested in Princeton, whether they end up here or not. No University publication can do this.

This subject, and the larger ramifications of it, were covered recently by the Washington Post in an excellent story about the continued blurring of the line of what makes someone a "journalist." As an aside, one of the writers, Eric Prisbell, is a former Trenton Times writer; as another aside, TigerBlog first saw the story when it was one of the links that Solomon puts on his site.

It took TigerBlog awhile to warm up to the idea of offering Solomon the access that he has. Most of the reason TB is okay with it is because Solomon himself has proven he can be trusted not to abuse this access, and the result is a quality product.

At the same time, Solomon sits in the stands during games, not in the press section. TB always wants to make a point of seeing if Solomon cheers during games but can never remember to do so while the game goes on. If there are any rules of journalistic integrity remaining, can at least it be the idea of not cheering in the press box (something that TB has seen more and more of through the years, and it makes him cringe)?

TigerBlog, of course, always wanted Princeton to win when he was covering the team for the paper (at least after he got past the whole "being a graduate of Princeton's biggest rival" thing), but it's not something that ever was visible outwardly.

One of two things happen when a reporter covers a team for a long time: Either the reporter becomes a fan of the team, or the reporter starts to root for everything that can possibly go wrong for the team to go wrong (we call the latter "The Eckel Theory"). There's almost no middle ground.

When it was a bunch of newspaper guys in a press box, the worst thing that could happen was they'd compete to see who could say the funniest, most sarcastic line. Now, there are greater ramifications.

When you have someone who has great access to coaches and that person wants to help the coaches, especially in recruiting, it puts them in position to cross a line that a university can't have crossed. If Solomon wanted to, there's little stopping him from being a quasi-recruiter of his own as he interacts with recruits and potential athletes.

There are two issues for Princeton in all this. First is the idea of what to do to make sure that no compliance rules are being violated, even if nobody at the university is directly involved in them.

The second is the one that directly affects us here at TigerBlog HQ. Who is entitled to a credential? NCAA tournament credentials used to read: "full-time, salaried employee of an accredited media organization." The NCAA used to prevent reporters from Websites from getting credentials. Now the issue is beyond that, to bloggers and as we move along every "social networking" function.

TigerBlog's rule for issuing credentials used to be "are you producing some original content off of the credential?" Even that doesn't work anymore. Solomon runs a legitimate site; what about the next person who comes along who calls himself a media member and has some homemade site? What if it's an anti-Princeton site?

The sport of lacrosse has skyrocketed in terms of the number of Websites there are. TB routinely gets requests from sites he's never heard of before. Should we let them in? What about people who request a photo pass and then want to sell the pictures?

Factor into all of this the point that Princeton athletics has become its own media outlet, with a Website, a blog, a TV channel and everything else.

Today, it's all changed, and it will continue to change. Princeton has an equal responsibility to protect itself and to offer access to legitimate media members, but the definition of what is a legitimate media member isn't so obvious.

None of the issues are as clear as they used to be. You write for the paper? Here's your pass and your seat on press row. You don't write for a paper? There's the ticket office.

It's a policy that is outdated. The new policy? There really isn't one.


Anonymous said...

Two points, not really related to one another:

1. Jon Solomon's serves a great role for those who are truly enthusiastic about Princeton men's basketball. At the same, time there are many readers who lament the move to a Blog which has significantly changed the character of the offerings. In the old, pre-blog days, pbn was essentially a discussion group, triggered by postings from Jon and others, of articles, items, etc., they encountered in their local media, online, etc. These postings, and their delivery mechanism, engendered a real discussion about the team, its season, prospects, etc., as well as rumor-mongering and rumor-ending.
When Jon transformed the site into a blog, many good things happened, but in the process the sense of community and the knowledgeable exchanges that resulted were lost. Now it is unusual for a posting to generate even two comments, and thus the site is more centralized and controlled by one voice.
This Reader misses the postings from serious fans, former players, etc., even as she understands the changing nature of online communications.

2. Print Journalist, Press Passes, etc.- here's a novel idea: make all of them buy tickets and feed them whatever info, bios, stats, etc., they claim they need via wi-fi, online feeds. I always watch in envy as someone from the SID office hands out half-time stats to Press Row in Jadwin, and then struggle to hear whatever it is the PA announcer says from my seat in the hard-to-hear South Stands.
Why not have a running feed of stats-- just like, accessible to all, including those who paid their own admission fee? At least that way I might have a fighting chance of obtaining a game program, since fewer and fewer of those seem to be made available to the paying public (but held in reserve for the Media).
BTW, come March, check out the number of EMPTY court-side seats held in reserve for the Media in the early rounds of the NCAA tourney. The fans are left out of the game, with the participating schools getting something like 750 seats in the early rounds!

Jon Solomon said...

While I'm not sure how comfortable I am with my name being the focal point for this discussion, I think both your post and the Washington Post article raise some interesting, important issues.

Your concerns about credentials are ones I share. While I've worked very hard over the past decade to prove the legitimacy and credibility of what I do, I do worry about other sites (both existent and hypothetical) that can only undo all of that hard work.

At this point, I'd hope I had earned a period in the subject line, not a question mark.

If asked about what I do, I'd say I consider myself cut more from the old school "beat reporter" mold than the "blogger" mold. I am certainly a fan of Princeton basketball, I try not to write from that perspective.

While I've spoken at length with the high school coaches and AAU coaches of players who have announced publicly that they've verbally committed to Princeton, I've never spoken directly with a player or spoken with a coach before a player made their intentions known. That might not be the policy of other reporters, but it is mine.

I've always felt uncomfortable with the idea of speaking with recruits, both because it is murky ethical territory and I don't feel that this is what my site is about. There is no shortage of recruiting hubs out there if people want to explore them. It would surprise many people I expect, to learn that the recruiting process actually does not personally interest me that much. I'm far more interested in writing about basketball games, but I have seen that it is a subject that is very much of interest to subscribers of my site.

As for sitting in the stands during games - this is almost entirely due to attending games with my wife/daughter/parents/friends, something I have done since the 1980s. It is far more fun to sit with them and talk during a game than it is to sit by my lonesome on press row. I sit in the stands so I can be with them, not so I can cheer. Additionally, I find the raised view a better locale to watch the game from than courtside.

My cheering is limited to the occasionally muttered positive ("nice!") or negative ("c'mon!") exclamation.

I'm hardly alone here. Credentialed media members like Sports Illustrated alums Peter Carry and Paul Witteman both regularly sit in the stands and I'm happy to share a bleacher with either.

The times I've gone to road games by myself in recent years (Maui Invitational, @ CCSU, @ Duke all come to mind off the top of my head) I've sat on press row in silence. I really missed the company of loved ones.

There was another Princeton basketball web site that existed back in 2000 when you first gave me a credential, if you remember correctly. I recall flinching at some of the questions its editor asked Coach Thompson during press conferences, trying to get him to talk about subjects that were clearly off-limits, such as recruits.

It was only through repeatedly proving that what I was doing and what that now dormant site was doing were different that I think I was able to show that while both entities were web sites, they were very different animals.

If I was in TigerBlog's shoes, I would have the following litmus tests for a credential:

-Does the site post anonymously/under a pseudonym or is it being edited by a clearly listed individual/group of individuals? If the former, no credential should be issued.

-Does the site create regular, original content?

-If it is a local site, I would invite the editor/writer to Jadwin and sit down with them face-to-face for a few minutes to find out why they would like a press credential for games and if they had a credential, what they would then use it for.

Jon Solomon

Roy Hobbs said...

TB says, "Factor into all of this the point that Princeton athletics has become its own media outlet, with a Website, a blog, a TV channel and everything else."

Did I miss something? Princeton athletics has a "TV channel"? Broadcast over the air or cable? Or just a webcast? If the latter, why do they have Press Credentials under the current policy?

Princeton OAC said...

Our new site,, will be launching tomorrow (Sept. 1). It will be the home for our video streaming, as well as original video content that we will be producing. There will be information on tomorrow, as well as an introductory video and comments on TigerBlog.