The ITWA Responds.
No doubt many of you who wrote to the ITWA got the same reply. But here it is, in its entirety.
Dear tennis fans
We have received a great many letters from unhappy tennis fans who were upset when told by the official French Open website that it would no longer be posting the post-match interview transcripts on the website. Fans who questioned this new policy were informed that the International Tennis Writers’ Association had requested player transcripts not be posted on the website.
We have noted your disappointment at no longer being able to read the transcripts and can understand why fans would want that availability. Taking that into account, we felt we should offer you all an explanation as to why it is important to the international media that the transcripts are not posted, or at least delayed until a day later.
Firstly, our newspapers and media outlets are, like many other companies, feeling heavy financial burdens these days. Quite a number of organizations have already stopped sending their reporters to major sporting events around the world, a decision we are hoping others won’t follow. Nevertheless, we have great concern that the dwindling numbers of journalists sent on-site will continue.
Those media outlets that are still sending their journalists to events spend a great deal of money to do so. The reason they continue to send reporters is that their writers are guaranteed better access and information from reporting, interviewing, and writing on-site. In truth, the media interview room is the journalists’ workplace and, like at many organizations, no matter what the business, the workplace is not open to the general public. We are trained professionals with the responsibility of asking the important and probing questions that elicit the interesting answers that tennis fans want answered. When our exclusivity is removed by posting transcripts it makes the expense of sending journalists to cover events appear questionable to those holding the purse strings.
We have already watched as many of our colleagues have been taken off what at one time were assignments that would never be questioned. One example: in the United States the South Florida community is a hotbed for tennis fans and tennis players. Two of their three major market papers stopped covering the Grand Slams about five years ago. The third paper is planning on not staffing any Grand Slams this year and into the future. This is the type of unfortunate scenario we are seeing happen regularly to our colleagues around the world.
If fewer journalists show up at events, tournaments are likely to decide it is not worth spending money on the expensive transcription services done by court reporter companies.
Of even more concern, journalists could eventually stop covering tournaments if there is no filter on the release of information we as professional journalists are gathering. It would quickly become cost-ineffective to show up.
The bottom line: If journalists don’t go to tournaments, the issue of access to transcripts will become a non-issue. There will be no one asking the questions.
To those not on the inside of journalism today this might seem a far-fetched picture to present, but we can assure you that it is not. It could happen and sooner than anyone might think possible.
Hopefully, this letter will enable you to understand more clearly our position on the subject of posting player interview transcripts.
The International Tennis Writers’ Association
The lovely LJology emailed back and got this response from Marco Keller, president of the ITWA:
I agree with you, the 24 hour embargo would be the best solution for all involved parties and all tournaments. And that’s what we are basically aiming for and were in this case as well.
I can’t really predict how the whole matter is going to end but be assured that we have the fans in mind too!
A couple of points to keep things brief:
- A possible 24 hours embargo instead? Why thank you, ITWA. Now we can party like it’s 1999! In this day and age when news is live tweeted, blogged, facebooked and debated through multiple forms of social media within minutes of it happening, a 24 hour embargo is laughable to say the least.
- Suppose that tennis fans are appeased by a 24 hour embargo, it is still a “working progress”, and evidently one so “behind the scenes” that the ITWA didn’t even feel they needed to mention it in their initial mass email. As noted, the issue of a 24 hour embargo only came out after LJ pestered the ITWA President with second email. Bottom line: I’ll believe it when I see it, and as far as Roland Garros is concerned, I have seen no evidence either from the tournament or the ITWA that they have the fans’ interests at heart.
- The idea that exclusivity is the cornerstone of a tennis writer’s livelihood is becoming growingly irrelevant, not just for tennis, but for all forms of media across the board. As I mentioned previously, the prominence of social media has made exclusivity harder to maintain. Not only has the tennis media refused to adapt to new business models to account for the democratization of media, it has opted for antiquated, protectionist measures. Want to ensure your livelihood? Write less bullshit. Which brings me to my next point:
- Major media outlets will continue to send people to cover tennis tournaments if 1) tennis sells or 2) the writing sells. Because let’s face it – who wants to spend all that money sending journalists to tournaments only for them to regurgitate match proceedings and gives template-like accounts of who-said-this-about-that-after-the-match?
- The examples cited by Marco Keller to make his point was that major papers in South Florida stopped covering tennis tournaments. Yes, it’s a dying market, but because of what? The availability of online transcripts? Oh please. The fact is that less and less American media outlets will be inclined to cover tennis tournaments in the next few years anyway because American tennis is in depression. Without Agassi or Sampras, and as Roddick continues his decline, American interest in tennis is about to wane drastically. This is happening without or without the help of a few online transcripts. If anything, putting up transcripts, giving people a reason to go to the website of a tournament they happen to be watching on TV could actually foster more interest than lose.
- You guys know that transcripts are available here right?