UFC “Indefinitely” Yanks Sherdog.com’s Media Credentials

I am curious to hear what explanation Zuffa offers this time. Josh Gross breaks the story: Two hours before doors opened Sunday at the 1stBank…

By: Luke Thomas | 14 years ago
UFC “Indefinitely” Yanks Sherdog.com’s Media Credentials
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I am curious to hear what explanation Zuffa offers this time. Josh Gross breaks the story:

Two hours before doors opened Sunday at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo., a UFC official informed Sherdog.com — the largest independent MMA media site on the Web, the official MMA content partner for ESPN.com, and my home as an executive editor from 2004-2008 — that its access had been pulled indefinitely because of a “executive decision,” multiple sources confirmed to SI.com.

Asked to comment on the decision to revoke Sherdog.com’s access, UFC president Dana Whitetold SI.com via text that his reasoning was “none of your [expletive] business.”

Darius Ortiz, the editor in charge of boxing and mixed martial arts for ESPN.com, and Sherdog.com founder Jeff Sherwood declined to comment on the UFC’s position.

Sherdog.com went without access to the UFC from late 2005 until the middle of 2009, when it was allowed to return Octagon-side.

I’ve tried to talk to folks close to the situation about the cause of the credential removal. Either people are tight-lipped or they simply do not know. 

Either way it hardly matters. And frankly, the more I learn about what’s required to obtain and keep UFC credentialing (both publicly and behind the scenes) in the print and digital media space, the less I care to try at this point. It’s an intractable situation. Either competent journalists are allowed to report in a manner as objective, exhaustive and explanatory as possible or they are not. And if you think Sherdog.com is incompetently run, I’m afraid you know nothing about media.

The reality is the UFC is not interested in courting a fully competent and capable press.  Admittedly, there are many good journalists and more generally, good people who the UFC credentials. There are also many good people who work in Zuffa’s PR offices. I do not chide them for trying to look after themselves, their families and their careers. But unquestionably, they are neutered. There is limited universe as to what reporters can ask or report. I have had several conversations with many of the folks who the UFC credentials today who have told me as much. I am not putting words in anyone’s mouth nor am I assuming anything out of thin air. This is a real living and breathing concern, albeit one shared to varying degrees.

The fact is it is hard to make the case the UFC takes the complete exercise of journalism seriously. As we know, White sees the role of the media as a de facto PR arm for the promotion of MMA or more likely, the UFC itself. They also openly credential the incompetent. Others may have no problem with it, but I take issue with being part of a Senate where my contemporary is a horse.

Within the MMA space, one has to tread lightly to keep credentials. And outside of the traditional MMA sphere, yes, the UFC is courting legitimate journalists at legitimate institutions. About that there can be no debate. But they are doing so to reach a different audience. They are trying to capture the not-so-savvy-potential-MMA-fan. It’s actually a very smart corporate strategy: get folks at traditional papers to write about you to widen the scope of the UFC to the mainstream audience. I actually applaud them for that. The problem? No one ever asks the tough questions in those circumstances either because they don’t care to or they don’t know how. It’s a clever way of keeping all of the discussion on high-level message points at the surface level. It’s also a bulwark for the veterans willing to ask questions or pursue stories that come from time spent on the job while keeping close the uninitiated and impressionable.

It’s perfectly reasonable to have issues with the coverage featured on Sherdog.com, but I’ve yet to find anyone who can point to systemic problems that indict the entire operation. And that is sort of key to the issue of credentialing. Veteran reporters across the sports reporting landscape have told me time and again that their job is to fully and fairly report on matters as they see it without worrying if the league is going to have subsequent issues with the coverage. None of them have argued that the UFC doesn’t have the right to credential as they see fit, but none seem to understand the wisdom in their present approach.

It’s the UFC’s world. They can credential who they please. No one can say otherwise. But the costs of admission are candor, completeness and fairness, and not solely at the margins. That’s a steep price to pay. Guess who foots the bill? 

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Luke Thomas
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