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Post David Ching, Internet fugitive

Wednesday June 13, 2007

If you read David Ching’s blog (and if you don’t you should), you noticed last week that he live-blogged Columbus State’s appearance in the Division II baseball championship. You probably skipped over it if you’re just there for the Georgia stuff, but the posts were a great service to a local (Columbus) readership in a situation where TV and radio coverage was spotty or nonexistent.

It turns out that Ching was an outlaw.

Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Brian Bennett was tossed from the press box during Cardinal’s historic Super Regional performance over the weekend because he was blogging during the game. The NCAA decided to enforce a new policy in order to protect the broadcast rights of "the NCAA’s official rights holders".

Josh Centor has a really tough job. Being a public face of the NCAA must be right up there with IRS public relations and Georgia Tech football marketing in terms of its thanklessness. In the times I’ve seen his responses to some pretty controversial issues (including the football clock rules debacle), he’s always been professional, level-headed, and informative even when the critics of the NCAA aren’t. He has some quality thoughts on the subject while disagreeing with the policy, noting in particular that no one is going to prefer sporadic blog updates to a high-def ESPN television broadcast if they have that option.

For now, I agree with Deadspin’s observation that "the NCAA has now, by definition, given the proverbial guy in the basement better access to his/her readers than someone in their own press box." Just over on the DawgVent we see this very practice almost daily now as people provide running updates on everything from NASCAR races to Georgia’s national championship tennis match. The NCAA holds that blogs are a "live representation of the game", a concept I find pretty absurd unless you can type really, really fast. The Courier-Journal’s attorney is right on here: "Once a player hits a home run, that’s a fact. It’s on TV, everybody sees it. They (the NCAA) can’t copyright that fact. The blog wasn’t a simulcast or a recreation of the game. It was an analysis."

If you follow the NCAA’s memo and policy to its logical conclusions, every SMS message, phone call, or e-mail you’ve sent from a game describing the action is a violation of the rights of the official broadcast rights holders.

It was around 1998 that I remember seeing live fan reporting in action. A guy with a cell phone at Will Witherspoon’s press conference reported Witherspoon’s commitment to someone on the other end of the call who was in a Dawg chat room. Those people reading knew the news before anyone at the press conference had left the room. The immediacy (not to mention unlimited column-inches) of the Internet is a big problem for print journalists. They’ve responded with blogs and updates to their own Web sites between publications, and someone like Ching live-blogging a local event of interest is yet another innovative way for a print journalist to serve a readership looking for near-real-time information.

A properly credentialed journalist providing these brief updates to their readers should be encouraged instead of punished. They are doing nothing to diminish the value of the broadcasts. If anything, they are creating more exposure for and interest in the event, and it’s likely that a few of those readers will tune in to the broadcasts when they can.

UPDATE: As I hoped, Ching has his own comments up now. Read the whole thing. Two great points: 1) the rule was applied capriciously – no one cared if he live-blogged an event that ESPN wasn’t covering. 2) this is an issue fans should be interested in because it affects the quality and quantity of options for following their teams.

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