Following Kings lead, more NHL teams adding ‘Insiders’ to their payrolls…

Rich Hammond lifts Lord Stanley's Cup - Photo: LA Kings

Rich Hammond lifts Lord Stanley’s Cup – Photo: LA Kings

By Greg WyshynskiPuck Daddy

In Sept. 2009, the Los Angeles Kings weren’t happy with the level of coverage the team was receiving from local media, so they decided to create their own press corps.

Rich Hammond, who covered the Kings for the Los Angeles Daily News, was hired as the team’s own beat reporter – writing about the Kings and traveling with the team, while on their payroll. The goal was to make it an independent outlet – Hammond’s work wouldn’t be subject to any editing or approval from the team. It was akin to what the New York Islanders had with former VP of media relations Chris Botta, who is now with Sports Business Journal, before his NYI Point Blank gig ended due to a lack of sponsorship from the team.

In Oct. 2012, Hammond’s tenure with the Kings ended abruptly after the NHL pushed back hard following an interview Hammond did with locked-out Kings forward Kevin Westgarth. Hired by the Orange Country Register to cover USC athletics, Hammond’s 3-year run with the Kings ended when it appeared his editorial control and independence were being challenged.

But that cautionary tale hasn’t stopped other beat writers from forging their own gigs with NHL teams.

“I saw that. It was a concern,” said Mark Stepneski, who left ESPN Dallas to become a beat writer for the Dallas Stars this season. “When that happened, you start thinking about things. I wouldn’t say I’m overly concerned about it, but it’s in the back of my mind.”

Stepneski’s blog has its own URL, www.starsinsideedge.com, and hosts his reporting and Stars video features. Said CEO Jim Lites: “Based on his strong journalism background, his knowledge of our team and his overall professionalism, we’re confident that our fans will turn to DallasStars.com and his blog, StarsInsideEdge.com, as the ‘go-to’ places for team news and analysis.”

Stepneski is a different breed of journalist-turned-team-writer, in the sense that he started his hockey writer career as a fan.

Some might cast a cautious eye to teams covering themselves with in-house talent. Both Stepneski and SanFilippo maintain that it’s the quality of the work, rather than the signature on the paycheck, that should be judged.

Stepneski sees more traditional media members signing up with NHL teams.

“I would think so, with cutbacks in newspapers. I don’t think it’s a bad idea as long as the coverage is pretty straight forward and as unbiased as it can be,” he said.

“I would think a lot of teams are going to end up doing this.”

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