KINGS BEAT WRITER ABRUPTLY LEAVES ORGANIZATION DUE TO NHL INTERFERENCE ON LOCKOUT PIECE, “THE LEAGUE WANTED THE STORY TAKEN DOWN”
By Paul Armbruster | KingsNewsDaily.com
The big question surrounding the recent decision by Rich Hammond to leave the LA Kings to cover USC Athletics for the OC Register was simply why? That question appears to have been largely answered this morning in a story by Tom Hoffarath of the Daily News. It was revealed that the Kings beat writer was pressured by the NHL to remove a critical story he published about the league lockout and to stop interviewing players.
Speaking before a sports business class at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism on Wednesday night, Hammond elaborated that recent pushback from the NHL for a story he did during the current lockout resulted in him reconsidering how effectively he could continue to work in that role.
Hammond’s Sept. 17 post was a Q and A with the Kings’ Kevin Westgarth, the most visible of the team’s players as he worked with the NHL Players Association during Collective Bargaining Agreement talks. Westgarth was candid in his opinions about both sides of the negotiations.
“The league wanted the story taken down,” said Hammond, who stressed the Kings organization did not take issue with it. “Technically, they were saying that as a team employee, I had to abide by their rules of not discussing the lockout.”
The issue at hand is whether or not a team beat writer can maintain journalistic integrity even though he is an employee of the organization for which he writes. For three years, Rich Hammond did every thing he could to prove the answer was yes, he could. That is until the NHL lockout occurred. Hammond has maintained the Kings have never tried to influence his reporting in any way. However, during the lockout, the Kings are obligated to follow league rules and those rules apparently state that team employees cannot discuss the lockout, let alone interview players and publish them.
Whether or not this particular rule can be revised to allow for unhindered reporting by in-house beat writers remains to be seen. For now though, it is clear that this experiment has a very serious flaw called conflict of interest.