Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.
The above quote is generally attributed to George Orwell but it appears that he never said or wrote it. It feels Orwellian though, and if someone newsworthy is hiding something from the public then there must be a reason, right? Or so goes the general thought, especially for when the subject is someone in business or politics or some other field in which they exert power over the public.
What about in sports? Today the conflict between “journalism” and “public relations” is in sharp focus after the press conference for tomorrow’s Diamond League meet in Monaco.
Before the floor opened up to questions for sprinters Carmelita Jeter (U.S.A) and Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica), the press conference director announced the athletes would not answer any questions about doping. The request was made by each athletes’ manager.
It would be Simon Hart of the Daily Telegraph, who attempted to phrase a question enough to get around the confines put on the media present. His question was directed at Fraser-Pryce to share the atmosphere of the Jamaican camp in Lignano and how the athletes who didn’t test positive are handling the news.
He would not get his answer. The press conference director reaffirmed the rules set for questions, which resulted in several journalists asking “Why?”
Jeter decided to respond by taking the microphone saying “Thank you” and walking out. A few moments later, Fraser-Pryce would follow as well.
Let me make this clear, as I’m not sure it is from the above: only Jeter and Fraser-Pryce refused to answer questions about doping. Brigetta Barrett, Christian Taylor and Sally Pearson already had discussed the issue, and others did later in the press conference, including Justin Gatlin.
Let’s ignore for a moment whether you believe either or both of the athletes in question are in fact using any performance-enhancing drugs. In my view, this is just terribly bad form for an athlete, especially in track and field. Professional athletes cannot make a living without fans and public support. Period. It is a totally unequal relationship. We like to watch them, they need us to pay their bills. There are always other female sprinters, so if they want to walk away, well, there are dozens of others ready to take their place.
In general, sports or otherwise, is a press conference “journalism” or “public relations”? A little bit of both. Whoever puts on the press conference clearly wants PR. I mean, The Onion didn’t run the headline Well, Time To Go Out In Front Of A Bunch Of People And Lie To Them, By Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary for nothing. And Carney wouldn’t need to lie to the press if they didn’t keep asking him things he didn’t want to answer.
It’s also important to note that this isn’t Jeter’s first issue with tough questions about doping. A year ago, LetsRun.com discovered that banned agent/coach Mark Block was given a VIP pass at the Olympic Trials and was in Monaco for this very same meet. He was (and possibly still is) closely associated with Jeter, and she gave an icy non-answer to LRC’s Weldon Johnson when he asked about it in an Olympic press conference (one where we might now wonder if IOC rules forbade her from walking out).
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Track and Field needs strident, smart voices on doping. Not imperious no-comments and walk-offs that foster mistrust.
— Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) July 18, 2013