On Saturday, one of the two major newspapers in Salt Lake City, The Salt Lake Tribune, made a rather surprising announcement.
Hours before Real Salt Lake was set to kick off at home against New England, the Tribune published a statement saying the paper would be dialing back their RSL coverage to the bare minimum.
This comes after the club reportedly revoked press credentials for Gordon Monson, a long-time columnist at the paper, and barred him from attending the match. In response, the Tribune yanked their RSL beat reporter Chris Kamrani and photographer Francisco Kjolseth. Gameday coverage, the statement read, would be confined to the television broadcast of the game.
Tribune editor Terry Orme said the decision was made based on principle.
“Real Salt Lake’s move to control how The Tribune covers the team by denying news media access to one of our sports columnists is unacceptable. RSL management and ownership does not get to pick and choose reporters.”
Soon after the Tribune announced their reduced coverage, Real Salt Lake released a statement defending their decision and hitting back at Monson. Chief Business Officer Andy Carroll accused Monson of biased coverage and having an irreconcilable conflict of interest.
“This issue arises due to the conflicts of interest and personal agendas of one columnist – one who not only draws a paycheck from a competing professional team in the marketplace, but also hosts a daily radio show with a close relative of the former owner. The individual in question remains fully able to provide his perspective and opinion without a seat in our press box or the access to our players, coaches and executives, as he clearly needs no semblance of reportage or journalistic integrity upon which to arrive at and share his view.”
Orme said he had previously discussed Monson’s potential conflict of interest issue— he hosts an afternoon sports talk show on local AM radio with Spence Checketts, son of former Real Salt Lake Owner David Checketts— and declared he was confident it was a non-issue. He also defended Monson against RSL’s claims by saying the club misunderstands what it is a columnist actually does.
“Gordon Monson has been in the profession for 37 years. Yes, his columns often are provocative. Yes, he can be hard on his subjects. That’s his job. That’s what columnists do. It’s what readers expect, and what his editors expect.”
The reaction from soccer media members and fans has mostly sided with the Tribune. While this isn’t exactly unheard of, in MLS or further abroad, it’s been widely condemned as a bush league move, and that a professional sports franchise should not only know that critical coverage will happen but should welcome it. Even WWE, who’s (in)famous for their meticulous efforts to control their message, knows they can’t afford to have adversarial relationships with the mainstream press.
MLS’ VP of communications Dan Courtemanche indicated the league may have to step in to resolve the conflict.
”Major League Soccer takes media access seriously. We are certainly looking into the matter. We’ve discussed it with the club and The Salt Lake Tribune. We will have more to say in the coming days.”