LA KINGS MOVE TO IMPROVE NEWS COVERAGE: The Kings have lured beat writer extraordinaire Rich Hammond away from the Daily News to write exclusively for their official web site, raising concerns about the quality of coverage, not to mention about Hammond’s journalistic independence. Hammond spoke to Frozen Royalty and insists that will not be a concern.
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings are entering uncharted waters or, perhaps more appropriately, skating in a brand-spanking new arena.
On September 23, the Kings announced that they have hired Rich Hammond, currently the Deputy Sports Editor at the Los Angeles Daily News, as their beat writer/columnist for their official web site, lakings.com, starting on October 1.
Hammond, 32, will leave the Daily News after ten years on the job. He has been covering the Kings for years and writes for the hottest blog covering the team, Inside the Kings, which has consistently been the Daily News’ top sports team blog.
“I’m grateful to the Daily News for allowing me to develop my passion for covering hockey and I’m excited about the opportunity to bring even better, more comprehensive coverage to Kings fans while maintaining the same journalistic standards,” said Hammond.
“I’ve been fortunate to develop some good relationships with people in the organization so I’m real excited to be able to do that on a full-time basis for the first time in four years,” added Hammond.
Hammond, who has also worked for the Orange County Register and the Daily Breeze, will cover the team on a full-time basis, including practice sessions and home games. More importantly, he will travel with the team on all road trips—the Kings have not had any road coverage for several years.
“In this changing world as it relates to the landscape and consumption of sports news content, we are making an organizational commitment to give our fans one place to go—LAKings.com—to satisfy their appetite for Kings news and information,” said Kings President, Business Operations Luc Robitaille. “We feel this is a landmark step for us as Rich will have full editorial control in his new position.”
“Kings fans deserve the best Kings coverage, and we’re excited that LAKings.com will be the new home for Rich’s insightful, objective and thorough reporting and analysis,” added Robitaille.
Exactly what that coverage will be is still a work-in-progress as their “debut” nears. But at the very least, Hammond’s coverage will not change from what he has been doing on the pages of the Daily News or on the Inside the Kings blog.
“We’re feeling our way around,” said Hammond. “But at the very least, it’ll be the same type of coverage that people have come to expect—the same kind of features, the same type of blogging, chat, questions and answers. There will be more time for that sort of thing and more ability to add even more features.”
“We’re still trying to figure [it] out right now, there’s a lot of ideas bouncing back and forth,” added Hammond. “There’s not any kind of assignments, there’s nobody from the Kings telling me, ‘you need to do this, you need to do that.’ It’s more me communicating with them and saying, ‘hey, I’m going to be on the road. What can we do here? What kind of additional coverage can we provide that’s never been covered before?’”
“There’s a lot of different avenues you can take there, whether you’re talking about video, audio, different kinds of feature stories. You’re only limited by your imagination and how many hours there are in a day.”
Media coverage of hockey, which is still a niche sport in the United States, has been in decline across the country for a number of years, and the Los Angeles area is no exception. Indeed, stories about the local hockey teams are considered to be a lower priority, which means they are usually found on the inside pages of sports sections. Even worse, when the teams are on the road, there is just a brief wire service game recap and sometimes no coverage at all.
The Kings’ hiring of Hammond to provide in-depth, daily news coverage of their team is an obvious response to that lack of coverage, especially when the team is on the road, a move that very few teams, if any, have attempted.
“This is a new frontier for everybody,” Hammond noted. “I’ve never done anything like this before and they’ve never done anything like this before. We’re still very much in that mode where we’re going to figure out how we can give the best coverage to the fans, both at home and on the road.”
“I have a lot of ideas—there’s a lot of things I would’ve liked to have done on the Daily News blog that I just didn’t have time to do,” Hammond added. “There’s a lot of potential there.”
To be sure, the Kings will be guaranteed to have detailed coverage, especially since how people get their news is evolving rapidly.
“Who knows where we’re headed? Who knows how we’re going to get our news in five years? This could look completely different,” Hammond noted. “Whether you’re a sports franchise, a TV station or a newspaper, you’re always trying to stay ahead of that curve and not fall behind.”
As stated earlier, Hammond’s coverage will be especially valuable when the Kings are on the road and that is exactly where they will be for ten days after starting the 2009-10 season with three home games.
“You look at it and there’s going to be all this excitement at the start of the season, but then, under normal circumstances, the team falls off the radar for ten days,” said Hammond. “That’s the nice thing about this. The coverage is going to continue.”
“I’m going to be there every day at practice and at every road game providing that exact same coverage,” added Hammond. “That’s the exciting part to me, that I can provide that kind of coverage every single day.”
“It’s going to be nice not to have to do this between meetings and everything else. I’m real excited to get going and start working.”
Regardless of whether this new venture succeeds or fails, Hammond believes that the Kings should get credit for being willing to try something new.
“I think even if you think this is an awful thing, at least give credit for trying to do something new,” said Hammond. “I’m excited to see how this evolves. C’mon and read and hopefully, you’ll like what you see.”
“This is something nobody has really tried before to this extent,” added Hammond. “Even if it hadn’t been me who was hired, I think it’s a credit to the Kings. They’re trying something, they’re making a commitment, a statement. I think they have good intentions behind this.”
Speaking of intentions, the first question that came to some people’s minds was if Hammond’s credibility, objectivity and journalistic independence would be compromised now that he will be on the Kings’ payroll.
Indeed, Hammond was concerned about how readers would react. But his fears were unfounded.
“The readers have been amazing every step of the way,” he said. “But I was nervous this morning. I didn’t know what the reaction would be. I honestly thought there would be a pretty sizeable percentage of people who had doubts or thought it was some kind of sell-out.”
“I was relieved and gratified that so many people were accepting and encouraging,” he added. “But I understand that there will be some skepticism and that’s fine. A healthy amount of skepticism is good for everybody. The only thing I ask is for people to give it a shot. It’s not going to hurt anyone, it’s not going to cost anything. Just give it a shot and I’m pretty confident that you’ll like what you see. You’re not going to see any big changes, big shifts of content or voice. But the only way to prove it is by doing it.”
Much of the doubt expressed about Hammond being able to maintain his journalistic independence is likely based on the deep distrust that many fans have of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which owns the Kings.
Nevertheless, Hammond points out that regardless of that distrust, he is still the one who bears the responsibility for gaining his reader’s trust.
“I understand that, but I’m the one making this move, so a lot of it is on me,” Hammond stressed. “It’s my content that’s going to be out there, my stories, my name. I need to show people that I’m going to maintain the exact same standards that I have for years and years, so to that extent, it is on me.”
“It’s my credibility,” Hammond continued. “I’m the one who has to show people that I’m worth reading. I’m very mindful of that, but I’m also confident that everything will be fine.”
One reason he believes that is because his independence, objectivity and ability to be critical of the team in his work without fear of reprisals was not something that had to be discussed in detail or negotiated.
Rather, that all served as the foundation that the Kings and Hammond built upon.
“It wasn’t even really an issue,” Hammond explained. “I don’t think the conversation could have even started if that wasn’t a built-in assumption. I don’t even think the conversation would’ve progressed. At no point did I have to talk them into that or negotiate for it, or anything like that. It was very up front from the beginning.”
“They knew what they wanted, they knew what I would provide and we started with that,” Hammond elaborated. “There was no getting to that point where they said, ‘OK, we’ll let you be objective.’ That was the starting point—that this is going to be independent, it’s not going to be censored, it’s not going to be filtered.”
But that does not mean the Kings cannot question him about something he writes.
“As a newspaper reporter, there are times when a team isn’t happy with what you write and they’ll call you and ask you about it,” he said. “‘Hey, what about that story you wrote today…why did you take that angle, etc.’ That’s fine. That’s completely fair, for a team to call you and have that conversation with you. There’s a big difference between that and influencing what you write.”
“When you write something critical about somebody, whether it’s an individual or as a team, and you have to face them the next day? That is the greatest pressure you can feel,” he added. “That pressure is no greater now than it’s been before.”
A strong indication that the Kings are serious about Hammond’s independence is that they have signed him to a deal that extends beyond the 2009-10 season.
“I have security here,” Hammond emphasized. “This is not a situation where if they, for some reason, get upset with me after three months that they’ll fire me. I’m not going to be living under any day-to-day fear where if I write something that somebody doesn’t like that I’m going to be out of a job tomorrow.”
“If I was an at-will employee where I could be fired tomorrow for any reason, then you might think [I’m] going to be looking over [my] shoulder every single day,” Hammond added.
Not only did the Kings make a commitment to Hammond beyond this season, but they came to him with that deal rather than Hammond having to negotiate for it—another sign that the Kings are committed to his journalistic independence.
“That was something they were up front about, too,” said Hammond. “That’s not something I had to negotiate for or ask for. That commitment is important—I’m not going to be walking on egg shells here.”
Although Hammond will have the ability to be critical without constantly looking over his shoulder, do not expect him to be lashing out at the organization simply because he can.
“The ability to be critical is important, but you also don’t flaunt it, either,” Hammond noted. “I’m also not going to be the person who’s rubbing it in their faces and saying nasty things about [the team].”
Readers should also not expect him to toss his two cents in on everything. That simply is not Hammond’s style.
“Here’s the quotes, there it is, if you want to believe them, believe them,” he said. “If you don’t want to believe them, don’t believe them. I’ve never been the one to tell people what they should believe or who they should blame. I’d rather be the person who presents the arguments, presents the facts and lets people decide.”
With newspapers being battered by declining subscriber numbers and advertising revenues, not only has coverage suffered, but newsrooms across the nation have been hit hard.
The Daily News is no exception.
“My staff has been halved, basically, in the past eighteen months,” Hammond lamented. “At some point, you look at it and you can’t feel secure. I enjoy what I do and I’ve never come to work with any sense of fear, like, ‘Oh my goodness…this could be my last week at work.’”
“I’ve never really allowed myself to live like that,” Hammond added. “I don’t think that’s the right way to live, living in fear all the time. But there’s realities there. I’ve seen so many friends lose their jobs and so many people have to leave the industry and at some point, you wonder, ‘when is it going to be my turn?’ So there’s always that thought.”
But job security, or lack thereof, was not the reason Hammond decided to leave the Daily News.
“I can tell you honestly that this move was not motivated by that,” he said. “This is not a panic move. I’ve known people in the journalism industry who have taken jobs out of fear because they wanted something more stable.”
“I’m doing this because this is what I want to do,” he added. “This is a great job and it’s something I’m excited about. To me, it’s not so much that I’m leaving a job. It’s that I’m taking a job, if that makes sense. I don’t feel like I’m jumping ship or abandoning something because I need to. I feel like I’m going onto an opportunity that I really enjoy. But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t concerned for the future of newspapers.”
“When you cover a team you want to be able to do it right. By nature of the newspaper industry right now, we can’t do things the way we used to. It’s not my paper’s fault, it’s not anybody’s paper’s fault, any editor’s fault. It’s just the nature of where we are in our industry and where we are financially.”
For Hammond, this gig is as close to a dream job as one can get.
“It is very difficult to cover a team properly if you can’t be around that team every single day,” Hammond emphasized. “To be able to do that, for any team that you cover, that is the ideal situation. That excites me. But just covering hockey—I’ve covered pretty much every sport in this city and I haven’t come close to anything that I enjoy more than covering hockey.”
“It’s a great sport to watch, it’s a great sport to cover,” Hammond elaborated. “From dealing with the players, the coaches, the management—they’re just very accessible and down to Earth, for the most part, and easy to deal with. That’s the ideal situation. It’s a sport that you enjoy and people you enjoy working with, and I don’t think you can ask for anything more than that.”
With the move from the Daily News to the Kings, Hammond goes from handling multiple responsibilities to just one…a situation he longed for.
“I can’t stress how nice it is to just be able to focus on one thing,” he said. “From the time I wake up in the morning to the time I go to sleep, I’ll only have one thing to worry about. I’ll only have one thing to work on. That’s a very nice feeling, to know that I can spend all of my time producing good content and just working one thing—that’s great. I can’t tell you how it feels to be able to do that.”
Sounds like a great deal for Hammond and, if everything goes as he expects, for Kings fans as well.
- Rich Hammond Joins LAKings.com (Kings press release).
- An End, A Beginning, A New Home (Inside the Kings).
- Kings Hire Their Top Blogger (LA Observed).
- Rich Hammond Joins LAKings.com (Sports PR Blog).
- L.A. Kings Hire Their Own Reporter; Start of Trend? (Paul Oberjuerge).
- Kings Hire Hammond As Beat Writer (James Mirtle – From The Rink).
- Kings Love Green Eggs and Hammond (Examiner – Jon Moncrief).
- Los Angeles Kings’ DecisionTo Hire Beat Writer A New Angle For Hockey Team, Media (Phil Rosenthal, Chicago Tribune).
- No News Is Bad News (Sports Business Journal)
Photo courtesy Rich Hammond.
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