Local football fans are going to see a lot more of the Washington Times this year under a “content and marketing partnership” announced today by the newspaper and Washington’s NFL team. According to the new arrangement, the Times will lend some of its reporters and columnists to the team for in-game videos to be shown on the scoreboard at FedEx Field.
The two entities will also be publishing partners, of a sort. The Times will produce a digital magazine on all things burgundy and gold, while the Times’s Friday editions during the NFL season will come wrapped with game previews sponsored by the team, but containing content created by Times editorial staffers.
In the scoreboard videos, Times sportswriters, like beat reporter Zac Boyer and columnist Thom Loverro, will share their insights on game highlights. In return, the paper will get access to players, coaches, and front-office personnel, according to the press release announcing the partnership.
It’s not uncommon for print reporters to appear on sports broadcasts owned by major sports teams. But the Times-Redskins team-up seems unusually snuggly.
The paper denies there is a conflict issue. “The way we cover the Redskins remains exactly the same,” John Solomon, the daily’s editor, tells Washingtonian. “We have 100 percent independence in terms of what we put into the magazine and say on the air.” The team declined multiple requests for elaboration on the nature of its deal with the Times.
It’s not clear how anyone would be able to tell if the new deal does influence the paper’s sports pages, which historically shows plenty of deference to the team bosses in Ashburn. Boyer’s most recent stories from training camp report on new wide receiver DeSean Jackson nestling into to the offense, quarterback Robert Griffin III having a “fresh mind,” and new head coach Jon Gruden saying “all signs are good” on the third-year passer.
More significantly, perhaps, the Times is a staunch defender of the team’s current name. Unlike the Washington Post, where columnists like Mike Wise and Sally Jenkins regularly remind readers that the team’s name is a dictionary-defined slur of Native Americans, the Times’s Loverro often comes to the team’s aid.
A Loverro column last month conceded that momentum is on the side of those demanding a name change, but asserted that many of the name’s opponents “couldn’t have cared less about the plight of Native Americans before they were told they should be offended by this name, and who will go back to caring even less if and when the name is changed.”
In June, when the US Patent and Trademark Office invalidated the team’s federal trademark protection because its name is a racial slur, the Times reported that the patent office had no public complaints against the team on file, as though that somehow makes the name less offensive.
There’s nothing wrong with a pro-team editorial policy, of course, as long as the paper isn’t making any money from their support.
“It’s going to be confusing for people who consume Redskins content from the Washington Times,” says Kelly McBride, resident ethicist at the journalism-watchdog Poynter Institute. “This certainly has potential for actual conflict,” McBride continues. “Then there’s the perception of conflict. All [journalists] have with our audience is the perception of trust.”
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.