Reporters on the Payroll?

Much has been made about the shrinking state of the media, both on this blog and in countless other outlets. Newspapers and magazines are folding and/or downsizing at a staggering rate and reporters are tasked with covering multiple beats, often for less pay, all while worrying about what the future holds for their industry. As a result, many outlets simply don’t have the time or resources to cover evergreen features in the extensive manner they once did.

This situation poses a variety of challenges for companies. California professional hockey team the LA Kings has come up with an interesting solution—hiring its own fulltime reporter, Rich Hammond, to cover the team’s games at home and on the road for its Web site. Hammond previously covered the King for the Los Angeles Daily News and, in his new role, has been given total autonomy to write whatever he wants to about the team, regardless of the fact that he is a salaried employee.

In his coverage of the announcement, New York Times reporter Richard Perez-Pena questions whether fans will continue to view Hammond’s articles as “news” or if the posts will be deemed PR spin because of his direct affiliation with the Kings’ management team. Hammond argues in the reverse, pointing out that he no longer needs to run his articles by an editor and thus will be producing more genuine content than when he wrote for the Daily News.  He told Yahoo! Sports, "There's no filter on it… It's not subject to any review. I'm not filing to any person; I'm filing to the Internet."

To date, the reporters-on-payroll trend exists fairly exclusively in the professional sporting world. But as the media landscape continues to evolve one has to wonder if other industries might soon join in. I have to admit I’m a little intrigued by the concept, but I wonder how impartial I would be were I in that situation. Can a reporter write concise, accurate copy if he or she is being paid by an organization that has a vested interest in positive coverage?

As always, we welcome your thoughts.

Submitted by Kate Finigan. Follow her @PRKateFin