Cranney: With credentials, university retains media control

Cranney discusses how the university has the power to restrict content.

Joey Cranney

Joey CranneyThe first result of a YouTube search for “Chris Coyer huge block” is at once both a video of a standout play from the 2012 football season and a case study into the power that sports institutions hold over media organizations that cover them.

Coyer, a quarterback for Temple, blindsided a Villanova defender with a booming hit in the season opener on Aug. 31, 2012. The play was captured on video by Ibrahim Jacobs, The Temple News assistant sports editor, who used the footage for a multimedia package The Temple News produced after the game, but also put video of the play on YouTube. At press time, the video had 2,909 views.

But according to the media credential Jacobs was wearing when he took the video, putting the footage online is expressly prohibited.

Credentials issued to the media for access to the football team and men’s and women’s basketball teams allow Temple to restrict the way the outlet covers a game. By accepting the credential, journalists agree to terms that claim university ownership of information, limit how the press can use social media during the game and prevent Temple from liability if a member of the media is injured while working. Temple reserves the right to revoke a credential at any time, even without cause.

Outlined in a conditions section on the back of the credential, one particularly convoluted segment states that the university is the owner of all proprietary information in the game and “all materials (in any and all media) related thereto…”

Such broad language is dangerous. It makes it impossible to distinguish what the university could claim property of, raising a concern over whether the work done by journalists would be off limits or not.

Temple maintains it cannot affect whatever content a writer or photographer publishes, but in extreme cases, the university could require media organizations to pull video from online, or threaten legal action if they fail to do so, Larry Dougherty, senior associate athletic director for communications, said.

Multiple reporters whom I spoke to who cover Temple men’s basketball and football said they were unaware of the conditions of their credentials and hadn’t even read the back of their pass.

It’s obvious that these conditions included on their credentials are nothing more than a fail-safe; a way for an institution to protect itself when potentially harmful information can be published before the public relations office can prepare a response.

In a NASCAR race the day before the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23, a 12-car pile up spilled into the stands, injuring a reported 33 fans in one of the worst crashes in recent memory. Video of the events captured by a fan was put on YouTube but was removed almost immediately. Where the video once was, there was a message saying NASCAR blocked it on copyright grounds. Fan tickets have similar conditions to credentials that say that any videos taken at arenas are owned by the proprietor.

The corporation cited paying “respect to those injured” as the reason for blocking the video, but it’s obvious NASCAR jumped the gun. Did any fans die in the crash? Were the necessary safety precautions in place? Was NASCAR at fault? The corporation didn’t know and pulled the video before anyone could find out.

In Jacobs’ case, putting the video on YouTube violated the condition of the credential that stipulated that any materials gathered while at a game “may not be exploited by the agency for any purpose other than news or editorial use.” No action was taken, however. The video is still online because footage of a standout play by the football team’s starting quarterback only helps promote Temple.

Dougherty, the athletics spokesman, is also the sports information director for the men’s basketball team. Dougherty said he’s responsible for enforcing the conditions of the credential, but doesn’t recall an instance in his 10 years at Temple that would warrant a response.

“If we had something extreme as Daytona, we may want to look to pull something to protect our image and our brand,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty said the conditions on the credential are there so the university has control over what is produced at events, but the feasibility of that claim has been challenged by some.

Thomas Eveslage, a professor emeritus who taught Journalism & the Law, said the work that journalists produce while covering a game is owned by the repoter.

“Journalists who have credentials have a fair-use right to ‘transform’ what they see and hear to a personal or news account without permission of the university,” Eveslage said in an email.

The conditions also prohibit media members from publishing any video, audio or photographs while the game is still live without written consent from the university ahead of time.

Not only is this section unreasonable, it’s obviously outdated. Live tweeting from sporting events has become a norm for sports reporters, and photos and video have never been off limits, including for Temple’s own public relations Twitter account.

Dougherty said the conditions of the credentials were written by Collegiate Images, LLC, a licensing and rights clearance agency that services public relations directors. He said Temple will work with the agency to revisit the language, which he estimates is eight-to-nine years old.

“They told us we should have this somewhere so it’s visible, even if it’s hard to read,” Dougherty said.

The credential issue is a more blatant example of the power that the athletic department has to limit media coverage as part of a university that gladly hides behind its state-related exemption from most of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law requirements.

The Temple athletic communications office refuses to disclose budgetary information as strict policy, regularly denies requests regarding sensitive issues and condemns interviews with student-athletes and coaches that weren’t facilitated by the team’s media contact.

In the world of sports journalism where contact with subjects is restricted, the problem is compounded in college sports where student-athletes don’t have agents or publicists who sometimes facilitate interviews with professional athletes outside of a team’s public relations office.

As universities continue to funnel interviews through communications offices and reserve the right to restrict game coverage, the leverage they hold over media will only continue to mount.

Joey Cranney can be reached at or on Twitter @joey_cranney.

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