Fan letter

Allen's purchase of The Sporting News may be a rah deal.

Seattle—In a valiant effort, the talented Seahawks lost another close one yesterday, falling 66-3 to the previously winless Baltimore Ravens. Seattle's dashing franchise and stadium owner Paul Allen said he was certain things would rebound next week, or he would have to buy the National Football League. The exciting Seahawks are 0-16.

—STORY OF THE FUTURE IN THE SPORTING NEWS?

"THAT IS AN INTERESTING acquisition, to say the least," observes Bill Plaschke, reviewing billionaire Paul Allen's purchase of The Sporting News, jockdom's venerable weekly journal of news and comment. Plaschke, a former Seattle sportswriter, is now a popular sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times as well as TSN—which was owned by the Times' parent company, Times Mirror. Times Mirror sold the News last week to Allen for an estimated $100 million.

Plaschke isn't sure what to make of a sports franchise owner buying one of the newspapers that covers his teams. But "I wouldn't want to be their Seahawks or Blazers correspondent," he says, "I'll tell you that much."

Like most sportswriters, Plaschke prefers the jock beat because reporters and columnists both are relatively free to write as they please—Plaschke's recent TSN column was on the Mariners' trade of "sophomoric" Ken Griffey Jr. to Cincinnati: "The hijacking is over. The blackmail is complete. . . . One of baseball history's red-letter trades turned into a blue-light special Thursday, thanks to yet another athlete with designer skills and discount ethics."

But will there be skid marks left by TSN writers who have second thoughts about venting over another inept Seahawks loss or dumb Portland Trailblazers trade? Their new publisher, the world's second richest man, is not merely the owner of those two pro franchises but the wealthiest figure in all of sports. At the least, a little self-censorship seems likely. Instead of "blown out," the Seahawks from now on may only be "defeated."

That's the rub with any such conflicting cross-ownership—of which there are many: The Chicago Tribune owns the Cubs, AOL-Time Warner owns the Atlanta Braves, and News Corp. owns the LA Dodgers. A number of daily newspapers including the Denver Post, Arizona Republic, Dallas Morning News, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have investments in local teams, creating an appearance of a conflict of interest that can be as damaging as the real thing.

Allen, former major investor in Starwave—online host of ESPN.com and other sports sites (now owned by Walt Disney Co., which runs the Anaheim Angels and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim)—says this is merely a business deal. The nation's oldest (114 years) sporting publication will remain headquartered in St. Louis under current management but become part of Allen's new media, entertainment, and technology portfolio.

Marshall Loeb, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, has said cross-ownership conflicts are no problem as long as "journalists are left totally independent to praise or criticize any and all parts of the corporate empire."

John Rawlings, TSN's editor, says they'll cover the Hawks and Blazers "just like we always have. Dan Pompei is working on a column for our next issue in which he will analyze the Seahawks-Cowboys trade, and I think he's going to say the Cowboys got the better end of the deal. That's fine with me and fine with Paul Allen. Although I have not spoken with him directly, I am told he wants us to continue to do a good job and he'll live with the results."

That's encouraging. But we couldn't help notice one missing detail upon reading the 500-word sale announcement posted at TSN's online site last week: any mention of Allen's sports franchise holdings.

 
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