The New Republic recently posted a story with the title, “Sports Reporting is Broken.” When I glanced at the URL of the story, the following jumped out at me, “charania-schefter-access-journalism-useless.” If one has followed MMA reporting for any amount of time, the last three words should strike a powerful chord. If sports reporting is broken, MMA reporting is akin to the Heyope Tire Fire, a fire that burned for 15 years.
The writer of the New Republic story, Alex Shephard, summed up the role of access journalists as, “there to weasel his way into the confidences of powerful people and then push their viewpoints, however untruthful or far-fetched they may be, as news.”
That statement perfectly encapsulates what the UFC wants, expects and I would say demands from most of the writers who cover the promotion.
I’m often left flummoxed when supposed MMA journalists fail to provide the least bit of context to stories they report on. On the occasions when I have raised these concerns, I’ve received replies along the lines of “I’m just reporting what the person is saying.”
That’s a cop out.
If a person involved in the UFC is making a statement that is verifiably untrue or questionable, it’s the journalist’s role to include that in their reporting. To not do so is to do exactly what Shephard said, push the viewpoints of the powerful, no matter how untruthful or far-fetched their statements and claims may be.
Here’s an example of when and where context could — and should — be provided when reporting on the UFC.
UFC president Dana White recently sang the praises of UFC commentator and podcaster Joe Rogan when discussing his recovery from COIVD-19. White pointed out that Ivermectin was one medication that helped him recover from COVID-19. White then said — correctly — that “the guy won a Nobel Peace Prize” related to Ivermectin.
The context that many did not include in their reporting on what White said is that there is no peer reviewed study that proves Ivermectin is effective in treating COVID-19 and that the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura for Ivermectin was for its effectiveness “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites.” Also, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has a document on its website entitled, “Why You Should Not Use Ivermectin to Treat or Prevent COVID-19.”
Adding that context to White’s statements is an important — I would say essential part — of reporting. To not take that step is the difference between transcribing what White said and publishing it and being an actual reporter or journalist.
The UFC counts on transcribers.
Some MMA writers try to get around these issues by choosing to be selectively outraged. For instance, these types will get incensed that White failed to put the belt around the waist of Francis Ngannou at UFC 270, but remain silent on larger issues such as fighter pay and fighter health and safety.
In the big picture, White skipping out on a largely symbolic job function is a largely inconsequential — and quickly forgotten. Fighting for increased fighter pay and benefits is not small or unimportant. Those discussions expose the UFC for its poor business practices and that is not something the promotion takes lightly.
All of this boils down to access and who is willing to play the UFC’s game. The UFC knows reporters crave access to fighters and events and it dangles that access over their heads like a sword suspended by a single horsehair.