Guest Commentary: Bill bolsters ability to cover HS sports

High school football games under Friday night lights and basketball gyms jam-packed with fans are as much a part of South Dakota as coffee-shop talk about the weather and crops. High school sports and other interscholastic activities such as drama and music events fuel intense civic pride in our communities and schools.

The feats and accomplishments of students on the field of competition or the performance stage are celebrated by an entire community of family, friends and school fans.

The hometown newspaper is there as well, chronicling the games and school activities. Covering local school sports and school activities such as plays and concerts are a big part of what goes into the local newspaper. The community expects it and a good newspaper meets that expectation.

Technology today has allowed newspapers to expand the tools they use to cover high school sports and events. Newspapers are going beyond the traditional stories and photos printed in the paper to innovations such as broadcasting football or basketball games over the internet and updating readers through social media tools. Readers have come to expect that type of expanded coverage and newspapers of all sizes in South Dakota are delivering on those expectations.

All good, right? Yes, except that some schools are now putting restrictions and limitations on how the local news media can cover their school sporting events and activities.

In Pierre, an exclusive contract between the school and a local radio station prohibits a competing local radio station or the local newspaper from broadcasting Pierre school athletic events. However, the restrictions don't apply to any out-of-town news media outlets.

In Sioux Falls, the public school district sought to specifically prohibit the local newspaper from broadcasting high school football and basketball games on the internet.

Elsewhere, newspaper photographers are being unreasonably restricted on how they can cover high school competitions. Reporters are limited on how they can use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to report live from a high school game.

Schools offer a variety of reasons for these restrictions. Mostly, it boils down to money. Schools looking to make additional revenue from the performances of students on the field by placing restrictions on how the local news media may cover these events.

Incredible as it may sound, there is a real trend toward more monetization of high school sports.

That is why we are working for passage of a bill in this legislative session that would prohibit schools from unreasonably restricting the ability of local news media to do their job. Senate Bill 119 would not prohibit schools from generating revenue through certain contracts with media, so long as those contracts do not restrict other media from being able to do their job.

SB119 is not about creating any special or new privilege for news media in South Dakota. It only tries to ensure the news media in South Dakota can do what they have always done when it comes to reporting about high school sports and activities.

Fans and supporters of high school sports and activities expect the local news media to be there, creating a chronology and scrapbook of memories and achievements through their stories, photos and other media.

Urge your legislators to support Senate Bill 119. Let's make sure the hometown news media can continue to do their job and live up to the expectations of their readers and viewers. Nothing more, nothing less.

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