Our first story here at MMW, published yesterday, took an inside look at the behind-the-scenes discussion among a large group of media members following last year’s blacklisting of Ariel Helwani from UFC events.
The group discussed drafting a letter—to be sent to former UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, Dana White and former Vice President of Communications Dave Sholler. Our story reported that the letter was being worked on by a small group of journalists and editors from SBNation, ESPN and USA Today.
On Wednesday, a source reached out to clarify that the letter was drafted by USA Today/MMAjunkie’s Ben Fowlkes and subsequently distributed to the entire group for approval. Input was given by a variety of journalists from outlets of every size and stature. Details were haggled over. MMW has obtained a copy of these emails, and we’re digging into them to see if additional reporting is warranted.
We also received what is described as the last draft of the letter that was sent to the group on June 7 for feedback. Helwani and colleagues Esther Lin and E. Casey Leydon were reinstated before the letter was sent to UFC executives, and it was shelved.
Tonight, we’re publishing the full text of that letter. It is signed off by—perhaps with a bit too much optimism—the “Members of the MMA Journalists Association.”
HERE’S THE FULL TEXT
Dear UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and UFC President Dana White:
We in the MMA media are pleased and encouraged by the UFC’s decision to lift the threat of a lifetime ban from our colleagues Ariel Helwani, E. Casey Leydon and Esther Lin. But as we read through the UFC’s official statement on the matter and reflected on the other media bans that remain in place, we could not help but be reminded that the relationship between the UFC and the media that covers it needs a thorough examination.
We understand your desire for fairness and accuracy. We share it. We also understand that media credentials are a privilege. But when those credentials are withheld selectively and capriciously as a means of reprisal aimed at journalists with whom the UFC disagrees, it creates an unstable and unpredictable environment that is not conducive to fair, honest and accurate reporting.
Journalists covering MMA currently have no way of knowing in advance what will get them banned from attending UFC events as credentialed media. They have no consistent system of redress once they have been banned. Communication between journalists and the UFC is too often stifled, shutting down productive dialogue or reducing it to damage control.
We write this letter not to assault you with our complaints, but to begin the process of working toward a solution. Given the mutually beneficial relationship and the tenets of professional decorum that exist between sports leagues and those who cover them, it is in the interests of both the UFC and the media for us to work to improve this relationship.
While the relationship between a sports organization and the media that covers it may be contentious by its very nature, it need not be acrimonious.
You at the UFC and those of us in the field of MMA journalism are united by a passion for mixed martial arts. We will not always agree, and at times we will find ourselves in direct conflict, but we are both best served by an open and mutually respectful working relationship. It is our hope that this letter will be the first step in bringing us all closer to realizing that goal.
We propose that the next step be a meeting of UFC officials and selected officers of the newly formed MMA Journalists Association. There we can discuss ways to improve the relationship between the UFC and the MMA media, with the goal of creating an environment that benefits both sides, as well as the fans whom we both serve.
Please let us know when it is convenient to meet.
Members of the MMA Journalists Association