2017 Journalism Report: Bad Ethics and Biased Reporting

In this series, we’re taking a deeper look at the 2017 MMA Journalism Report and analyze what it tells us about the current state of affairs in MMA journalism.

Today, we look at what will be the most sensitive topic we cover in this series (hence the reason we’re getting it out of the way first rather than postponing it): Ethics (more specifically, a lack of ethics), bias and those outlets media members believe are failing to deliver on the core tenets of journalism. 

If there’s one question from the 2017 survey most likely to cause hurt feelings and anger, it’s this one. Journalists are oft a sensitive group, but humans in general aren’t fans of having their flaws pointed out to the world.

But without the fire of criticism, journalism in the sport will never advance to the level we know it’s capable of attaining. We’ll have plenty of positive things to point to in our upcoming stories on the survey results.

But today, we’re ripping the band-aid off the wound and going straight for the painful stuff.

The survey asked: Which outlet provides the worst example of unbiased, ethical journalism?

The results: 

  1. FloCombat (43.8%)
  2. Fox Sports (16.5%)
  3. Champions (14.5%)
  4. MMA Mania (6.1%)
  5. Combat Press (5.8%)
  6. MMAjunkie (3.8%)
  7. MMA Fighting (3.8%)
  8. MMA Torch (1.9%)
  9. ESPN (1.9%)
  10. MMA Weekly (1.9%)

We have a runaway top vote-getter in this category.

Below, we’ll share bits of feedback we received from participants on why they voted the way they did. Remember that the point of this is not to enrage you and cause you to wage hot social media war on  your peers.

We hope this feedback forces the industry to take a look at where they actually stand in the eyes of their peers, and perhaps use it as motivation to fix some things that ail them.

1. FloCombat

FloCombat is an outlet that, on the surface at least, positions itself as a media source. They publish fighter interviews, predict fights, offer live coverage from events and execute coverage recaps.

But in reality FloCombat is not media at all.  They do not practice traditional journalism. But they DO attempt to be both media and practicers of journalism.

And according to feedback from their peers, they do it with a chip on their shoulder and an arrogance unmatched by any other outlet. That one single outlet would receive so many votes in this category indicates how passionately their peers feel about this issue.

If they aren’t practicing journalism, what are they doing?

The end goal for FloCombat appears to be this: drive subscriptions at $20 a month to the FloCombat streaming service, which is double the price of Fight Pass for far less content of much lower quality. They do cover UFC, Bellator and other events, and to their credit they churn out more original interviews than just about any other outlet. But the real point, it seems, is to push readers to open their wallets. Which is fine, so long as they’re up front about it, and it appears they are.

Negative feedback on FloCombat largely centered on three categories:

  1. Pretending to be a media outlet when they aren’t, and never acknowledging the dozens of conflicts of interest they maintain and create on a monthly basis. Some pointed to the recently-departed Jim Edwards as one example of inherently conflicted reportage (Edwards rebounded nicely from his plagiarism incident – his byline can now be found on Champions).
  2. An overt friendliness with fighters and promoters by the staff. One participant noted how easy it is to determine which athletes are friendliest with the FloCombat staff by scanning headlines. “There are patterns and they make it obvious who their friends are,” one participant said.
  3. A habit of bragging on how they’re “changing the game,” when “what they are actually doing is publishing badly overwrought writing, ripping off interviews from podcasts on other outlets and then transcribing them for easy page views,” said one respondent.

In FloCombat’s defense, we’ll note our interactions with their social media person, Hunter Homistek (who used to work for MMA Fighting and has a journalism degree) have been enormously pleasant. He seems to be a person who wants to do the kind of journalism the sport needs and which FloCombat is not currently doing.

It is also important to remember the site is only 12 months old and is still trying to find a firm identity.

2. Fox Sports

We don’t need to spend much time on this one. Right? You get why it received so many votes.

It’s simple: Fox Sports is not a media outlet. It is a promotional partner and tool used by the UFC.

“They’re state Media,” one respondent said.

Damon Martin puts out an ungodly amount of content (he’s one of the hardest-working people in the sport), and he is among the most veteran of MMA journalists. But the moment he went to Fox Sports, he traded in his journalism badge of honor for a promoter’s hat. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, so long as you understand and accept it for what it is.

Criticism of the UFC has appeared on the pages of FoxSports.com in the past. Elias Cepeda used to take hard stances on certain subjects critical of the UFC. Cepeda no longer works for Fox Sports.

We came close to excluding both Fox Sports and FloCombat (in addition to The Mac Life) from the survey due to obvious and overt conflicts of interest, but decided to include them. We’ll revisit that decision next year.

2. Champions

Peer feedback on Champions mostly focused on their friendliness with athletes, evidenced by the amount of ghost-written fighter stories they publish (unless Dan Henderson suddenly decided to become a prolific author of MMA stories) and on the apparent practice of attempting to pay high-profile social media users a revenue share to tweet their stories.

There’s nothing truly unethical about that last part, but it does feel sort of gross to their peers.

4. MMA Mania

This is a site long dedicated to cheap traffic ploys and no original reporting. The feedback we received mirrored our impressions.

Frankly, we’re surprised this site still exists, and under the same umbrella as the excellent MMAFighting.com, which we consider the standard-bearer for media outlets in the sport.

5. Combat Press

The feedback around Combat Press centered solely on Rob Tatum, the editor of Combat Press, and his role with Invicta Fighting Championship. Peers noted that Tatum has a bad habit of hyping up each Invicta event and awarding them glowing reviews while also serving as a paid writer for the promotion.

They have a point. No writers that work for the UFC are treated as serious journalists. Should it be any different for someone who works in the same role for a smaller promotion?

Others receiving multiple votes: MMAjunkie, MMA Fighting and ESPN. 

In our next story, we’re going to leap to the positive side of things and take a look at the outlets most respected by peers for their unbiased and ethical reporting.

Stay tuned.