UPDATED: 10:30 a.m. Thursday
Rich Hammond, the former Daily News’ hockey writer who the open-minded Kings hired three years ago to cover their games and practices with free editorial reign, left his position as the writer for the “L.A. Kings Insider” blog to take a job with the Orange County Register to cover USC football and basketball.
On the surface, the career diversion looks pretty straight forward.
But speaking before a sports business class at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism on Wednesday night, Hammond elaborated that recent pushback from the NHL for a story he did during the current lockout resulted in him reconsidering how effectively he could continue to work in that role.
Hammond’s Sept. 17 post was a Q and A with the Kings’ Kevin Westgarth, the most visible of the team’s players as he worked with the NHL Players Association during Collective Bargaining Agreement talks. Westgarth was candid in his opinions about both sides of the negotiations.
“The league wanted the story taken down,” said Hammond, who stressed the Kings organization did not take issue with it. “Technically, they were saying that as a team employee, I had to abide by their rules of not discussing the lockout.”
The story remains posted (linked here) as discussions between the team and league continued. Still, Hammond wondered about maintaining the integrity of the blog if future restrictions or threats were ever put to him again.
In the meantime, he had renewed discussions from the Register about the USC beat and decided to take it, explaining only on his last post for the Kings’ blog (linked here) that “the timing and situation” was right for him to “move on . . . the decision is mine and the Kings in no way pushed or encouraged me to leave.” He said that during the lockout, he was not in danger of being laid off.
“It’s my choice, for a number of reasons,” he said. “I will leave on good terms.”
Hammond told the USC class that the team would have preferred he stayed but he “was not totally convinced the Kings could make (this situation) have a good ending.”
The Kings thanked Hammond in a statement and said his performance “a partner in building a new platform for LAKings.com epitomized integrity, work ethic and vision, and at no time did he waver from his goals and commitment to his readership.” The also put up a video tribute to Hammond on their website.
The Kings’ hiring of Hammond in Sept., 2009, was considered in the media business to be a somewhat groundbreaking move. The Kings not only drew a considerable jump in traffic to their site with Hammond’s reporting, but in many ways he exceeded what the other local media generated on the team, leading up to the Stanley Cup run last season.
The pros and cons of having such an arrangement were perfect teaching moments for journalism schools. Which made Hammond’s appearance Wednesday at professor Jeff Fellenzer’s class in an auditorum filled with about 200 students (including USC tailback Silas Redd) all the more intriguing.
In a 2009 media blog post on the New York Times (linked here), Hammond said he felt hockey fans could distinguish between reporting and public relations and he would maintain his USC-taught ethics in this endeavor.
“I understand that people are going to have doubts,” he said. “The proof is going to be in the product.”
The proof was surprisingly successful. The Kings not only drew considerable traffic to their site with Hammond’s reporting, but it remained on par, if not exceeding, what the other local media was able to generate for the team, leading up to the Stanley Cup run last season.
As a result of the experiment, Hammond changed the style of a blog-post game recap, focusing more on post-game locker room coverage and reporting from practice through the blog and Twitter.
The idea, as Hammond remembers, came from the blog of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who in 2008 said he would put up $100,000 for the Dallas Morning News to have someone report 24/7 on his team.
The Kings at the time felt as if they were under the local media radar — at a time when many newspapers were cutting staffs and travel budgets — and the idea of hiring a trained journalist to provide daily coverage for their fans was a bit revolutionary.
Kings head of business Luc Robitaille said at the time that Hammond’s hiring was a “landmark step for us” and that he would have “full editorial control in his new position . . . (this is the) new home for Rich’s insightful, objective and thorough reporting and analysis.”
Hammond, who as a Daily News assistant sports editor had been blogging about the Kings for the newspaper from 2006-’09 after several seasons of covering the team, said he accepted the Kings job under the stipulation his stories would not need approval by any member of the Kings staff, even though he drew a salary from the team.
“This is not public relations,” he wrote in his first post. “I have been told, pointedly, by the highest levels of Kings management, that I should continue to report and write as normal.”
The Kings, who had also regularly used Hammond as a guest between periods on the TV and radio coverage, said it is their intention to hire a new writer for the “Insider” blog.
NHL spokesman Jamey Horan did not elaborate on the circumstances of the Hammond-Westgarth blog post, saying only: “Rich did a great job covering the Kings — especially during their amazing run to win the 2012 Stanley Cup. We wish him continued success in his new role.”
== Earlier posts:
= By LAObserved.com (linked here)