Ethics in Sports Journalism has become a popular topic for writers to bounce around and beat a drum of self-righteousness over in recent days as it became public that Boston Red Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks was in a relationship with NESN Red Sox Reporter Jenny Dell. Looking over the objections to the current arrangement, three main arguments rise to the surface.
The first main issue is NESN’s credibility. Kirk Minhane writes for WEEI in Boston “Put it another way: There is no way NESN’s coverage of the Red Sox can be taken seriously if Dell is allowed to return to that position.” This would be a legitimate point if viewers turned to NESN to hear objective, critical analysis of the Boston Red Sox. This is not the case. NESN, as many have pointed out, is owned by the Boston Red Sox. Their job is to present information about the Red Sox to those who are supporters of the team. In the same way Fox News and MSNBC may posture themselves as objective sources while obviously parroting news in a Conservative or Liberal fashion. NESN broadcasts information about the Red Sox in a way that benefits both the Red Sox and the network. NESN doesn’t possess any credibility in the department of objectively analyzing the Red Sox anyways, therefore, it does not lose any through this working arrangement between Dell and Middlebrooks.
Beyond NESN’s credibility, many have also analyzed the impact the situation has on Dell’s status as a reporter. Bryanna Cappadona writes for Boston Magazine:
“The reason we are allowed to hold Dell at a high standard in this situation is because she takes her duty as a reporter seriously. She refers to herself as a reporter, not a television personality. Dell has had a successful two years with NESN, and has already made quite a name for herself in the industry. All jokes and pretend happiness aside, the relationship between Dell and Middlebrooks demonstrates a real conflict of interest. It undoubtedly will weaken her image and integrity as a journalist”.
While it is true that this is a situation that could hurt Ms. Dell’s journalistic integrity, it is a fallacy to assume it has too. Workplace relationships have been around longer than any of us have, and the journalism profession is not exempt from this phenomenon. Ms. Dell is plenty capable of taking her profession seriously and maintaining a romantic relationship with Mr. Middlebrooks at the same time. Because NESN is owned by the Red Sox, it should be a rare occurrence that Ms. Dell’s journalistic interests should conflict with Mr. Middlebrooks’ personal interests. If the couple has thought ahead, they should have already determined that such an occurrence would not be a serious issue should it arise. Their relationship, however, does not have to negatively impact Ms. Dell’s journalistic abilities.
Finally, some have questioned how this relationship reflects on women in sports journalism in general. It is true that women often face more and different barriers in the profession than men, and some speculate that this relationship will cement unfairly held views that women in the industry are “gold-diggers” who are not serious about their jobs. It is unfair to hold this view, and it is unfair to believe that Jenny Dell’s relationship affirms this flawed view. There is no reason to believe that Jenny Dell is merely interested in finding relationships through her job. Even the critics of the relationship listed above hold that Ms. Dell is a serious reporter who does her job well. If people want to base their view of an entire demographics standing in a profession based off muddled views of the actions of one individual, than that is their problem, and certainly not Ms. Dell’s or Mr. Middlebrooks’.
Serious missteps by journalists in the ethical realm happen far too often. We should be concerned about this issue and ensure that reporters maintain integrity in their profession. Unfortunately, too many people have gotten riled up over a non-issue in this Boston sports couple’s relationship. We should be happy for young couples in love while not questioning their ability to perform at a high-level in their professions because of such affections. Only then can we seriously address the true journalistic issues in the realm of sports journalism.