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Judy Farah

How the Kings Saga Elevated Journalism in Sacramento

 
How the Kings Saga Elevated Journalism in Sacramento
Posted October 30th, 2013 @ 1:11pm

It was a sunny Saturday morning in Orlando, Florida and Rob McAllister thought he'd take some time to relax after a tiring, cross country trip. He was taking in the sun poolside before starting a big weekend of covering the February 2012 NBA All Star game and talks between the NBA, David Stern, the Maloofs and Mayor Kevin Johnson on the future of the Sacramento Kings. But as he sat there trying to soak in the warm Florida sun, a nagging devil appeared on his shoulder: "What are you doing lying around when you should be chasing down David Stern and a story?"

Rob told me that nagging editor in his conscience was me. He left the pool, hailed a taxi and tracked down Stern at a private meeting in an Orlando hotel room. Rob got his jackpot when Stern emerged and gave him an exclusive statement. Meantime, a dozen or so Sacramento reporters who also made the trip to Orlando were standing outside another hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, with their tri pods and TV cameras set up, waiting for Stern or anyone from the NBA to come talk to them. They got nothing, and weren't too happy when Rob broke ranks and went to get the story on his own.

For me, that was the turning point in the journalism competition in the Kings saga. From then on, reporters knew if they wanted to get new information, they'd have to get it themselves.

A year earlier on January 11, 2011, KFBK and McAllister broke the blockbuster story about how the Kings were secretly in talks to move the team to Anaheim. I was his editor on the story and also talked to the very credible source. But could we bask in the glory of breaking such major news? No. Because for six long weeks, most of Sacramento and the news media refused to believe it until Stern himself confirmed it at the NBA All Star game in Los Angeles in February 2011.

From the point where Stern said the Maloofs were trying to move the Kings, the media frenzy began. Reporters, sports writers and anchors tried to get any tidbit of information they could. But there wasn't much being released. Mayor Johnson was blindsided and had to scramble to concoct a game plan. The Maloofs weren't talking. The NBA released little info except possible meeting dates. The Sacramento media was desperately chasing a story that provided little information. It got ugly at times, with some reporters taking other reporters' info and not crediting them. Too many reporters yelled "Exclusive!" when they really didn't have one.

The news media in Sacramento had to learn how to compete on a higher level.

I started my journalism career as a newspaper reporter in the No. 1 New York market. Next I was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press in the No. 2 media market of Los Angeles where I had to compete against reporters from more than 100 news agencies. It always has and still bothers me that Sacramento is a one newspaper and one news radio town. It's not The New York Daily News versus The New York Post. It's not KCBS against KGO. Both longtime news rivalries. Competition makes you better. Makes you hungrier. Sharpens your skills. News competition serves the citizens better. After helping break the Kings story, I took everything I learned working in those major media markets to try and advance it, as did everyone else.

After the Maloofs backed out of the tearful agreement in Orlando, the game was on. What was next? Sacramento reporters began their own, independent full court press to get the story.

It was hard to beat the hard-digging Sacramento Bee guys -- Ryan Lillis, Tony Bizjak and Dale Kasler. I was envious The Bee could dedicate three of its reporters to the story full time. And they dug hard, uncovering the financial terms of the team and the city; detailing Kings suitor Chris Hansen's big money gamble and chronicling Sacramento's desperate effort to keep the team.

The team at News 10 was also impressive. Ryan Yamamoto, Brian May, Nick Monacelli and Sean Cunningham covering the story 24/7 was also hard to beat. They were at every game possible and snagging anyone who would comment on the situation. Jim Crandell of Fox 40 was also a force, using every connection and source he made in his more than 20 years in the Sacramento sports and news market to bring fresh information on the story. We even got competition from our rivals in Seattle, such as King TV's Chris Daniels, who had the inside track on Chris Hansen.

But then the journalism whales got involved. Big national writers weighed in and changed the game even more. Sam Amick of USA Today Sports, with a deep Rolodex from his time at the Sac Bee, AOL Fanhouse and Sports Illustrated, broke many scoops. As did David Aldridge of TNT, Ken Berger of CBS Sports, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and Aaron Bruski of NBC Sports.

Suddenly, Sacramento reporters weren't competing among themselves. They were going up against some of the best, toughest sports writers in the U.S. who had deep inside sources cultivated over years of covering the league.

"It was a rare story where we were competing with national writers on a daily basis," said The Bee's Ryan Lillis. "You were in competition with very large, very respected (sports) news organizations."

Amick told me the story had many intriguing levels to merit national interest.

"It's a national story for the Kings, Charlotte or any relocation of a franchise," Amick said.

And it wasn't just a story about relo.

"It had so many subplots. David versus Goliath. Hansen's money. Seattle," he said.

And for anyone covering the NBA, the enigmatic David Stern was personally involved. Reporters hung on his every slow-spoken crafted word, struggling to determine or analyze if they had a hidden meaning.

From Sacramento to New York, reporting got better. Reporters no longer waited for news conferences and press releases to get new information. They pursued the story individually and as a team. They worked day and night trying to develop sources. They dug and dug until they discovered new info. They traveled to cities like Orlando and Seattle and Anaheim and NBA meetings in New York and Dallas. And if one reporter got a big scoop, it only motivated the rest to try even harder.

The writing got better. The information got stronger. The reporting was more in depth. In the end, the Sacramento community benefited from the most comprehensive coverage on a story that affected the entire region. And against sometimes insurmountable odds, a community rallied and saved its team.

"You will untimately be defined by the sum total of your responses to circumstances, situations and events that you probably couldn't anticipate and indeed probably couldn't even imagine. So just keep your eyes on the course and be ready to move in different directions depending upon the crises and opportunities with which you are faced," -- David Stern.

It was a wild, roller coaster of a story with the future of a city at stake. Chaotic, dramatic and constantly changing. If we got new information one minute we took the risk it could change the next. But Sacramento journalists rose to the challenge from our competitors. We witnessed journalism at its best. And a city united.

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