A tipster passes along the following email sent around to Bleacher Report's MMA writers last year. It was written by Jeremy Botter, a lead MMA writer for B/R who also covers the fights for the Houston Chronicle. There is some good advice here (don't publish random bullshit!) and some weird advice here (don't ask Dana White about his mom!) but the most interesting advice has to do with all the things you shouldn't cover and the ways you shouldn't cover them if you don't want to get blacklisted by the UFC. (It may be worth noting that the site you're reading has been blacklisted.)
These kinds of understandings drive all sorts of journalism, in sports and elsewhere, but they're especially powerful in the fight game, where promoters are much more aggressive than most about using the threat of denying access to quash stories they don't want covered. You usually don't see them spelled out so explicitly, though.
Brian asked me to put together a small list of "things you don't do" regarding writing about Zuffa. I've had a ton of experience with Dana, both professional and personal, and I have a pretty good handle on what makes him tick and what pisses him off. (everything in this email is full internal purposes and not to be shared).
Here you go:
- Don't delve too deep into Zuffa financials. This goes for fighter pay, revenue, money donated to political campaigns. This is Dana's biggest pet peeve. Because they are a private company, it's almost impossible to verify actual financial numbers for any of these subjects. Even if you have two good sources verifying your information, there are still a lot of things they do behind the scenes that makes it a really tough subject to get right.
There are all kinds of under-the-table bonuses paid to fighters, from the top of the card all the way to the bottom. I have personally, with my own two eyes, seen a fighter who made $8,000 to show and $8,000 to win be handed a check for $45,000 after his fight ended because they were so happy with the excitement of his bout. This is not a random occurence - it happens multiple times per event, every event.
Nothing pisses Dana off more than people talking about Zuffa's financials and getting everything wrong. There is literally no way to grasp everything they do with their money, so there's no point in trying to speculate.
This is a very good way to piss them off and find yourself blacklisted. Stay away from it.
- Don't "report" things unless you have two very credible sources. Don't take a rumor and post it as fact.
- Don't report something a manager tells you unless you have verified it with someone who is not a manager. Managers will often use you to get their message out.
Loretta Hunt was banned from the UFC because she reported a story that was fed to her by Ken Pavia, who was actually feeding her false information because he was upset with Zuffa over the amount of backstage passes he was receiving for shows. Managers have tried to feed me information in the past that turned out to be false.
Don't be a mouthpiece and don't let them use you to send a message, because you'll be the one who gets burned.
- Don't be a mouthpiece for a fighter, either. They'll use you in the same way managers do when trying to send a message to the UFC.
- Don't talk about Dana's history with his mom. This is a fantastic way to find yourself blacklisted. Do not do it, either in articles or on Twitter or Facebook. It doesn't matter anymore, anyway, so there's no point.
- If you're writing an opinion article with a negative slant on Zuffa, make sure it's clearly worded as opinion. Don't mix rumors with your opinions. Dana has told me personally that he doesn't care if you write negative opinion stuff, so long as people know it's opinion. Don't mix negative opinion with reporting.
- Don't be negative just to be negative or edgy. Dana doesn't mind being asked tough questions, but consider the circumstance when you're doing it. If you're at a press conference or a conference call for a UFC event, keep your questions related to that event.
Don't bust out a question about a controversial topic in the middle of a press event designed to promote a certain fight card. Wait until after the press conference ends. Dana usually does a media scrum, and that's the best place to ask those types of questions. Save your questions for the right moment and you'll find that Dana is very accommodating.
- And finally, always remember this: you would be SHOCKED to learn how much they pay attention to when it comes to MMA media. Their corporate and PR teams love Bleacher Report, and they read everything. You may think you're flying under the radar, but you aren't. They are all paying attention.
Each and every day, the UFC PR team prepares a "morning report" consisting of articles from all major newspapers and MMA websites. This report is compiled and emailed to everyone on the corporate side of things, from top communications execs all the way to Dana and Lorenzo. I've seen these reports, and they are very thorough. And yes, they include Bleacher Report stories.
You're always being watched. I don't say this to scare you. I say it to let you know that you're not an unknown commodity, and that people are paying attention. They read what you write. Mistakes you make now, when you think you're under the radar, could end up burning you down the line.
In fairness to B/R, the site actually runs a lot of really good MMA coverage. This thorough analysis of a UFC contract, for instance—"I think it's potentially a violation of the 13th Amendment, the prohibition against slavery or involuntary servitude," said a law professor they consulted—is certainly worth a read even if you couldn't care less about the sport. I asked Botter about the note. He replied:
Yes, I can confirm that I wrote that email.
It wasn't an "internal memo," unless that term has taken on new significance that I am unaware of. I realize the little disclaimer at the top makes it seem official, but it wasn't.
It was something my editor and I were discussing that he decided to share with the team. It was never official policy or anything of that nature.
A lot of it just seemed like common sense when dealing with sports coverage/journalism of any type, not just the UFC. But obviously this was targeted more at them because, well, that's what I do.