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Commentary: Badges? We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges

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During the course of last week’s Super Boat International Key West Offshore World Championships, Jason Johnson, my co-publisher and business partner in speedonthewater.com, wrote and published four stories on the event and I wrote one. In the two months prior, we wrote and published nearly two dozen stories either directly about or related to the event. In the year that passed between the 2011 and 2012 world championships, we wrote and published 50 stories either related to either SBI or the Key West Worlds.

How did we do it when weren’t “on scene” for any of the news we reported before last week? Simple. We picked up our little iPhones and made calls, lots of them. Reporting doesn’t get any more basic than that. We took lots of calls every week, too—offshore racers and raceboat manufacturers do call us from time to time with what they see as their news. That, too, is basic stuff. If you want reporters to know what you’re doing, you don’t wait for them to call you. You pick up the phone. More often than not, the reporters are grateful for the call and a story comes from it.

Mobile phones, in our case the Apple variety, are wonderful tools. They enable you to reach offshore racers anywhere, even in their boats as I did with John Tomlinson in Gasse and Marc Granet in Miss GEICO as they idled back to the wet pits after mechanical failures during last week’s races. As I said, mobile phones are wonderful. They make things like media access to the racer pits completely irrelevant.

Which is why SBI’s denial of my media credentials last week—did I forget to mention that—gave me the best laugh I’ve had in years. I mean, sorry to borrow from all those television commercials but, really? Really? I mean my mobile phone still works when I’m in Key West. I can still get digital images from any number of photographers after each race sent via email in a matter of seconds.

For added giggles, I called the SBI offices on Monday this week to ask why—exactly—my credentials were denied. As of yet, I’ve received no response. To be fair to the people in charge at SBI—as I always have been—they don’t owe me one. Media access to privately controlled event areas such as the pits during an offshore race is entirely up to the sanctioning body/organizer for the event. I just couldn’t understand why they would deny access to one of two reporters for the media outlet that has provided their organization with the most exposure it has received in the past year. Frankly, it seemed silly. Still does.

I could have cheated and come up with 15 bucks for a VIP pass to the pits. I’m pretty sure that I could have pulled that off without a Groucho Marx nose and mustache. But I had my iPhone and Jason Johnson had access, so I spent most of my time chatting with exhibitors in the Florida Powerboat Club’s Poker Run Village. Plus, sneaking into the pits as something other than a reporter wouldn’t have felt right.

So why the denied access? Lacking an official explanation from SBI, and as I said they are under no obligation to provide one, I have to go with what a reliable source told me: The people in charge are not happy with my reporting on last year’s accidents and fatalities, the pending Gratton lawsuit and the current United States Coast Guard investigation. So be it. I can understand that. None of it is what any reasonable person would call “positive” news.

But here’s the thing: No organization or agency gets to determine what news is and is not reported, especially when that information is a matter of public record and concern. My reporting of the above stories has been fair and accurate, and it will continue to be. That’s my obligation as a journalist. Having my media access denied last week won’t change that—just as it didn’t stem the flow of “positive” coverage of the 32nd annual Key West World Championships—and it won’t change the reporting on SBI racers and events throughout 2013.

So next year when I come to the SBI Key West Offshore World Championships to cover them for speedonthewater.com, I won’t bother to apply for media credentials—unless I need another really good laugh. I’ll just bring my iPhone and my laptop.

They’re all I need anyway.

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