Laurel Pfahler, who covers FC Cincinnati for independent site Queen City Press, said the team has suspended her credentials. Laurel Pfahler, who covers FC Cincinnati for independent site Queen City Press, said the team has suspended her credentials. (Queen City Press.)

There have been lots of cases of teams revoking or suspending journalists’ credentials to cover them. The latest one appears to be with MLS side FC Cincinnati, with Laurel Pfahler tweeting Sunday (ahead of their home match against D.C. United) that the team has revoked her credential for two weeks.

Pfahler has been covering the team since its launch as a USL side in 2015, has covered the team at her independent subscription site Queen City Press since 2021, has previously worked for The Athletic, ESPN, and Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO, and also covers the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals for the Dayton Daily News. But as she noted on Patreon in the above link, FC Cincinnati recently told her she isn’t allowed to cover them in-person for two weeks. Here’s more from that Patreon post:

Since FC Cincinnati began playing in 2016, I have been in the press box for almost every home game. Most of those I’ve missed came when I took time away after the birth of my daughter. Sadly, the club told me Friday I will not have a press pass for two weeks, and so I will not be at TQL Stadium today.

I was stunned and hurt. It hurts me most because it hurts you. It impacts your ability to know more about the team you love.

I have built many great relationships with wonderful people throughout the organization since the club started. This message in no way is indicative of how I feel the club as a whole has treated me.

…While I do not want to get into details of why my press credential has been revoked, I want you to know I vehemently disagree with the club on this decision. The club has not accused me of violating any guidelines listed in the MLS Notice of Credential Use Conditions. I stand by my reporting and ethics. I have covered the Cincinnati Bengals for the Dayton Daily News since 2015. I can say with confidence another professional sports team would not have revoked a credential in this case.

The lack of details from Pfahler make it difficult to specifically comment on what is going on here, but it is certainly notable to see her disagreement with the decision, to see her state that she has not been accused of violating MLS credential policies, and to see her state that she stands by her reporting. And she has already received a lot of prominent support, including from the North American Soccer Reporters journalists’ association and president Rachael Kriger:

Also, Mo Egger, an afternoon host on WCKY 1530 ESPN (the flagship radio affiliate of FC Cincinnati), said his show won’t talk about the team until Pfahler’s credentials are returned:

This comes amidst a lot of discussion around MLS and media. That includes the league reportedly urging broadcasters (who all work for them now as part of the global Apple deal, which has pushed out a lot of prominent and liked local and national commentators) not to “belabor the point” on discussion of the ongoing referee lockout and replacement officials. It includes Inter Miami violating league-wide media policies in terms of access to superstar Lionel Messi (who the commissioner doesn’t want coverage to focus on, at the same time as he’s noting how much interest Messi brings to the league), and those policies being changed to let Messi avoid media.

This also comes in the wake of 2019 cutbacks at organizations like The Athletic that got rid of many local beat writers like Pfahler in favor of national writers. There have also been cuts at sites like SB Nation that have pushed some sites independent and in other cases reduced the numbers of media members covering teams locally. So there’s a lot of conversation out there around the changing nature of MLS coverage, and how that also may embolden clubs to push back on critical coverage Here’s some of what Ben Ferree wrote for AA on that in a freelance piece last January, titled “As MLS expands, local coverage and connection with fans shrinks“:

But what will happen to the teams who don’t value their relationship with the media? A dearth of available content is the last thing a growing league wants. There’s also the value that independent journalists add in keeping teams honest. Every team will have an off the field issue of some sort eventually. Who will be there to get answers and investigate? The lone newspaper writer? What happens when Gannett announces another round of layoffs and soccer coverage is next on the chopping block? Packed stands. Empty press conferences.

Of course, taking away access doesn’t stop the coverage. And Pfahler writes that she’s going to keep covering the team even without training or match access, just noting to her subscribers that her coverage will feature less official voices thanks to that access suspension. And really, that’s a reason why these kinds of bans are often self-defeating.

Beyond the negative backlash any sort of ban always draws, the player, coach, and other voices quoted in pieces are presumably presenting the organization’s side of the story. Without that, coverage can focus more on analysis, and that can certainly be more critical, especially if there aren’t official voices cited in support of what did happen. There’s a reason why original-flavor Deadspin (and not the new imitation version) had a motto of “Sports news without access, favor, or discretion.”

However, there is still a lot of merit to traditional journalistic access. Incorporating perspectives from players and coaches can lead to a lot of value, especially in some of the longer-form features (paywalled) Pfahler has often specialized in. And there are still many voices ready to speak up in favor of independent journalistic coverage of MLS teams. And that’s seen with some of the support that’s come in for Pfahler:

That support is perhaps particularly notable with Pfahler covering the team for an independent outlet. Of course, access controversies (which have been seen across many sports) still happen with reporters at larger outlets and chains. But there’s at least some ability there for higher-up executives to try to intervene (although that doesn’t always go the way you might think).

That’s not the case for independent journalists. And that’s a key reason why cross-outlet organizations for a sport like the North American Soccer Reporters are so important. Those organizations can negotiate access policies with leagues much more effectively than individual outlets can, and can reach out to leagues on behalf of members when there’s club pushback. We’ll see what happens with FC Cincinnati and Pfahler, and if public support from the NASR and others can negotiate an earlier end to this credential suspension.

[Laurel Pfahler on Patreon; image from Queen City Press]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.