The Lead
Spanish journalist Guillem Balagué is entitled to his opinion, and to his personal relationships, like the one he enjoys with newly-unveiled Chelsea coach Rafa Benitez. But his sycophantic display for Benitez via his Twitter account over the past few days provides interesting food for thought on the blurred boundaries between journalists and the sports figures they cover.

In the old days when the only official public record was black, white, and read all over, those relationships were for the large part unseen by the general public. No doubt countless opinion pieces were either consciously or unconsciously skewed by how a journalist personally felt about a player or manager, and certainly most journalists were and still are professional enough not to let personal relationships affect straight news reporting.

Today however, most “straight news” is reported by the few (and seemingly dwindling) wire services that fill out much of the digital pages of most newspapers or media organizations. Everyone else spews opinions. Moreover, those opinions are no longer limited to editorial oversight—with Twitter, Facebook pages and podcasts.

For the vast majority of reporters and journalists, this doesn’t pose much of a problem. Most don’t enjoy buddy-buddy friendships with those they cover, and those that do tend to keep them well away from the public eye, or recuse themselves from covering those areas of the game where conflicts of interest may arise.

Most except Balagué, whose friendship with Benitez is already well-known, one that helped lead to Balagué’s 2005 book, A Season on the Brink: Rafael Benitez, Liverpool and the Path to European Glory. Over the last few days, Balagué’s account has been a running apology for Benitez’s managerial record:

Some believe Balagué’s personal friendship with Benitez means he should have held comment, and that his “breaking” of the news that Benitez was appointed CFC manager was a result of it. Except Balagué’s Twitter account is his own. He’s primarily a freelance writer and reporter. It’s up those organizations to decide over the ethics of allowing him to report on anything related to Benitez’s appointment.

Meanwhile Balagué is being harangued by irate Chelsea supporters upset with his boosterism. And that’s really the new standard of journalistic ethics in sports reporting. Where editors once policed their staff or contributors when they appeared on their turf, followers of journalist’s personal accounts now perform a kind of neighbourhood watch. It’s not ideal perhaps, but the responsibility to police reporters, writers and journalists on their personal ties is now on the reader. And the conclusions they’ll draw on Balagué’s opinions of Benitez at Chelsea are already fairly apparent.

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