The Perils of Paid Media

Anyone want to go to Singapore? The only catch: You've gotta be media.

Jeremy Botter

So, look. Last night was weird. I have to tell you about it.

First, let me set this up by telling you that I am not a guy who has the journalism code of ethics stuck inside his brain at all times. It’s not that I don’t want to be that person, because I do. I aspire to be ethical and upright and Murrowish; all writers should share the same aspiration.

Sometimes, I’ll even get real arrogant and superior about the ethical failings of others, and I’ll look down on them with with a furrowed ginger brow and nasty look, and I’ll do it while knowing I’ve done the same and worse. I am a really nice guy, but sometimes I can be an asshole.

Yesterday, I got an email from a public relations official at One Championship. All of us in the media get at least one million emails a day from One and other promotions. My brain has been trained to ignore them. But this one stood out, mostly because of the subject line:

Tammy, please invite jeremy to singapore. he has been a friend of mine for several years now. thanks, loren

Do what now? I was confused about why I needed to be invited to Singapore until I realized One had a fight card scheduled in a few weeks.

Ah-ha. I understood.

I was being invited—which meant One would pay for my flight, my lodging, my food—in exchange for me covering the event. In fact, I got an actual invite a few hour later; that was a first.

Paying for media is a common tool for One. Nearly all media you see covering One events are transported there by the promotion, yet few of them ever disclose it. But it should be noted that, in most of the world, this is a standard practice. Until roughly 2010, the UFC regularly paid the accommodations of British journalists who wanted to travel to live events for coverage, so now we know who to blame for Gareth Davies.

Loren had offered to fly me out for one of their events for years, but I always told him I couldn’t take travel. Just one month earlier, on March 25, he’d asked if I wanted to come to Tokyo for that weekend’s One event, which was taking place just a few days later.

And the truth was, of course I wanted to come to Tokyo. Who doesn’t want to fucking drop everything and fly to Tokyo? That’s the stuff that happens in movies, except this movie would heavily feature a slightly plump ginger with a bad back instead of some average-looking dude like Bradley Cooper or the one guy who plays Thor.

But I said no. All because somebody way back when decided it was unethical. I don’t know who it was, but he sounds like he was a sumbitch.

I replied to Loren and Tammy and said that while I’d love to come to Singapore, my wife, who has long wanted to go to Singapore, would kill me if I went without her.

Hey Loren, I’d love to come, but two things: my wife will kill me if I don’t bring her and I’m not sure it’s in our budget and 2. I’d need to run it past my boss. I’d actually like to do a feature on ONE, not just an event, but I’d want access to everyone and everything and I’d want to spend at least four days reporting. 

Some of you will know that Bleacher Report and One have a business agreement. I thought maybe there was a chance that business agreement would make it okay for me to take a free trip to Singapore. Honestly, part of me was looking for any excuse I could find to take this trip.

It came via email three hours later

Hi Jeremy thank you !  We would be really excited if you could come - do let us know what you need to make it happen and if you can get your boss' approval.

We can definitely get you accommodation for you and your wife in Singapore. Keep us posted and we can definitely find a way. Cheers! 

So not only was One offering to fly me out and put me up in a hotel and feed me in one of the most expensive and spectacular cities in the world; they were also offering to pay for my wife. I want to stress that in no way was I asking for them to offer this, and it shocked the bejesus out of me. But it also sent me scrambling for ways to make the trip happen. I could take my wife to Singapore. For free. And all I had to do was write a feature?

Who needs ethics, anyway?

I twisted myself into pretzels trying to figure out a way to make the trip, and to tell you the truth, by the time I fell asleep last night, I was going to take this trip. I even came up with an idea that seemed incredible at the time, but in hindsight was one of the worst concepts that has ever popped into my brain.

That’s saying something. I’m the guy that came up with FloSlam.

Ultimately, it was sage advice from my mentor Taffy Akner that confirmed what I already knew internally: I couldn’t let this company pay for my trip. I don’t fault them for doing what they can to get as much attention as they can. I don’t even fault (most of) the media for accepting the offers, though I would request that they stop referring to themselves as media and started using a more apt term.

Like “fan,” for example. That’s a good one.

I emailed Loren and Tammy back and declined their offer, and also asked that they never make such an offer again.

I wasn’t being an asshole, at least not intentionally. I just know myself.

I know that a day will eventually come where I figure out a way to ignore my own standards and step across my own lines, just this once, just long enough to get on that airplane, just long enough to fly across the ocean..