FC Cincinnati suspends reporter, who says team objected to her doing her job

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 25: A FC Cincinnati logo during the eastern conference semifinal match against Philadelphia Union and FC Cincinnati on November 25, 2023, at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Did FC Cincinnati ban a reporter for ... reporting? (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

FC Cincinnati is scheduled to face Monterrey in the Concacaf Champions Cup on Thursday. Its media relations team decided to add an additional opponent.

The MLS club released a statement ahead of the Monterrey match announcing it had temporarily rescinded the media credentials of Queen City Press reporter Laurel Pfahler for undisclosed reasons.

The lengthy statement takes great pains to claim the decision wasn't reached lightly, but declines to explain how Pfahler "failed to act in accordance with the standards and practices of the Society of Professional Journalists and the MLS Notice of Credentials Use Conditions." The statement ends with a call for the team and Pfahler to move forward in the spirit of "All for Cincy," which is not how independent journalism works. It is not the job of a reporter to be a cheerleader for the team.

Pfahler opted to shed more light on the situation in her response on social media, painting the behavior as "bullying" and claiming she had been told of three situations where she "spoke to sources outside of the facility or team approved interviews."

Jason Williams of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweeted his support for Pfahler, calling the team's decision an "error."

Unless Pfahler's real offense is more than just "talking with sources," it's hard to understand what Cincinnati thinks it's accomplishing by banning Pfahler. A team attempting to discipline a reporter for speaking with members of, or even outside, the organization without explicit consent from the media-relations team isn't something you really see in the NFL, NBA or MLB.

If anything, this is college team behavior.

Sports teams love to have complete message control, but that ceases to be feasible once they reach a certain level of prominence. Reporters are going to report and find sources and sometimes report something they don't want reported. It might not even be something necessarily bad so much as a story the organization doesn't want to be told, but again, every large team in the U.S. deals with this, despite what the fine print of their media credentials say.

It is, of course, Cincinnati's legal right to do this, but banning reporters for simply doing their job isn't a good look for a major professional sports team. Which is unfortunate, considering the team's rise over the past few years.

FC Cincinnati's full statement on revoking reporter's credential

To our fans who have inquired about the status of media credentials for Queen City Press:

In seven years over thousands of stories, FC Cincinnati has never rescinded a reporter’s credentials. Reporters are invited into FC Cincinnati’s Mercy Health Training Center and TQL Stadium — our workspaces — consistent with a tradition of integrity and trust between sports organizations and the media. Since its founding in 2015, FC Cincinnati has supported local journalism and coverage from its hometown newspapers, television and radio stations, and news media bloggers alike. We have no issue with critical yet professional coverage of the team, as it is the passion of fans for a successful team that drives the intensity of our support while we aim to proudly represent our community.

We had no intention of making this story public. However, since Laurel Pfahler has driven public attention to the matter, we have no choice but to provide answers to the many questions our fans are asking. Laurel has failed to act in accordance with the standards and practices of the Society of Professional Journalists and the MLS Notice of Credentials Use Conditions. She refuses to accept responsibility for her actions, despite multiple conversations and attempts at working together to forge a productive relationship between her and the club. Out of professional decorum, we will not be sharing the details publicly.

The decision to temporarily rescind her media credentials is meant to serve as an opportunity to reflect and rebuild based on trust, transparency and an adherence to a common set of standards and ethics associated with her role as a journalist. In the spirit of “All for Cincy,” we hope to move forward in a positive manner soon.