Pressed further about the importance of investigative journalism, Hill responded with worries about lawsuits and the like. Bullshit. The law is clearly on the side of the publisher in any kind of libel action (burden of proof is on the plaintiff, who must show intentional publication of falsehood). He notes they're a small company with limited resources, but the heavy lifting on the USATF election was done by thefinalsprint.com, which is an even smaller operation. As for Stone's accusations of protecting access, there might be something to that.
In an arena far more important than track & field*, Joe Klein got banned from the McCain campaign for "the sin of being forthright" over the course of the election. When the New York Times pressed for McCain's medical records, they got a not-so-subtle signal that they'd get the same treatment. The American Prospect's Ezra Klein:
...this is a pretty good example of the perverse consequences of doing good political journalism. In general, political reporting requires access. But access is not a statutory right. It's offered at the discretion of the campaign. And it can be revoked for "bad behavior."...In track & field, however, we have a problem. There isn't any other publication. Occasionally, Running Times gets into it (as with the Adam Goucher/Oly Trials issue from this summer) and even Runner's World once took a deeper look at the '07 Chicago Marathon debacle (on that one, they had less spine than Wolf Blitzer). If the story gets big enough, Sports Illustrated will cover it and leave no stone unturned. But for run-of-the-mill stuff like the two mentioned above, it's T&FN, less-then-fully-trustworthy internet sources, or nothing. The jackasses running the sport into the ground for their own (short-term) benefit know it.
And then the paper has a choice: Even if you can't do really good reporting with access, you can't really do any reporting without access. And if you can't do any reporting, readers will go elsewhere, to more pliant, less independent, papers. And wouldn't that be worse for them? So isn't it better that you make some concessions in order to retain your plane seat? Or that you pull the reporter they hate off the trail and put her on another beat? Why let the perfect be the enemy of the good?
As for Hill's charge to take a hike if I don't like how they do things, I just might. I'm a 20-year subscriber and joined two tours--I've got a lot of loyalty. When that loyalty is confronted in such a manner my mind begins to look at it like this: what exactly do they offer me that I can't get elsewhere? Aside from the World Rankings and High School All-Americans, the answer is "squat". The weekly e-mail newsletter is nice, but it rarely if ever has exclusives. Their website's archives have a wealth of information but it's all free and open to everyone. Heck, Tom Borish stopped subscribing before he launched Trackshark some six years ago.
*I cannot believe I wrote the phrase "an arena far more important than track & field".