Saturday, August 21, 2010

More Paranoia

It's been quite a week for the sports media and college football. First we had Gorkgate--the firing of a radio sports reporter in Arkansas because she wore a Florida hat to Bobby Petrino's news conference. Now, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini gives us yet another instructive lesson on how (not?) to deal with the media covering the team.

Reporters watched two players leave practice with injuries Tuesday, and made follow up calls to confirm the information. That apparently drove Bo, a man not known for his love of the media, over the edge. Pelini had to confirm Wednesday night that Sean Fisher broke his leg and is out for the season. He also said backup cornerback Anthony Blue tore his anterior cruciate ligament Tuesday and is out. Pelini said he was upset with reporters who called Fisher's family and high school coach to get confirmation of the injury. "The kid was still on the [operating] table last night, and people were calling the family," he said. "That's crossing the line."

Pelini said he should be the one to release that information, so he barred access to players and coaches for three days. Athletic department spokesman Keith Mann also told reporters this week to not use the open period of practice to compile injury lists. The next step is apparently the burning of printing presses in and around Lincoln.

I get the idea that the players are to be protected because they are 'student-athletes' and not doing this for money (right, Reggie Bush?). But this kind of paranoia is not only naive, it's totally unworkable in the era of Twitter, Facebook and blogging. A generation ago, a Woody Hayes or Bo Schembechler might have been able to keep a tight lid on what goes on behind the scenes, but no more. There are just too many reporters and even ordinary fans with cell phones, laptops and Twitter accounts. We can debate about whether the reporters acted ethically in calling family members, but they were doing their jobs--finding out more information about a potentially big news story affecting their beat. If they didn't report the story, certainly some enterprising fan or blogger would.

Pelini's not a bad guy for wanting to protect his players. All coaches do, although there are perhaps better ways of handling this than a total media lock down or a Mike Gundy-type rant.
Because in the end, this mess has only created what Pelini didn't want in the first place--more media attention and scrutiny.

The truth is, teams and coaches are scared to death of Twitter and other new reporting technologies, and don't know how to deal with them. For example, the Denver Broncos have prohibited reporters from tweeting from the practice field. So if a reporter sees someone get hurt, like what happened to Elvis Dumervil a couple of weeks ago, he or she has to run back inside to the press area and tweet from there. Meanwhile, fans sitting in the stands can tweet and blog all they want.

Crazy? Of course. But that's the new sports media world we live in. Once the genie's out of the bottle, Bo, there's no way to get him back in.


Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting post--especially the portion about if the reporters acted ethically by calling family for confirmation of injuries at the hospital.

According to SPJ's "Code of Ethics," a journalist should always seek truth and report it by, "Test[ing] the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error." In this specific case, the beat reporters executed perfectly.

However, the "Code of Ethics" also emphasizes minimizing harm through "Be[ing] sensitive when seeking interviews of those affected by tragedy or grief." In this specific case, it is difficult to determine if the beat reporters exercised sensitivity. Particularly, it is difficult to define "tragedy or grief" because it was merely an injury--not a life-threatening illness, catastrophic injury or even death. As Pelini pointed out, too, perhaps the timing of calls (players on the operating table) was the biggest reason for uproar.

Ultimately, what I am curious about is if there is a ranking system of ethics. Does "seeking truth" trump "minimizing harm" or vice versa? When presented with a similar scenario when two ethics battle each other, how or what should a journalist do to arrive at his/her final judgment?

2:48 PM  
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2:06 AM  

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