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Vol. 46, No. 2 • February 2009 • .pdf version
When lines of communication break down, we're here to help
By STEVE CARP / Las Vegas Review-Journal
By and large, there is a peaceful co-existence between college basketball coaches and the media who cover them.
Sure, coaches like to exert control, whether it's closing the locker room or practice, keeping freshmen off limits or limiting player access to a couple times a week.
We in the media know that up front, so we adjust and we learn to deal with it. We're never happy about it, but it usually doesn't prevent us from doing our jobs. We might have to work a little harder than we would like, but in the end, we usually get the desired story.
So it was a little surprising and somewhat sad to have received Dan Wolken's e-mail last month. Dan covers Memphis for the Commercial Appeal newspaper and with the Tigers set to play Lamar, Dan found a good angle for a story – former Memphis head coach Tic Price was now an assistant at Lamar. And while Price's career at Memphis ended in controversy and his dismissal in 1999, the Commercial Appeal had done subsequent stories with Price, apparently with no problem.
Dan went through the proper channels, contacting Brian Henry, the SID at Lamar, to talk to both Price and head coach Steve Roccaforte, who also had Memphis ties. He was told, no problem, so his game plan was set.
The interview with Roccaforte went fine. But when it came time to talk to Price, Roccaforte said his policy is to not allow his assistants talk to the media and that he wasn't about to change it for Dan.
Obviously, this changed Dan's story plans. He did a little digging around and found that Roccaforte's assistants do indeed talk to the media.
So was Dan a target of "selective enforcement?" Or did Lamar have a communication lapse between SID, coach and journalist?
If it was the former, that's a problem, because you can't single out media you might consider "hostile" and shut them out. I f it's the latter, then there needs to be a better way to make sure everyone is on the same page. If indeed, that's the policy, Dan should have been told that up front. He wouldn't have liked it, but he would have understood, and he would have went in a different direction from the outset.
USBWA president Dick Jerardi sent Henry a letter Jan. 5 looking for a little clarification on the matter. He heard back a few days later. Henry claimed that Dan's request did not fall within the established guidelines of 24 hours advance notice, but that Lamar was willing to make an exception in getting Roccaforte on the phone.
He also claimed that Dan only wanted to talk to Price about his time at Memphis and that he attempted to get Price's cell phone number from the reporters at the Enterprise in Beaumont, Texas, instead of asking Henry to give it to him, which Henry wasn't likely to do.
Wolken claims he did not try to get Price's cell number from the Beaumont paper. He did, however, try to get the paper to confirm the interview policy.
"I wish the response (from Lamar) would have talked more to the specifics of the issue," Jerardi said. "We just want to make sure our members get an opportunity to do their job as best that they can."
My take on it is this: No SID wants to see his school receive negative publicity. But SI Ds don't control the news. I t is not Henry's job to tell Wolken what he can and can't write, which is essentially what he's doing when he doesn't make Price available.
As for accusing Wolken of making an end run, Henry obviously was never reporter. Reporters exchange information all the time, including phone numbers.
This could have been resolved easily. Henry should have either denied Wolken's request on the spot, citing Lamar's interview policy. Or once he approved the request, he should have made sure Price talked to the reporter. If Price doesn't want to talk about his past, that's his right, and he simply could have said to Dan, "Sorry, I'm not discussing my time at Memphis."
But to make up the rules as you go along doesn't seem right. It appears that was the case here.
One of the reasons USBWA exists is to help its members in situations such as this. We might not be able to get it resolved right on the spot, but we can be an advocate for correcting abuses or misunderstandings for the future.
If you ever have a situation or an incident where you feel your ability to do your job has been compromised, let us know. We might not be able to resolve the matter on the spot. But we can certainly speak to those responsible on your behalf to make sure there are no repeat episodes.
Drop any of the officers an e-mail or give us a call. We'll do our best to go to bat for you and help all we can to make your job as hassle-free as possible.
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