Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Where Is the Line?

The easy headline is: Kentucky bans student paper because of Twitter.

Knowing people on both sides, it won't be that simple. I'm pretty confident DeWayne Peevy felt he had reason to throw the equivalent of a brush-back pitch at the UK student newspaper. Student reporters (and other born-digital media) at UK have a history of pushing the envelope. UK dating back prior to Peevy has a somewhat prickly relationship with its overall media.

The gist of the event: student reporter uses social media to find out who the two new walk-ons are for UK men's basketball. That's big news in Big Blue Country, and obviously a transactional event that the UK Athletic Department believes it has the right to be the "breaker" of the information.

Peevy pulls the Aaron Smith's credential for a preseason event. Hardly career threatening, but a very clear signal. Don't mess with our rules of engagement.

The error begins with the walk-ons. First rule of Fight Club. If you are on the UK men's basketball team, you don't talk team business on social media. Period.

Smith's original story used player Twitter feeds as one source, and called them for confirmation. You can see the original Kernel story here.

The next mistake does belong to my friend DeWayne. I mean that sincerely, but by not having a written policy regarding interviews opens the door for this kind of trouble. I know from direct experience -- when you do not have a policy that is clearly distributed and vetted, you are toast. That is why until the merger at UA, we had some very specific guidelines on interviews, on who got credentials, etc., for the women's communication office.

Thus when pinned down by the AP and others, Peevy had to admit the no-contact without going through media relations rule was "unwritten." Cue the righteous indignation of the media. So AP Managing Editors are raining down on Peevy as a "bully", and the AP Sports Editors going directly at DeWayne.

The Kentucky Kernel has been a thorn in Mitch Barhardt's side for years. Remember a while back when they challenged the Athletic Department over banning distribution of copies of the paper outside the football stadium.

It comes on the heels of similar Twitter events at other SEC schools, Arkansas being one in particular where the real-time reporting tool riled up the athletic department for, well, reporting.

Here is the bottom line: they are all to blame. Sure, UK should have its policies buttoned down, but the Kernel was looking to make noise.

A gentle note here -- less time spent worrying about whether or not someone gets access to a pre-pre-season interview practice session and more time on whether or not schools are violating public trust over budgets, costs and spending, hiring practices, who gets into games and who gets to sit where in media areas.

Oh, wait. That would require a little work and delving into stuff that really could have long-term impact. And, blow back on media outlets from angry business owners who see their institution "hurt" by revealing real problems.

That's not a slap at UK, by the way. Where was the media early in the Ohio State business? Early in the Miami rumors? Early in the troubles at UNC football?

Media in a froth over a student getting booted from a interview session makes one wonder what they are really upset about, and unwilling to touch.

From the athletic department side, I am concerned this will embolden people who are less media friendly than Peevy to use it as an excuse for more direct attacks on media they think aren't "doing their job right." Read: being critical of their school. The reasoning will be, if UK "got away" with it, they should too.

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