A few thoughts on sports information directors after the national CoSIDA conference in St. Louis this week.
1. SIDs are not journalists’ enemies. Sure, some SIDs try to ‘control’ everything from telling journalists when they can speak with athletes to sitting in on interviews (an egregiously bad move, btw, SIDs – unless, of course, you want to create negativity around your program. An open approach is always best, as several media consultants mentioned at the conference). But these power freaks are the exception, much like a sports journalist who demands tickets to games or asks for autographs. SIDs are there to help. Who else is going to send you notes about games, facilitate interviews, and offer news tips? There’s no doubt the SID advocates a point of view – guarding the university’s reputation – but that does not mean this person is constantly lying. Build a professional relationship so you both can speak candidly, even if it’s off the record at times.
2. SIDs are frequently caught in the middle. Not getting crucial information regarding an athlete’s dismissal or about a coach’s firing? That’s not usually the SID’s fault. In most instances, blame the athletic director or the college president, people who have far more power and who issue the marching orders for dealing with media. Unlike SIDs, many ADs and presidents do not understand the best approach to addressing so-called ‘negative’ news is to be pro-active. This is clear when you compare how TCU dealt with a drug bust and how Arkansas handled coach Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle accident while riding with his mistress. TCU sent out a press release and offered to share drug test results for its football team through an anonymous source, an amazing move in a world run by HIPPA , a bane on all our lives. As a result, harm was minimized, as you can tell from this story published the next day in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Arkansas, though, tried to hide the fact that Petrino was not riding alone, which cost Petrino his job and Arkansas its reputation. Nobody’s talking about TCU’s drug bust, but fans continue to tweet, message and Facebook about the Razorbacks’ fiasco while the media continues to report on it. At the CoSIDA conference, several SIDs told me they’d love to disclose much more than they are allowed.
3. SIDs love sports as passionately as journalists do. That was clear during CoSIDA’s hall of fame inductions, where professionals from schools and conferences offered emotional, engaging testimonials on how sports have impacted their lives. There were few dry eyes when Oklahoma’s Debbie Copp spoke or when Syracuse’s Sue Edson thanked her daughter for attending the awards banquet instead of playing in a HS all-star softball event back home. The SID at Sacred Heart spoke fervently to me about his school’s teams and players at a reception, while others from schools such as Monmouth, Fairleigh Dickinson and UCF did the same. These folks entered their professions for many of the same reasons we did; find that common ground and build a relationship.
4. SIDs grind out long hours. That’s something sports journalists can appreciate. Like us, they are now forced to deal with more responsibilities with fewer resources. Used to be that journalists would cover a game by writing a single story. Today, journalists are also asked to tweet, blog, shoot photos/videos, write a quick online story and then a longer, featurized game story. Perhaps, they might also be asked to develop notes, and write a column or a short feature. SIDs are required to do many of these things, too, while also accommodating us, handling athletes, and dealing with coaches.
5. Parents also harass SIDs. Like us, SIDs get phone calls and emails from parents wondering when the local newspapers will write a story about their oh-so-gifted little babies. Parents believe SIDs can assign these stories to reporters, or can write features the media will print. Of course, that’s not the case. SIDs instead pitch stories to editors, but even the most compelling ones often get dismissed because of space, time or personnel constraints. That’s the same reason we cannot always write about these parents’ wunderkinds in high school. BTW, parents, stories in the newspaper ≠ college scholarships. Coaches first talk with a player’s HS and travel coaches.
6. SIDs care about student-athletes as much, if not more, than journalists do. This was also evident, especially during a session where four college athletes spoke about their experiences playing sports. SIDs tweeted constantly about the kids on the panel – “One of the largest rounds of applause at #cosida12 is for our student-athlete panel. Well-deserved;” “My relationships w/student-athletes are what makes all the crazy hours so worth it;” and “Amen – they are like my kids.”
There’s no denying that journalists and athletic departments clash at times; it would be unnatural if that did not happen. We work too closely together not to get into family squabbles that accelerate into nasty feuds. If the athletic department refuses to cooperate, you can always go to the SPLC, an invaluable resource for all journalists. But always try to resolve problems privately, not in columns, Facebook posts, and tweets. Meet privately to calmly address areas where both sides disagree in order to work toward a resolution. Of course, if neither side has worked toward building that relationship, these discussions might be awkward, testy, and unproductive.
To build this professional relationship, here are a few suggestions for college students preparing to cover a beat:
- Reporters should introduce themselves to coaches on any new beat before heading out for a story. Walk over to their offices where you can simply say hello or chat – all off the record.
- New reporters should also go chat with sports information directors. That way, the SID can put a face on any media requests.
- Act professionally while speaking with coaches, players, and sports directors. These are not your buddies and pals. These are professionals doing a job. So don’t wear torn t-shirts with ridiculous sayings and frayed pants with flip-flops. When you head to practice or an interview, dress like a professional journalist, not like a kid at play.