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Writers and NCAA president talk about sports journalism

Thursday, September 11, 2008 | 11:21 p.m. CDT; updated 9:54 a.m. CDT, Monday, September 15, 2008

COLUMBIA — The NCAA's president and sports journalists agree new technologies are having a positive impact on the NCAA landscape, but they have some differing ideas on how and when journalists should be allowed to use them.

"It's a little more difficult for the universities and it's a little more difficult for the NCAA," NCAA President Myles Brand said Thursday. "We try to stay up to speed, but it depends. One week I'm up to speed, one week I'm not."

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After a short press conference, Brand joined six others in a forum titled "Technology and New Media: Reshaping the Future of Sports, Journalism and Advocacy," moderated by SportsCenter anchor and Missouri alumnus John Anderson. It was one of several forums held as part of the MU School of Journalism's Centennial celebration. In front of a more than a capacity crowd in Neff Hall, the panelists spoke and answered questions for two and a half hours.

Sonja Steptoe, a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an organization dedicated to maintaining academic values in the face of commercialization, quickly questioned Brand's recent comments on a Huffington Post blog suggesting that the legalization of the use of real names in college fantasy football and other sports is a problem overplayed by some organizations. Brand said he agreed with Steptoe and the NCAA is watching the situation carefully. But he emphasized that the NCAA is more concerned with other issues.

"Let's focus on the real problem," he said. "The real problem is the commoditization and the commercialization of the athletes."

T.J. Quinn and Wright Thompson, two writers for espn.com who graduated from MU, argued that the NCAA often allows and even cooperates in sponsorship for an economic benefit.

"As a journalist, it's not my job to uphold the values of the NCAA," said Quinn, who works as an investigative reporter. "It's my job to present the values that I see."

Missouri athletic director Mike Alden was also on the panel to share his opinions, and he noted new media, such as YouTube, has made it more difficult for the administration to protect its student-athletes. The balance between making news available and ensuring the student-athletes aren't subject to too much scrutiny is a difficult one.

"The upside (of coverage) is so much greater than the downside that you just have to realize that, quite frankly, it's as good an advertising tool as you can have," Alden said.

Advertising and how it should mix with sports journalism was a topic of discussion that found more agreement between the panelists. Everyone seemed to believe the wrong kind of advertising can undermine good journalism, especially when it's already somewhat difficult to distinguish between legitimate and questionable sources.

At the same time, Jamie Butcher, AT&T's vice president of sponsorships and employee communications, defended her company's advertising methods. She said AT&T is looking for opportunities to show people how to use its products, and new features like text messaging and video highlights on their mobile phone.

Despite some differences of opinion between Brand and the two ESPN writers, Brand frequently cited the network as a leader in positive new technology. He noted ESPN360 and the new research tools used to verify information to help them achieve transparency and accountability.

Some of the panelists shared stories of how they've adjusted to the new technology in media and benefitted from it. But it has also given them new problems, such as making the writers more accessible to their critics. But through it all, they said their basic approach hasn't changed .

"The means of delivery are changing wildly," Thompson said. "The fundamentals haven't changed at all."

Former Mizzou football and baseball star Phil Bradley, who works as special assistant to the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was also on the panel.

 


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