News breaks in the strangest of ways.
At 11:49 a.m. Thursday, sports editor Greg Bowers received a fairly astounding email from an MU Athletics Department spokesman:
“Good afternoon,” Chad Moller wrote, “wanted to try and be as helpful as possible by sending you the following statement that relates to the incident you have either already heard about, or will likely be hearing about soon. Thanks, and as is standard, this will be the extent of our comments…”
And then, the official comment:
“We’re aware of the incident and have addressed it. All individuals involved have been immediately suspended from the program for one game. All other disciplinary measures will be handled internally, and there will be no further comment.”
The official response in the Missourian newsroom was: Huh? More specifically: What incident? Involving whom? When? You know, all those basic W’s to which a spokesman might respond.
It appeared that Moller was so out in front of the news as to be beyond the horizon.
Sports editor Greg Bowers called in his beat writers. And community outreach editor Joy Mayer posted to the Missourian’s Facebook page with a plea: “Who can help us fill in the gaps?”
Let me pause for a moment. Many of us who grew up (journalistically speaking) in the pre-Facebook/Twitter/Linked-In era still instinctively shudder at the idea of publishing questions. We were taught that readers were paying that dime or quarter to get answers. So I was happy to see the speed at which the newsroom jumped to search for help from anyone who might have had information. The first Facebook request went up at 12:04 pm.
At 12:12, the reason for Moller’s preemptive comment and no comment became clear. The Maneater, the campus newspaper, said in a tweet, “Dorial Green-Beckham, two teammates arrested on charges of marijuana possession Wednesday night,” and linked to the full article by Kelsey Maffett and Seth Boster.
Missourian reporters soon confirmed just about everything in The Maneater’s report. By 12:30, a Maneater tweet apologized – not for anything in the story, but for the website’s inability to keep up with the massive surge in traffic. Kudos go to Boster and to Maffett, who received a tip about the arrests at around 10 that morning.
One of the things I liked about the digital Missourian coverage was a piece that pulled together the background and connections of Dorial Green-Beckham to MU. Rather than a series of headlines and links, the article created a kind of mini-timeline in narrative form. It began in January 2012 with head football coach Gary Pinkel’s visit, via helicopter, to Green-Beckham’s high school.
Through a nifty program at storify.com, the timeline included photos and links to original articles. Readers who have bought memberships to the Missourian could read the archived stories, while non-members still received a good dose of information.
It’s not a big legal story: Three freshmen in Green-Beckham’s 2004 Lincoln Navigator got in trouble with the law, although the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana is a pittance.
It’s only moderately important as a sports story. In all, five freshmen were suspended for one game. Four of the five weren’t exactly on the top of the depth chart, and it could be argued that Green-Beckham had displayed a total of one flash of greatness, a touchdown catch and run, for the whole season.
But, in the end, the story stayed atop the Missourian’s most read for one reason: celebrity. It’s clear the recruiting of a teenager who is so highly touted creates a mountain of interest.