Money vs. Having A Backbone   3 comments

NewspapersI’ve spent most of my career in journalism … well, the bastard step child of journalism. I worked in the trade press.

The trade press was often viewed with disdain by the mainstream press, as the trades were known to cut journalistic corners in order to serve their industry. They were advocates, not investigative journalists.

So, the mainstream press sneered. Rightly so.

Flash forward past the digital revolution that gutted the “free press” in the name of “free information,” and you find that just about every remaining news outlet is struggling to find that sweet spot between viability and profitability that the new economies of the information age will allow.

And if you’re a printed publication, you’re on the edge of annihilation. From the Cincinnati Post to the Rocky Mountain News, newspapers have disappeared in major markets all across the country. This trend continues. And, even the survivors are a shadow of their former selves. Narrower. Thinner. Smaller.

Given the economic pressures on publishers, it’s no surprise that compromises are being made.

But this week, one compromise became public that’s particularly egregious. Integrity has been besmirched … because of a football coach.

ALA @ USCThe South Carolina Gamecocks are led by Steve Spurrier. He’s a big deal.  Spurrier was a great college quarterback, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1966 while playing for the Florida Gators, playing in the NFL for ten years, and then returning to Florida to lead them to a consensus national championship in 1996. Recently, he’s been coaching the University of South Carolina (that other USC) to new heights. And that’s where this story turns ugly.South Carolina Gamecocks

Spurrier has had an ongoing feud with a columnist for The State, Columbia, South Carolina’s newspaper. The columnist, Ron Morris, has been banned from covering Gamecocks football in any way. Because the coach said so.

Banned? Yup. Morris was forced to sign an agreement by his publisher that he would not write about the Gamecocks again, or he would be fired. When you’re a newspaper sports columnist told by your boss not to cover one of the biggest teams in the state, that’s a big deal.

In 2011, Spurrier once refused to do a press conference because Morris was in the room. He’s been refusing to answer his questions since 2009 … but thought that the journalist was asking questions by proxy through other journalists, so Spurrier walked out because Morris was in the room.

Why? Spurrier: “He’s a negative guy.” Here’s what Spurrier told Jim Romenesko, who broke the story:

“Ron Morris just wrote stuff that wasn’t true about me and I reacted,” Spurrier told me over the phone last Thursday. “I was fine with him the first five or six years here, and then he would write stuff that wasn’t true.”

Did he complain to The State’s publisher? I asked.

“I complained to the world about him. I complained to Gamecock Nation on my radio show. But don’t put that on me” that Morris can no longer write about Gamecocks football. “He is responsible for that.”

After this story broke on Tuesday, The State has retreated from their spineless position, after having media commentators and the sports blogosphere erupt with a universal condemnation of their handling of the situation. It’s one thing for Coach Spurrier to not like the criticism. It’s quite another for a leading newspaper to remove a seasoned journalist and replace him with a fan to write about the team.

The executive editor of the paper, Mark Lett, has released a statement to staff that obfuscates the paper’s role in the situation. He even says that Morris can write about anything he wants … but tempers have to cool first.

Journalism, I mourn for thee.

More The State Tells Its Sports Columnist He Can’t Cover University Of South Carolina Football

Jim The State: It’s Now OK For Columnist Ron Morris To Write About Gamecocks Football

Deadspin: Reporter Who Was Critical of Steve Spurrier Replaced By Spurrier’s Pal Scandals, Scandals, Scandals


3 responses to “Money vs. Having A Backbone

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  1. Fascinating tale. I get that the coach doesn’t like the journalist and why but what do you think really happened here? Was it the coach’s “on air” criticisms? Did the paper feel that he had enough public influence to damage their readership? I hopeful that Morris will have a very good tale to tell in his best-selling tell all about it.

    • When a publisher’s involved, he’s trying to protect the business. He was either worried that a war with Spurrier would cost advertising dollars (most likely) or readership. Either way, Spurrier’s disdain could hurt the paper due to his prominence in the community. The paper showing no spine in the face of that potential conflict shows that truth is less important than money. That is the danger: when journalists abrogate the trust of the reading public “just” to make more money, then we have lost our free press.

  2. Great post – thank you so much for sharing this one! I’m going to share it as well. I started my humble career as a journalist, and quickly lost my wide-eyed wonder after receiving numerous faxes (yes, there was no email back then) about what could and could not be covered between the objective black and white pages.

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