Newspaper Reporting Still Important

Posted: April 6, 2014 at 2:25 p.m.

Imagine a baseball brawl that lasted several minutes and resulted in seven players and one coach being suspended.

Big news, right?

Not if you work in the sports department of the two universities involved.

Central Arkansas and Arkansas-Little Rock got into a fight Wednesday night during a game that ended with UCA winning 5-4 in 11 innings. The benches cleared as players rushed onto the field and both UALR coach Scott Norwood and UCA coach Allen Gum were ejected, along with Trojans pitcher Chad Bradford.

Play was delayed for 20 minutes before order was finally restored.

This was a major incident, but you wouldn’t have known about it by reading the game story provided by the UALR sports information department. In a story 14 paragraphs long, there was no mention of the brawl or the fact both coaches were kicked out of the game after starting an argument near home plate.

The game story provided by UCA was almost as oblivious in using just a few words to mention the incident.

Fortunately, a few fans with camera phones recorded the action and UCA’s student newspaper, The Echo, wrote a story and posted a video of the melee on its online publication.

The following day, Norwood spoke briefly in Little Rock about the brawl.

“I take (Wednesday) night’s incident very seriously,” Norwood said without taking questions from reporters. “This type of behavior sets a bad example for student-athletes, and fans, and I regret that it happened.”

So, why is all of this important to you? It’s important to show again why reporters — or any independent voice — are needed when someone else is trying to control the message. That applies to sports, government, school boards, etc., especially wherever public funds are used.

It’s called Journalism 101.

The fallout from the brawl resulted in seven players and one assistant coach being suspended ranging from four to eight games. That’s a significant list and the suspensions forced both teams to play conference games over the weekend without some top players.

Yet, the writers from UCA and UALR sports information department didn’t feel the incident was important enough to let people know? Incredible.

I’ve read and heard sportswriters described as crybabies because we are not allowed to attend football and basketball practices on a daily basis anymore. Instead, reporters wait around until after practice when a coach, player, or school employee shows up to tell us what happened that day.

If a coach says a player had a great week of practice and he stinks it up on Saturdays, we’re going to ask why. If a coach makes a questionable decision, we may not get a chance to interview him until his scheduled day to meet the press.

Good reporters had rather watch practices and determine for themselves what is going on instead of being fed information by coaches or school employees. It’s our job and we owe it to you, the reader. At least it used to be.

It’s increasingly more difficult to report accurately with programs shunning the press and attempting to re-direct fans to their website where they can control the message.

Is that what you want? All the rah-rah stuff and none of the bad information?

Then, go ahead and help make the big-time programs even more profitable and less accountable. Buy the sponsors’ products on the website and read slanted stories about how your team almost won, even if they lost by 20 points.

But remember the brawl between UCA and UALR, when writers employed by the university purposely avoided an ugly incident because it made their teams, and their schools, look bad.

You can call reporters whiners and complainers, but we serve a purpose as an independent voice in an increasing controlled environment. If there’s information the public should know about, then writers are bound to report on it as accurately and as fairly as possible.

It’s called Journalism 101.