Will Duke learn from UNC?

“Former Duke basketball player Lance Thomas has reached a settlement with the jeweler suing him for defaulting on his payment.”

That’s the first paragraph on a blog post at the News & Observer. It details the difficulties the NCAA could have in investigating a case in which both the college student and the aggrievated party have taken a vow of silence.

It is my hope that the administrators at Duke learn from their colleagues’ experiences at UNC. Unfortunately, my read of the blog post doesn’t offer a lot of hope of that. Duke isn’t commenting. Its only public comment so far came earlier this month that the school administrators are looking into the matter.

I understand that they need to investigate first. But who’s investigating, what are they doing and how long will it take? Will they let us in on the investigation? Are they working with the NCAA? Letting questions linger serves no good purpose. Worse, letting question lingers causes people to wonder what is being hidden. Not a good taste to leave with people.

Here’s a better response: “This is a serious matter, and we will get to the bottom of it. Representatives of Duke’s legal office and the law school investigating. That team is working closely with the NCAA. The integrity of this institution is of the utmost importance, and we will not allow unanswered questions besmirch it. And before you ask, Coach Krzyzewski is 100 percent behind the investigation. We are not sure how long it will take, but we will have something to report within one week.”

Demonstrate a commitment. Create an internal-but-independent investigating team. Promise a result. Promise a modicum of transparency.

Not hard.

What to do at UNC…

Another day, another story about the scandals that have engulfed the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for going on three years. How is it possible this hasn’t been cleaned up yet?

It’s gotten to be more than embarrassing. It’s shameful. Shameful that it happened. Shameful that it continues. It started with the athletic department, spread to academics and has moved into fund-raising. It’s as if the school began investigating some rotten timber in the den and has discovered roaches in the kitchen and bats in the attic. What infestation will they find next?

It’s past time for transparency, but doesn’t UNC seem to continue to be opaque? From today’s story in the News & Observer about the resignation of Matt Kupec and his relationship with Tami Hansbrough, mother of Tyler Hansbrough. The News & Observer sought to obtain a copy of the dental foundation audit and related expense records four weeks ago, but the foundation’s new director, Paul Gardner, said they were not public record because the foundation is a nonprofit and not a public agency. He forwarded The N&O’s request to UNC-CH’s legal department, which so far has not provided information.

Here’s my unsolicited advice to the top brass at the university and the university system: Once the News & Observer gets onto a story, the paper isn’t going to let go. (I would think it is something UNC leadership has learned by now.) That tenacity means several things, and it certainly means this: You can’t control the story, the release of the information or how it is going to look. Stop trying. When the reporter calls, it’s likely he or she already knows what you wish you could handle quietly. Quiet will no longer work on this story.
I don’t know how this will end — not well, I suspect — but, for the sake of the university, the wisest course is to be as open as possible — more open than the university seems to be.
Update: On Facebook, Philip Meyer passed on some PR strategy 101: “Trapped administrators need to follow a counter-intuitive strategy: get the bad news out, get it all out, and get it out fast. Letting it dribble out a little at a time just makes the damage worse. Machiavelli advised that, and so did my former colleague Clarence Jones.”
Wednesday update: And the bad news continues to dribble out.

Support for the N&O’s Dan Kane: Keep at it

I have admired Dan Kane’s work in the N&O on the UNC athletic-now-academic scandal for a while. It has shown the N&O’s typical aggressiveness, tenacity and fearlessness. Not surprisingly, others aren’t so kind. Or, rather, Julius Peppers’ agent, Carl Carey Jr., isn’t.

Steve Riley, Dan’s editor at the N&O, explains the background. Basically, it has to do with linking a negative site to Dan’s name when someone does a Google search. Classy. On the other hand, most journalists don’t mind being trashed by a news subject; it often means their reporting has hit home.

Steve: I’m Dan’s editor, and I can tell you that I’ve never seen a more dogged and determined reporter. But I’ve also not seen one any more dedicated to being fair and placing things in their proper context. He will keep reporting this story, regardless of the web site assembled in his honor.

A different kind of sports reporting at the News & Record

The past few years, when it was time to create the budget for the news department at the paper, I would slash expenses with all the surgical precision of Freddy Krueger. (At least that’s the way it felt.) Sending reporters and photographers with UNC and Duke through the NCAA tournament? Whack!. (It never occurred to me that N.C. State would make it. My bad.)

My thinking was that scores of journalists are there, all reporting basically the same story. Why add a few more to the mix? The paper subscribes to wire services that are sending dispatches from the games. Besides, perhaps staying away from the madding crowd might inspire our reporters to write something different.

It wasn’t a popular choice among the staff.

So, I was surprised and delighted when I read the story by Jeff Mills of the UNC-Ohio game in Saturday’s paper. The only way I knew he wasn’t sitting courtside was that the story didn’t have a dateline. I had watched the game on television and listened to the post-game interviews on the radio, as, apparently, had he. Unlike me, he had taken his experience of covering ACC basketball this season and written an on-the-mark expert analysis of why Carolina won, complete with player and coach quotes.

It was, as sports editor Eddie Wooten later told me, as if Jeff were the News & Record’s version of Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis sitting back in the studio commenting on the game. We had always assumed that 99 percent of the readers who cared about a basketball game watched the game on television. The value of the reporter wasn’t recapping the game itself, it was in using their knowledge of the players and coaches to tell people why and how a team won or lost. Jeff did that from 750 miles away. I asked Eddie to elaborate.

We like to offer readers analysis of the big ACC games. What is the big takeaway from this game? The only way to get that out of the NCAA regionals, without being there ourselves, was for our writers to produce that content from home. We could have printed stories from the wire services, but those stories are more often game rehash with a few quotes.

Yes, we miss things when we’re not there. We miss things the camera won’t pick up during a live broadcast: Discussion between coach and player, or official and coach, or among players. It’s hard to get the feel for the game from the den. We have access to quotes from locker room, but we don’t see the body language or sense the emotion.

So it’s not perfect. But just as a suit in a studio can deliver analysis on a game played far away, so can we. And at this point in the season, our writers know our teams better than the writers assigned to cover NCAA tournament games.

It was a smart and creative use of Jeff’s skills.


Impact journalism

If you think young people don’t read the papers, think again. If you think what they read in the papers doesn’t matter to them, think again.

UNC point guard Kendall Marshall had the best game of his college career against N.C. State last night. Yesterday morning, the News & Observer published a player-by-player matchup of the two basketball teams. What the N&O said about Marshall vs. State’s Lorenzo Brown:

“Depends on which version of Lorenzo Brown shows up. If it’s the passive one from the first meeting in Chapel Hill, then it’s Marshall all day, every day. If it’s the Brown who had 19 points, six rebounds and five assists at Duke, and was aggressive with the ball, then it’s the multi-faceted Brown over the one-dimensional Marshall. Edge: Brown.”

From TarHeelBlue: “Marshall read it once. Then read it again. ‘The multi-faceted Brown over the one-dimensional Marshall,’ it said. He raised his eyebrows and harrumphed. All he said was, ‘Who wrote that?’ Then he was off to class.”

And several hours later, he scored 22 points, had 13 assists and zero turnovers.

OK, maybe he read the N&O because it was put before his face, but still, I’m counting it. Of course, State fans who read the N&O may storm the place.