We don’t require journalists and public relations practitioners to get a license from the government in this country — a good thing in my opinion. But in this day and time when you can easily be your own publisher, anyone can put up a website or a blog and call themselves a journalist. All you need is a computer and an opinion.
But is that really journalism? I thought about that question again when I read and then saw an exchange between Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun and a questioner at the Huskies’ post-game news conference following their victory over South Florida on Saturday.
The first question Calhoun faced in the post-game news conference was not about the game, but about his $1.6 million annual salary, which makes him the highest-paid state employee in Connecticut. It came from a guy named Ken Krayeske, who is not affilliated with any of the usual MSM who cover college basketball, but who calls himself a free-lance journalist and political activist and has a website called The 40-Year Plan. You can follow the link and draw your own conclusions as to its journalistic merit. I understand that he got into the game with a photo pass.
Here’s the exchange, as posted on YouTube.
A few thoughts. First, I never quite trust the journalist, real or so-called, who is willing to make him or herself the story. In this case, that’s not me making a judgment. Krayeske himself says on his website that he is “somewhat megalomaniacal.” And he is no stranger to controversy. Police arrested him at the 2007 Inaugural parade for the governor of Connecticut for getting too close to the proceedings when he tried to take a picture. (Krayeske’s defenders say he was targeted by police beforehand because of his political views).
Second, the way the question was developing (and admittedly I don’t know where it eventually would have gone because Calhoun didn’t let it) it was shaping up as more of an editorial comment than an actual question. That’s also a problem for me.
All that said, the salary of the head coach of a Division I sports program is certainly a valid topic for coverage and questioning, especially when institutions of higher education are tightening their belts and cutting budgets for academics in this tough economic climate. Krayeske referenced the $1 billion deficit in the state budget and Calhoun’s response pointed to the $12 million in revenue that his program brings to the university each year. It would be interesting to see if that’s gross or net — before or after expenditures — and how much the non-athletic programs of the university benefit.
Krayeske, who said that he was asking the questions because the beat writers who cover the team regularly wouldn’t, certainly has a point.
Serious investigative sports reporting is difficult, because big-time athletic programs are known to put up barriers to the reporter who tries to practice it. The beat writer must first have access to provide the day-to-day coverage that readers and viewers expect. And in these days of cutbacks, especially in the print media, what he or she often doesn’t have is the resources and time to pursue these types of stories.
(On that note, see a good example of what sports journalists CAN do when they’re given the time and resources. The link will take you to a Washington Post series on the decline of University of Maryland basketball since the Terps won the national title in 2002, with emphasis on the job performance of embattled coach Gary Williams. Williams cooperated with the story, which was fair but not fawning, and it’s a good bet that the reporters didn’t get any of this information at a live post-game news conference.)
I’ve read criticism of the UConn beat writers and broadcast media for being irritated with Krayeske’s question and, as you’d expect, of his calling them out for not exploring the salary issue.
I’d imagine that those people have never had to meet a deadline for a story about a live sports event. OK, it was an afternoon game, but a reporter who intends to explore a non-game related issue in any kind of depth should walk up to a source to get some one-on-one time when everyone else’s work is done. That’s professional courtesy. Or to try arrange a separate interview for a later date. It’s not impossible. Calhoun did, after all, offer to talk to Krayeske after the news conference proper was over. (If the source doesn’t cooperate, that’s certainly a story, too.)
But if Krayeske had done it that way, he wouldn’t have had his desired moment in the spotlight.
For me that’s what it boils down to, and I guess I’m just an old-school media elitist. But I’m calling this the right battle fought by the wrong person at the wrong time.