FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN
In sports writing, the toy department of the media industry, there’s no story that consistently presents more landmines than a coaching search.
The people involved often do not like to speak on the record for assorted reasons. Some candidates have jobs elsewhere and don’t want their interest in another position to be known. Universities traditionally like to conduct these searches under a cloak of secrecy.
So journalists covering coaching searches need to rely on anonymous sources, some who prove to be accurate, some far less so. That happened again locally in the past week when Al Golden flirted with Penn State. And as usual, that led to overzealous reporting and some serious spinning.
Three reporters indicated that Golden was taking the Penn State job: WINZ-940’s Andy Slater, Charlotte radio host Mark James (a UM alum and the artist formerly known as Mark Benarzyk) and Gary Ferman, the publisher of a popular Hurricanes website, Canesport.com.
Ferman couched his report somewhat, unlike Slater and James, and said that Golden was likely taking the job, barring something crazy, while also reporting that Penn State and Golden had reached an “agreement in principle.”
What’s interesting is the difference in how they handled the story after UM's Blake James said Golden was staying, and after Golden announced he wasn't a candidate for any job. (CBS and ESPN reported Vanderbilt's James Franklin will get the job.)
Slater, who posted on Twitter last weekend that Golden would inform the team Saturday he was taking the Penn State job, immediately held himself accountable.
“Zero excuse on my end for my tweets yesterday on Golden,” he told his 12,000 followers. “Trusted UM source had been 100 percent but was obviously wrong here. My apologies…. Heat is understood. Source was wrong, I passed it along. Inexcusable.”
It was inauspicious timing for Slater, a former WMEN-640 personality who on Monday began his new gig as the 2-5 p.m. host on WINZ.
James also took responsibility, tweeting: “For the record, I was WRONG about Golden going to Penn State. #Lesson learned.”
Conversely, Ferman defended his story and insisted that Golden had an agreement in principle, though a Penn State beat writer and others insisted an offer was never made before, during or after his Saturday meeting with Penn State officials. Ferman said Golden was offered the job but pulled out because Penn State did not deliver a written contract by 4 p.m. Sunday.
Is it possible that ultimatum could have happened, as Ferman reported? Yes, it's possible. But it also would seem illogical to think Penn State would offer the job to anyone well before a scheduled Sunday interview with Franklin.
“Everything that has been reported re: Golden and Penn State was accurate,” Ferman wrote on his web site. “These things happen in coaching searches all the time….The head coach just went to the brink with Penn State. We covered it every step of the way and annihilated every media outlet.”
Ferman said by phone: “We have an obligation to the people who subscribe to our web site to report all stories as aggressively as possible…. We had four confirmations that he had an agreement in principle.”
Regrets? Ferman said he has none.
“We knew the risks of running with it to the degree that we did, but we got a fourth and the strongest confirmation on Saturday night, and I decided at 8 a.m. Sunday to go with the story,” he said. “We learned Golden had given Penn State an ultimatum that he had to have a signed contract immediately. There was no doubt in our mind that Al would be at a press conference Monday at Penn State based on information we were receiving from several sources.”
The perception is that pay sites will take more chances, even at risk of being wrong, to try to entice potential subscribers. Ferman said he would never do that.
“I’m 52, started at The Miami Herald at 16, have 36 years of experience as a reporter,” he said. “I would never compromise the basic principles of reporting. Coaching stories are the most difficult to cover because the information changes so quickly.”
Bruce Garrison, who has taught journalism at UM since 1981, said pay sites “have to deliver something to their subscribers” but isn’t necessarily sure if that makes them more likely to take risks.
In general, “there is a lot of competition coming today from a lot of different directions,” Garrison said. “That creates pressure to perform to show your editors you know what’s going on. Some news organizations want that information and are willing to take a risk getting it right.
“What bothers me is people come out with speculation. I come from a generation when you rarely did that. You know you had it right or you don’t report it. The web has changed a lot of the journalism we do for good or for bad…. All we have is our credibility as journalists. If we are wrong, that credibility suffers.”
One decision that all journalists face in this Twitter age, including one I wrestled with in the past week: Using Slater’s tweet as an example, should reporters tweet that Slater has reported that Golden is leaving, while also making it clear that the writer of the tweet is not confirming the story?
“We’ve been doing that, but it’s risky to do that,” Garrison said. “If you want to pass along information, you make a judgment on whether the guy has had a track record of getting it right.”
Ferman has been criticized on local radio and elsewhere for his report three years ago that Jon Gruden was poised to become UM’s football coach.
Meanwhile, the most interesting journalism story regarding a coaching search this week had nothing to do with UM.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Mike Munchak interviewed for the Penn State job Sunday, Munchak then told The Tennessean that he had not, and Mortensen then tweeted that he checked again and Munchak “absolutely” did interview that day.
AROUND THE DIAL
### Former 790/104.3 The Ticket morning personality Marc Hochman, who will take over the 3-7 p.m. slot on WQAM-560 beginning April 1, has strong interest in hiring Zach Krantz as his co-host.
Krantz's voice has been heard a lot over the years as Joe Rose’s radio producer. Hochman also wants to hire The Ticket’s Joy Taylor.
### Saturday night’s Colts-Patriots playoff game will be the finale for CBS’ Dan Dierdorf, who is retiring after 30 years in broadcasting, including the past 15 with CBS.
“I’m a little melancholy,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to clutter the end of the game with anything about me. That would make me uncomfortable. Physically, it’s hard for me to travel 20 times a year. I’ve got to find something to do.”
### It’s highly unusual for a team-employed announcer to advocate the firing of that team’s general manager. So it’s notable that Rose, the co-analyst on WINZ-940’s Dolphins radio broadcasts, took that position on Jeff Ireland before his departure.
Asked about changes in the organization, Rose said on NBC 6: “It’s got to start with the general manager. Try something different.”
Some announcers have the popularity and job security to be able to criticize the team’s decision-makers, with Rose and the late, great Jim Mandich among them.
### Fox continues to tinker with production of the divisional playoff game not handled by Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. After awarding the announcing assignment to Kenny Albert, Darryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa for many years, Fox gave it to Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick last year and will try Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch this year (on Saints-Seahawks).
### ESPNews’ coach’s film room production of the BCS championship game -- featuring Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Boston College’s Steve Addazio, Pittsburgh’s Paul Chryst and others -- was the highlight of the network’s Megacast, with the coaches offering dead-on insight (including predicting an FSU fake punt) and delivering it in a way far more conversational than a traditional game broadcast.
Less appealing was ESPN2’s version; viewers essentially eavesdropped on an ESPN party in which analysts and celebrities spoke over each other, including actress Cheryl Hines, who asked if the person who snaps the ball to the quarterback is called the snapper, then admitted, "I could have Googled it before I got here."
On both ESPNews and ESPN2, more of the screen should have been allotted to the live game feed.
### Please see the last post, updated several times in the past 36 hours, for on-field UM and Dolphins news. By the way, early enrollee Braxton Berrios -- considered the best receiver in this UM recruiting class -- tweeted this afternoon that he has a torn ACL.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz