Reporters will go a long way to get a story. Ethically, we can't misrepresent ourselves, we can't walk through it. But if, for example, a door to a closed practice happens to be open, we'll look through it. And if, as another example, if a chain link fence has a hole in it, we might crawl through it. And if a rule has a loophole in it, we might jump through it.
The general rule of thumb is to keep going until someone tells you no. In sports, this especially true as athletic programs have become more and more protective of athletes and strategy information. Sports information offices have a lot of rules, and we usually abide by them to maintain good working relations. But sometimes you need to work around them, in the interest of news. After all, they are the universities' rules not ours. We are always weighing the public interest, and will generally pursue news past any barrier and won't be deterred by efforts to hide newsworthy information.
All of which brings us to Scott Wolf, the Los Angeles Daily News reporter who covers USC and whose work we have linked to before. He has been banned from USC practices for two weeks and the Trojans' Sept. 22 game against California. He looked through no door, crawled through no fence, leapt through no loophole. He didn't even break any superficial rules.
He reported. [Full disclosure, the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles News Group are members of the MediaNews Group, which also owns The Tribune.]
According a report in the Los Angeles Times, Wolf reported that USC kicker Andre Heidari had surgery last week and will be sidelined for about three weeks. This is sensitive but mundane news, as any sports fan knows. Like Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, USC's Lane Kiffin is not addressing injuries this season. But the Trojans have taken it a step further to a policy that will prevent a veteran reporter from covering this team. Earlier this summer, USC announced that reporters would be barred for reporting strategy or injury-related news that they observed during practice.
Universities are often concerned about injury information, and The Tribune has had disagreements with Utah over photographing injured players. But this move by USC is draconian.
Wolf's report did not include any practice-related information. He did not have to bend any ethical rules and it does not appear he even violated the university's policy to get the story. Of course, this tale has the irony of unintended consequences. Now, because of a ghastly overreaction by USC, if he wants to break any news in the next two weeks, he will have to.
— Bill Oram
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