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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsBend it like Beck

Bend it like Beck: New athletics policy improves communication

In December 2015, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics implemented a new media policy stating that all student media organizations must get approval from John Boccacino, associate director of athletic communications, prior to contact with athletic coaches for interviews.

The new media policy is the first shift in the media since the fall semester of 2012, when Ithaca College President Tom Rochon issued a media policy that all requests for interviews with administrators must go through the college’s Office of Media Relations. The policy was later rescinded.

This story also comes in the midst of the controversy surrounding former volleyball head coach Janet Donovan, who resigned in January after former student-athletes expressed concerns with how she handled the revived volleyball program.

Susan Bassett, director of intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports, said after conversations she had with Boccacino and the faculty media advisers, she wanted to improve the way things are operated.

“Through a series of observations, we felt like we could facilitate everybody’s contact and professionalize the experience for the reporters,” Bassett said.

While unfamiliar to the college, this new policy provides organization, consistency and accountability. Coaches certainly have the busiest schedules in athletics, with games, practices, meetings and recruiting, especially when their teams are in season.

By having to schedule interviews with athletic communications, journalists are permitted to have one pathway when getting in contact with the coaches. If a reporter for The Ithacan, WICB Radio, ICTV or even ESPN Ithaca would like to schedule an interview with a head coach or an assistant coach, they first need to arrange one with the sports information department.

In fact, coaches in most cases are instructed to decline interviews without prior approval.

“I think, in fairness to the coaches and student-athletes, when everything’s coming from different angles, I think it’s just like, ‘Who’s this?’ or, ‘What’s this about?’” Bassett said of the decision.

While it is impossible to stop all contact, the sports information director is a viable resource for all media outlets. He can provide tips for angles on features, possible inside-story ideas and access to any quick and immediate information that should need reporting.

It is similar to how reporters go through the teams’ public relations offices in the professional world in order to talk to players and coaches outside of scheduled press conferences.

The limited number of press conferences by the athletics office allows journalists to strengthen their reporting skills while at the same time learning independence.

Because of this new media policy, student journalists no longer have to fret about their stories being handicapped by the coaches. It entitles reporters to formulate questions based on their expertise rather than gauge their ideas by what a coach might think and say about the team.

“I think over time here, a lot of things have evolved, and it has always seemed like, ‘Well this is the way we’ve always done it,’ and I don’t want to operate that way,” Bassett said.

Although this new form of communication is streamlined through coaches, student-athletes are not affected by the new policy. Student media organizations are still allowed to talk to athletes without prior contact through sports information.

When asked if she would consider changing the policy to include student-athletes at some point, Bassett said she doesn’t think it’s necessary.

“Because I think students can talk to whoever they want to talk to,” she said. “I don’t know how you — 850 students — how do you possibly manage that?”

Initially, this new media policy seems different from how things have been done in the past. However, if communicated well, it will be beneficial for everyone involved.

Jonathan Beck can be reached at jbeck3@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @jonbeck365