Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Conversation About Covering Controversy: Recap

Penn State students, community members, and journalists met last night in a public forum to debrief and discuss the story around Penn State in recent weeks. The discussion took place as “A Conversation About Covering Controversy," hosted by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.

The event, a panel/Q&A session, took place in the Schwab Auditorium on the PSU campus.

On the panel were: moderator Malcolm Moran, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and director of the Curley Center; Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today and national sports commentator; Jeremy Schaap, reporter for ESPN; Mark Viera, New York Times reporter and PSU alumnus; Jerry Micco, assistant managing editor for sports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PSU alumnus; and Sara Ganim, PSU alumna who first brought the story to light in March as crime reporter for The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.

The goal of the conversation was to provide context for this story and to provide professional guidance for the many journalism students who attended. While there were plenty of questions about the controversy itself and how Penn State should move forward as a community, the focus of the panel was clearly on how journalists should cover and report on such stories.

The panelists fielded questions about identifying victims’ names in news stories, using anonymous sources, and reporting on stories in close-knit communities for which the reporter is an outsider.

More general questions about how this controversy has or will affect the PSU community were also presented to the panelists. The most ardently critical voice in these discussions was Brennan, who referred to the Penn State scandal as the worst controversy in college sports and perhaps in all of sports -- and wondered whether Penn State and other universities have lost touch with their priorities. She defended a recent column she wrote in which she encouraged Penn State to take itself out of bowl contention.

The event was streamed live on the web and an archived version is available (see below).

-Brett Sherrick

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Plan now for Nov. 29 event on Penn State controversy

A discussion with sports journalists about recent events that have become national news at Penn State will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, in Schwab Auditorium as the latest installment of an ongoing series conducted by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.

"A Conversation About Covering Controversy" -- featuring Mark Viera of The New York Times, Christine Brennan of USA Today and others -- will address the efforts, role and work of journalists when covering controversy in general, and the situation at Penn State in particular.

Malcolm Moran, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and director of the Curley Center, will moderate the session.

The session is free and open to the public but tickets are required. Tickets will be distributed Monday, Nov. 28, to Penn State students and, if any remain, Tuesday, Nov. 29, to Penn State faculty/staff and the general public.

Tickets will be available as follows at four locations on or near the University Park campus:

-- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Eisenhower Auditorium;

-- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Penn State Downtown Theatre on Allen Street in State College;

-- 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center; and

-- 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the HUB-Robeson Center.

In addition, the event will be streamed live at online.

The Curley Center’s "Conversation Series" has attracted visitors such as Bob Costas, Brent Musburger, John Feinstein and Chris Fowler. Other participants in recent Center programs include: Todd Blackledge, Mike Breen, George Bodenheimer, Matt Millen, Jim O’Connell, Bob Ryan, Lisa Salters, Jon Saraceno and Rick Telander.

The Center, established in 2003 and named in 2006 for John Curley, the retired president, CEO and chairman of the Gannett Co. Inc. who was the first editor of USA Today and served as a founding co-director of the Center, explores issues and trends in sports journalism through instruction, outreach, programming and research.

The Center’s undergraduate curricular emphasis includes four core courses -- sports writing; sports broadcasting; sports information; sports, media and society. Along with course work, the Center emphasizes internships at newspapers, magazines or electronic media, as well as on-campus co-curricular work.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Acknowledging the price of college athletes

ESPN the Magazine recently teamed up with MIT researchers to determine the value of college athletes at Florida University. (The article can also be found here through ESPN’s Insider service.)

The results shouldn’t be surprising to anybody who knows the realities of college athletics: the football players were worth substantially more than any other athletes, and the men’s basketball players were the only other athletes in the positives. In other words, athletes from other sports, including all women’s sports, are costing the university money.

At first glance, a story like this might seem problematic; quantifying young collegiate athletes, especially in dollar amounts, seems directly contrary to the purpose of college athletics.

But, as a member of the media – not of the NCAA, ESPN is well within its rights to criticize the institution of college sports. In fact, it may even be helpful.

While it seems that monetizing collegiate athletes would be completely antithetical to the health of college sports, that is what the NCAA does every year with things like bowl games and March Madness. And this is potentially a much bigger problem. As an outsider, ESPN is simply bringing light to the financial realities of collegiate athletics.

It might seem that this article tacitly reinforces the monetization of student-athletes, but it also provides valuable knowledge and insight into that process for a larger population. Importantly, it also points to a wide imbalance in the relative value of certain athletes under the current system.

This sort of tangible proof is important ammunition for critics of the NCAA. If the NCAA and its member institutions are well aware of the financial benefits that they receive from student-athletes, their opponents should be as well. Defining these benefits, as ESPN has, should only help to clarify and solidify any anti-NCAA arguments.

-Brett Sherrick

Friday, November 04, 2011

Tucker Center conference calls for change

Collaboration. Dialogue. Community building.

These were the mission statements that the Girls and Women in Sport and Physical Activity Conference participants committed to when they chose to gather for a full day of activities in the TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN.

The Tucker Center of the University of Minnesota brought sports activists, scholars and students together for an out-of-the-ordinary, interactive and dynamic conference titled Creating Change that emphasized activism and practical application of research for a common goal to create a better environment for females in sports and physical activity.

A significant portion of the conference focused on media representations and problems with popular images of female athletes. The participants of the conference enthusiastically offered strategies for change centered around the goal to give female athletes a say in constructing their own images and representations.

Unsurprisingly, a hot topic of discussion was the emergence of new media that carry the potential for creating the kind of change scholars are looking for. Multiple presenters came to the conclusion that we need to use blogs to not only share our scholarship, but also to engage in a conversation with each other, as well as with the women and girls participating in sports.

Online sites are promising spaces for advocacy. To fulfill this promise, the conference hosts led by Dr. Nicole LaVoi, Associate Director of the Tucker Center, incorporated interaction on Facebook, Twitter and ChimeIn during the program.

Utilizing online spaces to disseminate information and bring attention to voices that have been traditionally excluded from the dialogue is in the right direction towards collaboration and community building. The Creating Change conference demonstrated an effective way of doing just that.

--Dunja Antunovic

'Lacking' in teen girls' sports novels

Finding a good sports novel about teen girls has proven difficult for librarians. The genre is "severely lacking," according Erin Whiteside, a 2010 Penn State doctoral graduate and current assistant professor at the University of Tennessee.

Whiteside presented research about two prominent series of contemporary teen girls' novels, Pretty Tough and Dairy Queen, at the annual meeting of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport in Minneapolis on Friday.

The narratives the series give somewhat detracts from messages to empower teens. Whiteside said that the novels often present sports as a way to receive male approval and that sports actually create tension in their lives.

Concepts that reinforced heterosexual norms were also broached in the literature, said Whiteside, who analyzed the novels along with Penn State's Marie Hardin, Lauren DeCarvalho, Nadia Carillo Martinez and Alex Nutter Smith.

However, the protagonists' efforts to broaden the boundaries of what's acceptable for women athletes should be acknowledged as a positive, Whiteside said.

-- Steve Bien-Aime

Adding to the discourse

When it comes to disabled athletes (an already much contentious term), their voices aren't heard too much in the conventional media.

That is unfortunate because sports discourse would benefit from their greater inclusion. Well, Andrea Bundon of The University of British Columbia is working to change that.

Bundon announced during her Friday presentation at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport's annual meeting that she is collaborating with disability sports athletes on a new blog. It will examine how disability sports are performed, help athletes stay in contact with each other and bolster discussions about how to better improve athletics.

The Athletes First blog is slated to go live in the next week or so, and it appears to be one to observe regularly.

-- Steve Bien-Aime

What the blogs are saying

First-year Penn State Ph.D student and Curley Center researcher Dunja Antunovic shared findings of a recent study on women's sports blogs at the annual meeting of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport on Friday morning in Minneapolis.

Antunovic examined five blogs in a three-month period on the Women's Talk Sports online forum, where women athletes and the issues they face are often discussed. These types of sites can serve as places to empower women as female athletes are often portrayed in dubious manners by mainstream media, she said.

The bloggers who did not self-identify as fans treated their blogs in a more communal fashion, trying to interact with all readers through events for example.

An interesting result of the study was that big issues such as Title IX or the lack of media coverage for women's sports seemed to be treated on the same level as posts about "news", such as a certain game.

Antunovic, who worked on this project with associate professor of journalism and associate director of the Center for Sports Journalism Marie Hardin, concluded that there is plenty of untapped potential in blogs of this nature to advance the cause of more equality for women's sports and to raise the level of discourse at the same time.

--Steve Bien-Aime

Thursday, November 03, 2011

'Villainization of LeBron James'?

What is the media's role in turning LeBron James from fan favorite into the NBA's biggest villain? Recent Penn State doctoral graduate and current Bloomsburg University instructor Jason Genovese has some interesting ideas about that.

Genovese presented his findings Thursday at the annual meeting of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport in Minneapolis. James' "The Decision" began the turn as the superstar forward announced on ESPN in summer 2010 that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. Genovese pointed out a little-publicized fact that ESPN actually sought out James for the broadcast.

Through a textual analysis, Genovese examined how the language of articles did not really mention that James earned the right -- via the players' labor agreement with the league -- to determine where he wanted to play.

Also, columnists placed a heavy burden of three to five championships for James to validate his decision.

The James situation also went past the issue of a superstar leaving a team, delving into racial subjects. The mention of slavery drew sharp dismissals from media members, but the historical/cultural context for the slavery references were ignored.

In fact, any perceived misstep from James resulted in enormous negative reactions from the media. It seemed as though James was never allowed to escape the villain label.

When Genovese publishes his paper, it should be a must read.

--Steve Bien-Aime