UB Athletics Department Makes a Bad Call (I Think)

10:53 AM, Sep 14, 2013   |    comments
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When I was in college, I had to write for my student newspaper. As a broadcast major, I had little interest in print journalism, but I learned a lot from my experience with Marshall's Parthenon newspaper.

The Parthenon is a great student paper and has won numerous awards. So, too, has the Spectrum newspaper at the University at Buffalo. The difference between the two -- is funding!

At Marshall, part of your student fee money goes to the newspaper. It helps fund what would otherwise be a losing venture. Student newspapers are not money-makers.

But that is not the case at UB. The Spectrum gets no money from the university, student fees, or student government. It relies entirely on advertising. I think that's a real shame.

And that's why I think the controversy that brewed on campus the past couple of weeks is significant.

The UB Athletic Department, under new AD Danny White, decided after years and years of allowing two student reporters to travel with the football team to away games (expenses paid), they would no longer allow it.

The editor of the Spectrum, who is a former Channel 2 intern it turns out, wrote a blistering editorial, criticizing White for the change in policy.

According to the editor, one of the reasons behind the decision was financial -- the athletic department allegedly said it was a "budgetary decision."

I don't think that's the case, because while it cut out two seats on the plane for the student journalists, it offered two free seats to the student government.

The other explanation, according to the editorial, was that it was a "conflict of interest" to give journalists the free trip.

Let me just say -- there are many conflicts of interest in journalism. We all work hard every day to avoid them. It would be totally inappropriate for me to take an all-expense-paid trip to cover the UB Bulls football team. How would you expect me, or anyone in our sports department, to write an unbiased story?

That's the argument being made by those who support White's decision, including a Buffalo News writer who took to Twitter to voice his opinion.

Here's why I think he's wrong -- we're talking about students!

The ONLY way for these students to cover UB football games is for the athletic department to take them on the road games as they have been doing for many years.

Sure, you can argue they should raise more money, shift resources, etc. But that's unrealistic. The paper gets NO money from the University.

And let's not forget, we're talking about an institution of higher learning. UB athletics is part of UB, and they're doing a disservice to not only the journalism students who will now miss out on covering the team, but also to the estimated 50,000 people who read the UB Spectrum every week.

Let's be honest here -- it's not like most media in Buffalo are clamouring to cover UB away football games. For much of the season, the Bulls are not only competing with the Bills for sports coverage; the Sabres season also overlaps. This is a professional sports town.

Maybe a couple of print reporters make the UB Bulls away trips, I'm not sure. But none of the television stations do. Last week the game was in TEXAS!

Many people who care a lot about UB (I would say myself included) get their news from the Spectrum. It is an impressive publication. Unfortunately, we will not get as in-depth coverage of Bulls away games moving forward, because we won't have Spectrum reporters at the post-game press conferences and in the lockerroom.

I like UB, and I like the UB Athletic Department. Danny White responded personally to my email asking him about this situation, and I appreciate that. He said, "We respect the great work being done by our student reporters and feel it is most appropriate to treat them like all of the other working media that cover the Bulls."

In most cases, that should be the case. But, in my opinion, special circumstances warranted the special treatment previously given to the student reporters.

White wrote in his email to me, "I don't think you will find this to be much of a story." I respectfully disagree, and I believe UB missed a great opportunity to show that the university values its student newspaper, its journalists, and the coverage so adroitly provided by those reporters in the past.

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