Journalists seem to like to write a lot about the things that PR people do that drive them nuts. Now it’s time to turn briefly turn the tables, on behalf of the Athletic PR staff of Michigan State University.
This deals with a story that, as of this writing, is still ongoing and has been fueled by more speculation and incorrect information than the public deserves – the courtship of Michigan State University Head Basketball Coach (and state icon) Tom Izzo by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. In recent days, an hour does not go by without a broadcast, Web story or Tweet with an opinion, prediction or attempt at an answer to the “Will he stay or will he go?” question.
One emblematic example of the coverage of this story is this one, written by ESPN’s Andy Katz (whose reporting is generally solid – I rely upon it regularly as a college basketball junkie). In it, Katz bases his reporting on an unnamed source who talked to someone who talked to Izzo who said he’s “leaning toward” taking the Cleveland job. This one hit ESPN’s multiple platforms within minutes and served, essentially, as the item of record on the Izzo story for more than a day.
Wait. Some editor approved an unnamed source, one stepped removed, and no real news in the same story? How could MSU possibly respond to this, other than with a basic statement? The Athletic Director would be stepping on a a slippery slope conducting an actual interview, considering the reporting that would be going on around it.
As PR professionals, we expect that journalists have sources and report facts. Sometimes, they can’t name their sources in exchange for receiving information. We get that too. But a story with both an unnamed source and no facts leaves us no choice but to throw our hands up in frustration.