White plays favorites, benches Spectrum

Student newspaper will not attend football road games for first time since 2006

By AARON MANSFIELD
On September 5, 2013

The Spectrum has attended every UB football game since 2006. We will not, however, be at Saturday's game at Baylor.

That is because UB Athletics, which funded our trips, decided this summer to no longer allow us to travel with the team. Athletic Director Danny White sees it as a conflict of interest for his department to pay the way for reporters to cover UB games.

In a perfect world, we would pay for our travel. But the fact of the matter is that The Spectrum is a shoestring organization. It is a privately funded, completely student-run publication. UB offers us no financial support, and neither does the Student Association. We're funded solely through advertising, and we can't afford the $600-700 per person for travel and hotel to cover road games. We drove to Ohio State for the season opener, but going to games at places like Baylor just isn't feasible.

The Spectrum has provided unparalleled coverage - in print, on our website and on social media - since 2006. The past four editors in chief have risen from senior sports editor. Our Sports Desk has received three national sports writing awards, including being named back-to-back Pacemaker finalists for Sports Story of the Year, in the past two years.

We consider ourselves one of the strongest student newspaper sports departments in the country.

The athletic department's money belongs to White, and he can do with it what he wishes. I didn't argue or complain when we lost the trips, but the more I have thought about UB Athletics' reasoning, the more it has troubled me.

It should be known that this decision belonged to nobody but White. He has two stated reasons for making it: First, UB Athletics sees The Spectrum traveling with the team as a conflict of interest, and second, we were told it was a budgetary decision.

Neither of these reasons, however, is legitimate.

The perceived conflict of interest does bother me, and it makes sense to me why people would think that. "Well," someone might say, "if you travel with the team, you're clearly indebted to Athletics."

But having been a sports reporter, senior sports editor and editor in chief at The Spectrum for three years, I can honestly say there has never once been an actual conflict of interest in covering the football team. We have reported the full truth, and that hasn't been a problem because that's what a newspaper does.

The Spectrum isn't a public relations outlet, twisting each story to look positive even when, in reality, the story is negative. Objectivity reigns supreme in journalism. If the football team loses by 40, are we supposed to write about that one sack UB had in the second quarter?

The breaking point for White, I was told, was when The Spectrum published a column after last year's 45-3 loss at Northern Illinois. The gist of the column's argument was that head coach Jeff Quinn should be fired. At that point, Quinn had a 6-24 record as UB's head coach. That means he had won one in every five games. He also refused to insert promising young quarterback Joe Licata - he has turned out well, hasn't he? - and insisted on sticking with Alex Zordich, whose stats had been anemic.

Was it that preposterous to call for Quinn's job?

After all, looking at the numbers, that's what an unbiased reporter would do - and that's what ours did. I would seriously question the credibility of any outlet that was praising Quinn or ignoring his struggles. One tenet of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics is to "seek truth and report it."

Truth. That's a pivotal word. It was never a problem for us to tell the truth until the reality was that the team was dreadfully underachieving.

We were very thankful for the trips, but these were not vacations. We were working, and working hard, to provide a service to the students. We wrote previews, scouting reports, game stories, columns, live chats and Twitter updates - between two people. I always returned from games entirely exhausted. They were also two-day excursions that made keeping up with a full-time course load (and missing class) and full-time job at The Spectrum all the more difficult.

We do this because we love it, and we do it because students need to know what's happening from a student's perspective. This paper is by students, for students. We are the middleman between UB Athletics and the student body. By limiting The Spectrum, White has made it clear he does not see communicating with the students as essential.

His disregard for us, the students, is ironic because we're the reason he has a job.

Warde Manuel, White's predecessor, understood the importance of a student newspaper. He knew students get their sports news about on-campus teams from The Spectrum. He understood we are a newspaper. Even when the coverage was critical, he grasped its necessity.

He got it. Danny White does not.

White thinks the school newspaper should support the team - and we do. Last week's football preview took up the entire newspaper. A poster of senior linebacker Khalil Mack covered the front page. White might find this hard to believe, but I'm asked constantly why we give the sports teams so much coverage and are so biased in their favor.

When a team is good, we praise it; when it's bad, we criticize it. But no matter what happens, we cover it - and we tell the truth. Newspapers don't blindly throw compliments when things are bleak. They don't ignore facts, and they certainly don't remain quiet when their coverage is inhibited.

As for the second reason we are not traveling to cover the team, UB Athletics told us that our passes were cut because it was a "budgetary decision." The athletic department then gave our two passes to every game to the Student Association.

If it was a budgetary decision, how were those two passes turned over to UB's student government? I spoke with SA President Nick Johns Tuesday. He attended the Ohio State season opener.

"I had a meeting with Athletics the other day and gave them kind of my strategic vision for the year," Johns said. "I told them about everything that was happening, and then at the end of the meeting, Danny White just suggested, 'We're going to give you guys two reps on the trips to go to athletic away games.'"

SA, which will attend the games only to cheer from the sidelines, will have two passes to every road game this year.

Let's talk about conflicts of interests again, Mr. White. UB Athletics has a $30,000 advertising contract from SA.

Strange.

"We had already signed the contract prior to this, so it's not a stipulation within the contract, nor is it affecting any of the business with athletics," Johns said.

So SA had never gone on the trips before, but then you signed a massive contract with UB Athletics and White happened to offer you two passes to every game?

Sounds like a quid pro quo arrangement to me.

Johns sent an email to SA's clubs executive board members Wednesday, which was forwarded to The Spectrum. Its contents, unedited for grammar, are below.

I am pleased to inform you that Athletics has generously given the SA a free trip for a lucky club E-Board member for the Baylor football game in Waco, Texas. Your hotel and flight accommodations will be provided by Athletics. Some food will be provided, but not all. Pleaselet me know by 2:00 pm today if you are interested in attending. I apologize for the short notice but this initiative was just approved today. I would also like to note that no [mandatory student activity fee] money was spent on these trips, they have been offered with no strings attached by Athletic Director Danny White himself. If you are interested in promoting on campus collaboration and supporting the UB Bulls, please let me know ASAP, you will be randomly selected.

Is sending a randomly selected student to the game "supporting the UB Bulls" a wiser way to spend your money than sending a seasoned sports reporter who is providing a service to the students, Mr. White?

The Spectrum tells students what's happening, and the honors suggest we do it well - especially considering we go to a school without a journalism major and without BCS conference athletics.

We will be covering the Baylor game from Buffalo as we watch on television, but that isn't the same - reporters receive live updates in the press box and, most importantly, get to attend the post-game press conference. They get the full story. We need to ask Quinn questions to provide top-of-the-line coverage.

White is attempting to hinder our ability to provide coverage of the football team.

I want to reiterate that I understand it's his money, and he can do what he wants with it. But I also want to point out that this is the students' newspaper, and it's our vehicle to tell you what you need to know.

Johns said he believes White gave the passes to SA because he realizes the student government is "an important entity on campus." And The Spectrum isn't? An average of 50,000 people read this newspaper per week, and it's where the majority of students get their UB news, especially their UB sports news.

Outside of The Spectrum, UB doesn't get a whole lot of press on days POTUS isn't in Alumni Arena. White should be thankful he has this outlet to cover his teams.

Is it really a priority of his to cut off the student newspaper? He should be grateful UB's student journalists seek truth and report it, rather than opposing their ability to carry out this service, then turning around and transferring their former privileges to the student government. This is not only a slap in the face to The Spectrum, but it also presents a glaring conflict of interest, given the aforementioned advertising contract.

In trying to solve a problem, White has created a bigger one.

Just as troubling as this whole situation is White's reluctance to meet with The Spectrum. It was easy for us to get an interview with him over the summer of 2012, when he was just starting as AD and we were writing a feature about his background. Since then, it's been virtually impossible. Our attempts to meet with him have been met with promises to "try" from Athletics staff members and silence from White.

It may not be part of his job to transport The Spectrum to games, but it is part of his job to communicate with the media.

I believe every good story has a resolution or at least a suggested one.

So here, Mr. White, is my proposal: Make head coach Jeff Quinn and one player available to talk with us on the phone after the press conference of every road game. We'll ask our questions, as we normally would, and our coverage won't be hurt too dramatically.

It will be a perfect arrangement: no budgetary issues and no conflicts of interest - real or perceived.

So what do you think, Mr. White? My email address is below. The student body awaits your answer.

 

Email: aaron.mansfield@ubspectrum.com


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