Mississippi Today's Rick Cleveland, The Clarion-Ledger's Michael Bonner, and Mississippi State University are having a good ole fashioned food fight. The topic: the hiring of the new athletic director.
Michael Bonner broke the news last week that MSU will promote baseball coach Jeff Cohen to A.D.:
Mississippi State’s search for its 17th athletic director concluded at Dudy Noble Field.
MSU baseball coach John Cohen will be the school’s next athletic director, multiple sources told The Clarion-Ledger on Wednesday. The same sources said that Cohen is expected to be introduced on Tuesday, which Mississippi State president Mark Keenum denied as part of a terse statement that argued against the validity of the entire report. Article
Mr. Keenum took issue with Mr. Bonner's report in the same story:
“... At present, no decisions have been made, no announcements prepared, and no press conferences scheduled. Neither I nor any of the university’s senior communications staff was asked to confirm or deny Mr. Bonner’s story prior to his publication of it. Perhaps that’s most disappointing of all.
“We’re not going to make this personnel decision in the media. We will follow our plan, we will conduct this search in the manner we previously outlined, and we will ultimately make the best decision for Mississippi State. This will be done in an expeditious timeline, but on our timeline.”
Mr. Bonner also reported the hiring would be announced at a press conference today. One may be forgiven for thinking that even if Mr. Cohen is hired, MSU will make the announcement on any day but today.
However, Mr. Cleveland smelled a story here and jumped into the fray yesterday:
Q. In general, what do you think of using unnamed sources in news stories?
A. You always prefer not to use them. At one time, we had a policy at the CL that we would not, under any circumstances, use unnamed sources. That policy did not last long. We missed on many important stories because we could not get critical sources to go on the record. Our policy became that we would exhaust every effort to get named sources. If we could not, we would have at least two reliable unnamed sources, corroborating one another, before we would go with a story.
Mississippi Today, which carries my column now, has a policy not to use unnamed sources except in exceptional circumstances. If a story can be published only by relying on unnamed sources, two such sources are required and the editors must know the names of the sources and the circumstances around which they would have access to the information being discussed in the story.
Q. What about Bonner’s story? Did he get it right?
A. I honestly don’t know. I have thought all along that John Cohen is the odds-on favorite to get the job. He has much support. That said, Keenum and everyone else I talk to at State, including MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter, my former Clarion-Ledger colleague, says no hire has been made and several interviews are scheduled.
Q. Do you have any problems with the way the story was handled?
A. Just one, assuming Bonner’s sources are knowledgable and reliable. We always had a policy that on news stories like this one, we would give the institution the opportunity to confirm or deny – and comment – on the story. That didn’t happen in this case. I asked sports editor Hugh Kellenberger (Bonner’s boss) about whether or not that policy is still in effect at The Clarion-Ledger.
His answer: “Yes, that’s the policy. No, it did not happen in this situation before publication. But with the sources Mike had on it, I still feel comfortable with the reporting.”
Why did the CL not follow policy on this story?
Kellenberger’s response: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to go into that.”
So, I asked Kellenberger if he had any comment on what Keenum said about Bonner and the newspaper.
“Mike has been consistently ahead of the pack on his reporting throughout this situation, including before Scott Stricklin left for Florida,” Kellenberger answered. “I have full confidence in his reporting.”
He surely must. Bonner’s story also said the same unnamed sources said Cohen “is expected to be introduced as athletic director next Tuesday.”
“That’s just not so,” Sid Salter said. “We would not schedule a press conference to announce the hiring of someone who has not been hired. Article
Feel free to fire away in the comments section.