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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: Ready, fire, aim...media firestorm could prove costly

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Ready, fire, aim...media firestorm could prove costly

There is the infamous saying in journalism, print and broadcast, "If it bleeds, it leads."

As events continue to unfold about the suspension and expected dismissal of a Shenendehowa track coach all media outlets and potentially the school itself could find out not only how messy this event has become, but also how costly.

I was following reports on all the local web-sites and news broadcasts at 5, 6 and 11 p.m.

I also was in contact with my fellow news reporter Glen Griffith and maybe it is his years of experience or just the fact that he has this nasty habit of always trying to be accurate, but throughout our conversations he mentioned "we have to be careful", "we have to make sure we are right."

Isn't amazing that a reporter for a weekly newspaper is saying to take it easy versus looking to get it first which is the mantra in our hyper-instant news world.

PDF's of the coach's certification revocation letter became available, one newspaper outlet somehow obtained his driving abstract to note his driving infractions, links to a New York Times article about the initial charges written by the New York Times was linked, along with a Facebook page about him linked, but the highlight of rushes to judgement came when WNYT Channel 13 the NBC affiliate issued an on-air apology for stating Wednesday night that the coach was "A level 1 sex offender".

Guess what, they were wrong.

An on-air correction after it ran the story about the story, the coach's suspension and expected dismissal....Ooops, sorry. We didn't have a chance to check the New York State sex offender database, but went with it anyway.

Not only has the coach obtained legal counsel regarding the way the school district has explained the dismissal and subsequent firestorm, including referring parents to the state police if they feel any infraction has occurred by this coach (although he has never been convicted of a crime, even from alleged events that took place in 1989 and 1990).

One local newspaper had three bylines on its story about this event, or actually a non-event, because the coach could be terminated for coaching without proper certification. When he was hired his teaching certificate was valid, it was only revoked after he was on the job.

There has been no charges of impropriety during his 15 years at Shenendehowa as a part-time coach and he was re-appointed not 15 times, but potentially than 45 times by the school district, all with board of education approval as coaches work on a one-year appointment to their sport. The coach was involved in all three seasons, three different sports since 1995.

Also, according to another institution, a college, where he works as a part-time coach, he is still on staff and no action is expected to be taken.

I'm not a fan of litigation, but on this one, I have to side with the coach's attorney if he chooses to pursue it.

Corrections aren't fun, they are part of the media business and I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Thank god we don't have to print corrections for typos or else I may have a page to fill each week. I have made innocent mistakes regarding names and my most egregious and heartfelt apologies continue to go out when I mistakenly identified a parent incorrectly in a photo caption.

But a rush to judgement correction that impacts someone at this level could prove costly, we may just have to wait to see how much.

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