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Drug and alcohol issues at HS level... how much in paper?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by steveu, Feb 4, 2007.

  1. steveu

    steveu Well-Known Member

    Hey guys... I wanted to get some of your opinions on how aggressively to pursue stuff like this. I'll give you the story I worked on...

    We play volleyball in the winter in our state. I just did a story on two coaches being suspended because they broke the rules for out-of-season involvement with their teams (these coaches are also club-team coaches in the offseason). While on suspension, three of their team's players were at a party where alcohol was served but they didn't drink.

    I had the unenviable task of going to the HS volleyball match (I am the beat writer for volleyball at my paper) and taking observations. I finally asked the interim coach about the situation and was surprised when she talked. Also got reax from a couple players about how the adversity affected their team.

    I wasn't too surprised at the reaction. Longtime coaches are steamed at both me and at our paper for covering this the way we did. I pretty much napalmed my relationship with this school and the coaches, and this school is a consistent top team year in and year out. That said, I do believe this should have been in the paper given this program's status. One coach at this school claimed the interim coach thought she was off the record, but she saw my tape player running.

    What do ya all think... was it worth the trouble? We all know this shit happens at every high school but how much should have been written about it? I've covered HS volleyball for 12 years in addition to other HS and college assignments. Have any of you run into trouble talking about these issues? I'd love to hear your horror stories. :)
  2. PaperDoll

    PaperDoll Well-Known Member

    If they admit it, you can print it... right?

    I knew about several members of a high school soccer team who were suspended from the team (but not from school) after being caught drinking -- on school property, no less! The cops were never called, so there was no police report. Even if there had been one, they're minors, so their names wouldn't have been available. It also was never discussed at a school board meeting, as far as I know.

    Other kids in the school told me who was involved, which was was quasi-obvious from the results that got called in. The kids wouldn't talk and the coach (a good guy who I still have a solid relationship with) only said something about the suspensions being a result of breaking team rules.

    I never printed a word. Without any public documents or an on-the-record confession, the powers that be said there wasn't anything the paper could run. Several years later, it still frustrates me -- particularly now that we've had so many local teenagers die in alcohol-fueled car wrecks.
  3. Crimson Tide

    Crimson Tide Member

    I've been reprimanded for writing about lesser evils, so if Johnny QB gets shitfaced and benched and I had a coach or somebody on record, it's still likely I'd lose my job.
  4. JBHawkEye

    JBHawkEye Active Member

    A couple of situations we had:

    1. The weekend before one of our area girls basketball teams was to play at the state tournament, the players decided to have a big party that ended up getting raided by police. Twelve of the 13 varsity players on the roster were arrested and then suspended from the team, including the star player, who threw a chair at the cops as she tried to escape.

    So the school had to play at state with kids off the JV and sophomore teams. And they lost in the first round.

    In a meeting with coaches before the school year started a few years later, a couple of coaches said we should have never mentioned what happened. All I could do was shake my head at the stupidity of those comments.

    2. Also, right before the state volleyball tournament a few years ago, four of the starters from one of our local schools got busted for booze and suspended. Of course, we wrote about it.

    A few weeks later, the AD of that school finds out that a basketball player at another one of the local schools, who played maybe two minutes a game, had been arrested for alcohol. He called up screaming that we didn't write a big story about her. He didn't understand that four starters getting suspended before the state tournament is quite different from a varsity scrub who missed the first two games of the basketball season.
  5. subhead

    subhead Member

    Even if a coach says something is off the record, it's only off if you clearly agree. You didn't take these comments off the record. It's on.

    The day you censor a story because you fear complaints from those it exposes is the day you should change careers.

    If you're doing your job right, you will piss people off sometimes. Either because you mention the technical foul that cost a team a win or the case mentioned here.

    Kudos to you for thinking it through, but doing the right thing. Be proud.

    You have to be sensitive with high school kids and follow the same rules news has about naming juveniles who are arrested etc., but papers should never keep stuff out of the paper to avoid pissing people off.
  6. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    Had a situation very similar to PaperDoll last year with girls soccer players suspended for the season for violation of school rules..including one of the best players in our area.
    We got lots of details -- off the record -- from parents and their former coach who knew the whole story.
    But 17-year-old girls with a second underage drinking bust on school property and one of them caught driving as well ... there is no police record because they're minors. We never printed the details, only that players x, y, and z (yes we used their names because this was a top-level team and one very high level player and it was obvious who was missing from the lineup for the County and State tournaments) were suspended for violation of the school code of conduct -- the official word from the AD -- reluctantly after we told him everything we had heard.
  7. Mystery_Meat

    Mystery_Meat Guest

    Then the fight is done. You're not expected by your bosses to be a reporter. A fellater, mayhaps. A reporter, no. Close your eyes, think of England, write up that crap and ... wait for it ... get that resume out there. But then I'm not telling you anything ... you didn't already know. </sean o'haire>
  8. subhead

    subhead Member

    Looks like the perfect way to handle it. I know you were just adding and weren't responding to mine, but I figured I'd add that for the record, I wasn't favoring printing everything, speculation etc., just the stuff that makes public record or is fact, such as somebody being ineligible or suspended.
  9. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    If it's the kid who gets in trouble, you have to be really careful...

    If it's the coach, it's a much easier situation...
  10. tenacious_g

    tenacious_g Member

    Just a point of reference as a former crime and court reporter. I realize in the example you spoke of, there were no police reports anyway, so this isn't directed at your specific example. But I know of no state law that hides minors names in police reports. It is illegal and if you push the issue, they are not hidden or redacted from police reports by law, but by policy. The courts in each state might not handle juvenile legal proceedings the same, but if there is a police report filed, it is illegal to hide the names of minors in the states I am versed in the open records law.

    That said, most papers don't vigorously pursue the names of minors in such cases, and probably rightfully so in most cases. But hiding the names of any criminal offender, any age, is not, by law, the decision of the police. It is the judgement of the newspapers.

    I think the idea minor's names are kept off of police records is a very big misconception. If a 15 year old shot and killed somebody, they wouldn't hold his name back then and there is no level of crime that changes that policy in the law.

    Just my two cents from past criminal court reporter who has dealt with tons of open records requests through the years.

    As for the thread's topic, I tend to err on the side of not reporting underage drinking allegations until they affect the product on the court (i.e. a suspension during the season). We had a football player here get caught drunk on his school's campus urinating after prom. He was charged with minor in possession of alcohol and public intoxication. We had a cops reporter on newsside wanting to blow the story up. I didn't think it was right. The player wasn't a big public figure by any means (not a star) and it was in the spring, not fall football season. I thought it was targetting a kid for something many kids have done only because he is a football player. Sometimes, the newsworthiness of a juvenile crime does elevate to that level because they are an athlete, but I think we should all err on the side of not reporting stupid teenage hi jinx and screw ups that don't affect the sport they play.

    If he shot somebody, different story.
  11. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    I didn't know that Pravda was still in print.
  12. bigpern23

    bigpern23 Well-Known Member

    You didn't mention if the kids were handed down any suspensions, which is, I think, a key element to how it is reported.

    If it didn't directly affect the team on the court (i.e., Suzy Jumpshot couldn't play because of the suspension), it doesn't seem to be something that needs to be reported. Kids get caught with alcohol all the time. Nothing even newsworthy about it unless it affected the team.

    If they were suspended, how you play it depends on A) How important the player(s) is(are) to the team, B) how did it affect the team (did they lose a big game without their best player, etc.) and C) how big of a transgression is it (has happened more than once, is it more than just alcohol, etc.).

    A couple of examples pop to mind. One year, local team's star catcher was caught drinking in the woods with another athlete and some other HS kids. Of course, this incident took place in the summer, well after the season had ended, he never missed a game and it had zero affect on the team. I never mentioned it in any story about the kid.

    Last winter, a couple of athletes from various teams were arrested for drinking at a school dance. Only one was any good -- in fact, she was one of the area's best swimmers. The arrest occurred a week before the state meet, and she was suspended for the final meet of her career.

    Her sister ended up leading the team to surprising 3rd-place finish and they finished 12 points out of second. So my lead was along the lines of "as usual, a Smith led the team, but this time it was Suzy, not Sally." I went on to say how Sally had been suspended for violating team rules and her sister did her best to replace the presence they lost. I got reactions from the coach, the sister and a couple of other swimmers, yadda, yadda.

    I also mentioned in the story that the team missed second place because of Sally's absence. After all, she would have definitely qualified for two finals heats in her events and that would have guaranteed the team 22 more points.

    Mom was pissed. Coach was pissed. I got a couple of angry phone calls wondering why the other athletes (some of whom were JV players and another of whom barely played for the bball team) weren't mentioned. I explained that I didn't write a story about any of their arrests, I simply covered the state meet and Sally's absence was a part of that story.

    Don't think mom ever forgave me (she probably didn't like my assertion that Sally should take responsibility for her own actions instead of blaming me for embarrassing her), but the coach saw my point of view and we still have a solid professional relationship.
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