Sports editor’s advice to basketball recruit called ‘unprofessional, if not unethical’

Romenesko Misc.
Over the weekend, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel sports editor Tom Davis got on Twitter and advised Indiana University basketball recruit Collin Hartman to sign with Butler University — the editor’s alma mater. Davis’s journalism ethics were questioned by his followers. More after the jump.

Romenesko reader Patrick Donahue writes in an e-mail:

I don’t think that the act of tweeting a high school kid to go to an alma mater — and a university that your news organization covers — is that grievous but it is certainly unprofessional, if not altogether unethical. That fact was not lost on the News-Sentinel’s readers who peppered Davis with tweets. emails and phone calls justifiably calling into question his ability to objectively cover or organize coverage of either of these programs. Instead of addressing those concerns in a professional way or apologizing for the tweet, Davis belittled his readers. He tweeted: “Note to IU mbb fans: I really don’t believe that the Hartman family is going 2 b influenced n a major decision by Tom Davis’ “tweet.” and shortly after tweeted: “U need to put the coffee down, walk around the block, pet your cat for 3 minutes and settle down.”

Davis also tweeted:

Note to IU mbb fans: I really don’t believe that the Hartman family is going 2 b influenced n a major decision by Tom Davis’ “tweet.”

@cwhartman27 After what I’ve endured the last 20 hours, if u ever alter ur choice 2 go 2 IU I bet my dog is dead!

Thanks Tweets, I added almost 40 new followers today. Wonder why?

The sports editor didn’t respond to Romenesko’s request for comment on the flap.

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  • Steve Brack

    Dan, I’m simply trying to see how, if journalism is a profession with a standard of ethics (which it appears to have: ), that standard of ethics can support conclusions in two cases that differ so widely as to be near opposites. Regardless of who’s commenting on it, an ethical breach is still an ethical breach. To consider it otherwise is to engage in the worst kind of situational ethics. That said, Romenesko did comment on both this and the Eichenwald matter (Google is your friend: ), so your first point fails both logically & factually.

    As to your second point, inferring that Eichenwald lost his job at the New York Times over his unethical actions, once again, the facts aren’t with you: Eichenwald resigned from the NYT to take a position with Conde Nast’s Portfolio magazine in September 2006 (Romenesko: ). Moving from one highly-paid position to another without a cloud of scandal: That’s hardly a stinging rebuke for Eichenwald, is it? After he moved to Portfolio, one of his ethical lapses became public in March 2007 (Romenesko: ). It wouldn’t be until cases began going to trial that the rest of his entanglement with Berry’s porn business became public.

    Regarding the award for ethics in journalism, it’s called the “Payne Award” and it’s given annually by the J-school at Oregon, so it’s not some irrelevant fly-by-night token award. Eichenwald won it in 2006 for his reporting on Justin Berry, which is also the story where his professional ethics failed him. Oregon Dean Tim Gleason said, after news of Eichenwald’s ethical lapses became public in 2007, that they wouldn’t rescind the award (Romenesko: ).

    Finally, if there is to be an ethical standard as part of the profession of journalism, it needs to be applicable on an overall basis, not just when it’s convenient. My point stands: Eichenwald pays teenage child pornographer Justin Berry over $5,000 and wins an ethics in journalism award for it; Tom Davis suggests Collin Hartman play basketball for his alma mater, and that’s unethical. I think it’s not only reasonable to question that double standard, it’s a necessary step if journalism is to have a consistent standard of professional ethics at all.

  • Anonymous

    It is a violation of NCAA rules, and it behooves Butler to self-report.

    No different from this situation:

  • Bill Smith

    How is it different from an editorial board of the newspaper endorsing candidates in an election?

  • Patrick Donohue

    Actually not a one-off transgression. Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald, which covers the Chicago ‘burbs, tweeted yesterday that Davis had sent a similar tweet to a kid committed to attend Loyola in Chicago. Davis was apparently trying to sway him to attend Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Another school that his paper covers. This guy just doesn’t get it.!/WillhiteHerald/status/52164421203664896

  • Anonymous

    It wasn’t the greatest idea for Davis to do this, but as usual Romanesko blows a one-off transgression into a national scandal.

  • Dan Mitchell

    Maybe you’re confused because you’re comparing the two cases not only as if they were similar, but as if the same people were commenting on them, and being hypocritical. In other words, with whom are you arguing? Whose standards are “wildly at variance?” If it’s two completely different groups of people, then your point is meaningless.

    Further, Eichenwald’s reputation was forever tainted by the Berry case, and he left his job because of it. The New York Times said at the time that the payments ran afoul of the paper’s ethics rules, but that Eichenwald didn’t work there any more. You wildly and willfully mischaracterize the situation by saying “he wins an award for ethics,” as if that were the only outcome. I might say more about the award you’re referring to if I knew anything about it, but I don’t. My guess, based on the rest of your post here, is that in one way or another, it’s totally irrelevant.

    Finally, a judgment on whether advising players on which college to attend is unethical can be made independently of other judgments. In other words, if it’s unethical, it’s unethical no matter what happened in the Eichenwald case or any other case. If you can point to some particular instance of hypocrisy, have at it, but my guess is that you can’t.

  • John Landsberg

    This is a major ethical breach by a journalist. He certainly is (wink, wink) telling this young man that if he comes to Butler his paper (wink, wink) will give him favorable coverage. Newspaper editors should not be involved in the recruiting process, period.

  • Steve Brack

    I’m kind of confused… A sports journalist tweets a plea for a basketball recruit to go to his alma mater and there’s a major ethical problem, but Kurt Eichenwald gave $5,000+ to a former underage prostitute operating a child pornography website, receiving photos and administrator access to the website, as well as a feature storyu in the New York Times, but he wins an award for ethics in journalism?

    I think we’re seeing a bifurcated problem: A gross overreaction to “Twittergate” and a gross underreaction to Eichenwald’s complete abandonment of the principles of objective journalism (and truth-telling) in taking a personal financial interest in Justin Berry, the subject of his 2005 exposé.

    From this layman’s perspective, the standards being applied seem wildly at variance with each other.