Bradley University revoked access to its basketball team to the beat writer from the Peoria Journal Star after complaining the hometown newspaper did not properly promote the college’s brand; a day later, after encountering the wrath of journalism activists nationwide, it reinstated access.
Friday afternoon, public relations staff from the athletic department barred longtime Journal Star reporter Dave Reynolds from taking part in a press event related to the team’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship and bid to the NCAA tournament, its first trip since 2006.
As Reynolds attempted to conduct an interview with one of the team’s players, a school official stepped in and told him he was not welcome at the event.
Reynolds described the rest of the exchange to Journal Star reporters Dave Eminian and Nick Vlahos:
I told him, ‘The newspaper received the invitation.’ He said, ‘That was directed to [Sports Editor Wes Huett], not to you.’ I said, ‘He doesn’t cover the team. I have for 29 years.’
“He responded by saying, ‘You don’t promote the Bradley brand, and basically we don’t want you here.’ I said, ‘Jason, that’s not my job to promote the Bradley brand. You know that.’
“He said, ‘That’s what we decided.’ I said, ‘Who’s we?’ He said, ‘Bradley University.’ I said, ‘You realize how petty this is, Jason?’ ”
Reynolds talked with [head coach Brian Wardle], who echoed Bradley’s stance.
Said Reynolds: “He said I’m always looking for the negative and he’s been having this conversation (about it) with me,” Reynolds said. “He’s had it three times and nothing has changed. He said something to the effect of ‘We don’t want you around anymore.’"
After Reynolds’s exchange Friday afternoon, Huett, the sports editor, received a call from a Bradley athletic department official with a laundry list of complaints about the reporter, some more than a year old. The editor said he struggled to take the conversation seriously.
“He said our coverage included ‘half-truths and misleading stories’ and that we had been ‘unfair to the program,’ ” Huett said.
He compared it to a meeting between Bradley officials and Huett earlier in the season, in which university representatives reportedly told the editor that the newspaper’s coverage, “doesn’t benefit them.”
“I said, ‘I don’t care.’ I chuckled a few times during the meeting. It was very silly,” Huett said this week.
But Bradley did threaten to curtail the paper’s access to the team during the meeting and made good on that threat Friday. That stance was answered by a wave of condemnation from journalists across the country.
Los Angeles Dodgers radio announcer and former ESPN anchor Charley Steiner, for whom Bradley’s Charley Steiner School of Sports Communication is named, told the Journal Star: “It is so sad on so many levels. Speaking only as a guy who went to Bradley and had a career in journalism and sports communication, this whole episode goes against the grain of everything I believe in.”
A commentary piece by Eminian and Vlahos in the The Journal Star called the decision, “stunning,” “unearned,” “pure pettiness,” “oh-so-fragile” and “garbage.”
Saturday, after that uproar, the Illinois school reinstated Reynolds’s access and said in a statement that it understands the media’s role in covering the team.
“The Bradley athletics staff appreciates the importance of having a media presence presenting fair and accurate coverage,” the statement read. “We recognize that the media is not responsible for promoting the Bradley brand and that was never our expectation. We did not handle this situation appropriately and for that we apologize. Peoria Journal Star reporter Dave Reynolds will have equivalent media access to cover the Braves and Bradley athletics will continue to work on its relationship with the Peoria Journal Star. We are one day away from Selection Sunday and our focus and attention needs to be on the success of our student athletes.”
University president Gary Roberts said in a subsequent statement that he was unaware of the strained relationship between the college and the newspaper and declared it was not the school’s policy to revoke access from reporters.
“I personally and Bradley University institutionally do not believe that it is the job or duty of anyone in the media or any media outlet to promote Bradley’s brand,” he said. “It is the media’s job to report the news and facts in a truthful and unbiased way and occasionally to express opinions that are reasoned and based on accurate facts as best they know them.
“There is certainly no formal policy at Bradley University that allows for barring or limiting access to any member of the media or any media outlet. If that has occurred, it was inconsistent with Bradley’s general attitude toward the media and what I would regard as the implicit policy of the University.”
Reynolds on Saturday accepted the university’s apology and thanked Roberts for reiterating Bradley’s media access policies.
“I’m pleased that my access to Bradley basketball has been restored by the university so I can do my job as the team’s beat writer,” Reynolds said. “Journal Star readers, many of whom are Bradley basketball fans, have long been provided detailed coverage of the Braves.”
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