Five takes on Julie Hermann, Star-Ledger situation
Athletic Director Julie Hermann’s comments about The Star-Ledger are as ironic as a university neglecting to do a background check on an alleged abuser after the fallout from an abusive coach. Or as ironic as a student journalist with no ethics in a media ethics class.
Hermann said the death of The Star-Ledger “would be great” in a wide-ranging interview Feb. 27 with a Rutgers media ethics class.
The result was kind of a big headline, with The Star-Ledger picking up this information from Muckgers, an online news publication formed by Rutgers students. Star-Ledger sports columnist Steve Politi’s piece on Hermann’s comments unleashed social media feuds Monday that made professional wrestlers look like pacifists.
Upon listening to her entire interview, this is too strange an issue to take one side on, so here are my five takes:
1. Hermann really needs to watch what she says.
Citizen journalism can never fully replace professionals in the business, but it can sure hold people accountable just the same. Presenters in this class are on the record, two of its students told me. Muckgers reporter Simon Galperin, who leaked the interview, also told nj.com the same. Unless the words “off the record” were stated before Hermann spoke, any student in the class held the right to tell anyone what she said.
Speaking to a lecture hall of students is different than speaking to reporters. But anything you say or do can be held against you.
Galperin is not a citizen. He is a journalist who works for a publication, but he can certainly hold Hermann accountable for her words in a classroom setting.
2. This comment might have been tongue-and-cheek, but the timing was off.
Maybe Hermann has a dark sense of humor. There’s nothing wrong with that. The only issue is, if her comments about The Star-Ledger were a joke, she made it too soon after her prior controversies.
There were also some giggles in the wedding video when Hermann said the pregnancy of Ginger Hineline, her assistant coach while Herrmann was still with the Tennessee women’s volleyball team, could affect Hineline’s job status. No matter how much Hermann and Hineline joked about that, Hineline probably didn’t find the video very funny when she sued Tennessee for pregnancy discrimination. There also weren’t many laughs when this video surfaced last May to The Star-Ledger.
Hermann should know by now that there are better circumstances to make dark jokes than when her reputation is suffering a slow death.
3. It is a very bad thing for an administrator to hold an adversarial relationship with media.
“I try to be compassionate with the media, believe it or not, because I recognize what their job is,” Hermann told the class. “And the job of the media, in large part, is getting more challenging.”
Stereotyping the media is not compassion. Generalizing the media is easy, simple as saying the job of athletic directors is exploiting student athletes’ free labor. Every stereotype holds a hint of truth, but no one likes to be clumped in with the antagonists of their industry.
There are plenty of naïve people who think journalists and public relations agents are enemies, including several in both industries. It makes it harder for any journalist to gain respect when some publications sensationalize nonstories, like Rutgers cornerback Ian Thomas telling nj.com he did not originally quit the team to pursue baseball.
It only takes one journalist to give the rest a bad name. And it only takes one athletic director’s adversarial comments to hurt the rest of her department. The journalistic scene encourages sensationalism for exposure, but this shouldn’t be taken out on entire publications or industries.
4. Muckgers’ coverage of the issue was unethical.
Congratulations, Galperin. You got your 15 minutes. But Muckgers should consider developing a code of ethics.
If Muckgers ever creates one, it should consider including telling sources up front that they are actually reporting.
It wasn’t wrong of Galperin to publish the material, but it was deceiving not to tell Hermann he’s a reporter. Galperin’s article still received exposure for carrying interesting information, but he reported it at the cost of the reputation of all journalists who maintain their integrity. Sometimes, undercover work is required in investigative journalism, but sitting in a class is hardly investigative. Maintaining sources’ trust shouldn’t be taken for granted.
That might just be what some people have to do when they can receive information as juicy as Hermann’s statements, yet can only muster a poorly written article with a scatterbrained focus that seems agenda-driven.
5. Politi is not as much of a hack as you think.
I’ve worked with Politi several times covering Rutgers athletics, so I know a different Politi than the one his readers and Hermann construe. Politi is often present to ask teams their side of the story before he writes critically.
Nj.com failed to do so when it originally published the story. For the record, nj.com and The Star-Ledger are unaffiliated in terms of content production. Nj.com just hosts The Star-Ledgers’ content.
“I’ve got one guy over at the Ledger and he has one mission, that’s to get any AD at Rutgers fired,” Hermann said.
There is a small chance Hermann referenced nj.com’s Dan Duggan or Kevin Manahan, since she used The Star-Ledger and nj.com interchangeably in the interview. But this is most likely about Politi.
Politi should have made it clearer in his column that Hermann’s comments came an entire month before The Star-Ledger laid off 167 employees. If Politi hasn’t done so already, he should consider if his column would have been as scathing if he wrote it a month ago.
Other than that, Hermann’s comments prove why Rutgers athletics needs criticism. That criticism might change when administration changes.
Josh Bakan is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with a minor in English. He is the former sports editor of The Daily Targum.