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Olson Must Learn to Deal With Media Both New and Old

Lute Olson's contentious April 1 press conference put an exclamation point on one of the most bizarre UA men's basketball campaigns ever. It was clear to everyone who saw the press conference that Olson was none too thrilled with the whirlwind of coverage and speculation surrounding his leave of absence and the overall state of the UA basketball program.

Olson has a history of being defensive. It's not uncommon for him to vocalize his displeasure with media coverage during press conferences a couple of times every season, but on April 1, he pulled no punches. He also rekindled a notorious feud by calling out Arizona Daily Star sports columnist Greg Hansen.

"The good thing is you're not going to have to talk to me, and I'm not going to have to talk to you," Olson told Hansen at the press conference. "We're back to where we were a few years ago."

Efforts had been made to improve the Olson/Hansen relationship earlier this decade, but a series of Hansen columns this year clearly raised Olson's ire.

Olson also went after Star men's basketball beat writer Bruce Pascoe, referring to him as "Columbo" while Pascoe fished for clarification on issues such as the status of interim coach Kevin O'Neill.

Perhaps overshadowed by Olson's disdain for the Star (a newspaper which didn't do itself any favors by making a point to include the word "unexplained" in every sentence that referred to Olson's leave of absence) was a post-press-conference interview with Sean Mooney of Fox Sports Net Arizona, during which Olson showed his utter contempt for the rumor-mongering that can surface via the Internet.

"It's really difficult because of all the information that came out; there might be 1 percent that's factual. The others are rumors and speculations," Olson said. "I might say at this point that the people who put up blogs are people that no one will listen to if they're talking to them privately, but all of a sudden, they can put something up, and a lot of people will read it. We tell our recruits and their parents: Don't you ever get on the Internet and check the blogs, because they're not factual. If you have a question, you ask us. You don't go on the basis of anything that some of those idiots who put up the blogs put up there. I say idiots, because I really mean that. Get a life."

Unfortunately for Olson, he's now coaching in an era of new media. UA athletics is covered all over the Internet, often by journalistically untrained individuals. Beyond individual blogs, many folks will access fan-friendly Web sites devoted to coverage of UA athletics to share thoughts, frustrations and--yes--even rumors surrounding various aspects of the program.

Two sites are noteworthy hubs for Wildcat fans: goazcats.com, which is affiliated with the rivals.com network of sports sites; and wildcatsportsreport.com, formerly part of the scout.com network but now tied with espn.com. The two major content providers for these sites--goazcats senior editor Josh Gershon and wildcatsportsreport editor in chief Brad Allis--engage in an interesting balancing act. They're not restricted to the requirements of the two daily newspapers--that is, going with stories only using on-the-record sources--but they have to be accurate, and current, to maintain their online viability.

"The second I run something that isn't accurate, I'm going to be less credible instantly," said Gershon. "It takes one wrongdoing to break trust. ... To me, I can't go with rumors, and I don't post rumors. It's not worth my credibility. If people are going to pay $10 a month, they deserve better than that, and they're smarter than that."

The sites both devote substantial coverage to the can of worms that is high school recruiting. On the front page, reporters like Gershon and Allis provide content, much as any information Web site would. And then there are the message boards, where the community goes to express opinions--and where the rumor mill cranks at full-steam. In that forum, the two sites approach things in a slightly different manner. If a rumor is spread by a poster at the goazcats message board, Gershon simply leaves it alone.

"By me saying something isn't true, it's me reporting that it's not true," said Gershon, who admits to tipping off readers to possible upcoming occurrences through the message boards, something he won't do on the site's front page. "If I don't know 100 percent if something is accurate or inaccurate, I stay out of it completely. We don't want people going right into Lute's personal life or unfounded speculation as to what he's going through personally. To me, that's just not appropriate. We're about UA basketball, not what Lute Olson does on the side. I don't jump into threads and give my opinion unless I know to the best of my ability that (what I am expressing) is a fact."

Allis, who also partners with me for UA football and basketball pregame and postgame shows on KCUB AM 1290, takes a harder line.

"If (a message-board posting) flat-out said something like, 'This is the reason (for Olson's absence),' they were deleted or edited," Allis said. "If someone says, 'I have heard something vague,' and (the posting is) not harmful to someone's reputation, generally, we might leave it up. ... That's our take on anything. We've had players been accused of misconduct. We've had occupational rumors, 'This kid was going to transfer,' 'This kid was going to take another job,' and if they're just so outlandish or (unverifiable), we'll generally take those down, because it's people's reputations."

In the end, for the reader, it's a matter of using news sources you trust. In this day and age, if you're willing to believe a post online--from someone using a nickname and an anonymous "source"--then that's the way it is, whether Olson likes it or not.

But as purveyors of Internet info, Gershon and Allis hope to continue to provide accurate, up-to-the-minute information while properly dealing with the content others post on their message boards.

"Brad and I have to be more responsible, because we don't have the rules the newspapers have," Gershon said.

More by John Schuster

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