Reporters in Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina worked furiously Wednesday night to stay afloat in a rushing current of information, misinformation and conflicting information.
That’s Exhibit A why many folks in this business view a football coaching search, or a major personnel search in general, in a similar manner as a colonoscopy.
What happened Wednesday, when we had a different story on the UCA football coach in Thursday’s print edition than what was later on our website, also indicates the greater opportunities we have in the digital age to give our audience updated and/or corrected information in the midst of a storm of rumors, creditable information, faulty information that are coming at us fast and furiously. It’s the changing nature of a business, complicated by so many different avenues and sources of information. If we strike out, we get more at-bats.
At one point Wednesday night, no media outlet seemed to be able to pinpoint who the new football coach would be at either the University of Central Arkansas or Arkansas State. It was not until Thursday morning that the hiring of Blake Anderson at the University of North Carolina was confirmed as different websites presented conflicting information throughout the night.
The difficulty, and you have to walk a few steps in our shoes to fully understand this, is information from good folks come at you from different angles, and those in this business have to make instant judgments and decisions and official sources in general are not always easy to reach when you need them.
Sometimes, as fallible humans, we just connect the dots incorrectly. And when we do, we own it, and we get it corrected as quickly as possible as more information and more accurate information is available.
Our deadlines for our print edition are in early evening but, thankfully, we have the ability to update throughout the evening. The upside is we are able to tweak, sculpt, correct and update any story. The downside is our audience can get a glimpse of how sausage is made.
Under deadline pressure but with a need to serve our audience with the best information available, in hindsight, we jumped the gun in print on what became a fluid situation about the UCA football coach search. However, the publishing of the information we had did not come without our editors contemplating the best route to follow in the light of the same information already out there in other media. The sources we got this information from are normally reliable, not just anyone who posts on the many message boards out there under the cloak of anonymity. They also connected some dots incorrectly with the best information they had at the time.
For the print story, we were careful to try to convey the story as the best information we had at that time and avoided absolutes. We never stated that an offer had been made. We probably got into too big of a comfort zone and didn’t react quickly enough to get confirmation from official sources. In early evening, we just sent to print where things seemed to be headed after information our office had received that a news conference was set for Thursday afternoon instead of Friday as we had planned. An announcement was made at least one civic club meeting to that effect.
So, things seemed to be moving at a faster pace than we expected.
Here’s what happened from our end:
While our folks were planning for a Friday streaming process when the new coach was expected to be announced, we were informed by a couple of people that the news conference was Thursday.
Ken Collums, a former UCA quarterback, assistant coach and currently the head coach at Abilene Christian, was on the UCA campus Tuesday and Wednesday interviewing for the job. There was a reported buzz on campus Wednesday that he was the guy. Normally reliable sources gave media members information he was the guy. It also seemed logical — with Collums already on campus — to deduce why a news conference had apparently been moved up a day. We reported in print that Collums appeared to be the guy and scrambled to get a story out in time for our deadlines.
As soon as that hit social media, some sources reported that it was not a done deal. Coincidentally, some online organizations were reporting that posts during almost the exact time frame about Anderson going to Arkansas State didn’t reflect a done deal, either.
Later Wednesday evening, Collums, through Abilene Christian’s information office, issued a statement confirming that he had interview for the UCA job but had not been offered. Collums is a high-character guy who is conscientious about doing things the right way and that certainly raised a significant red flag.
In the meantime, we had tweaked and updated our story online to reflect the changing dynamics.
We rewrote the story to note the initial reports may not have been accurate and included Collums’ statement, through various means of social media, as quickly as we could after we received it. We tried to contact official parties for further enlightenment.
About 10 p.m., ACU released a statement that Collums had received a new four-year contract to stay.
Soon afterwards, reports surfaced from Mississippi media outlets that Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College coach Steve Campbell was the new UCA football coach and would be introduced at a Friday news conference.
Teague said Thursday morning that Campbell was the only candidate, of those he had interviewed, who had received the job offer.
Through the evening, our online story was adjusted, updated, corrected and rewritten at least seven times to reflect the new and changing developments.
The bottom line is our staff, and colleagues elsewhere in other organizations, worked long into the night to try to make sure we got it right. And those chasing the ASU developments, when a report of a different coach in the mix surfaced late in the evening, had to chase things longer than those, including colleagues in Texas and Mississippi as well as Arkansas, working on the UCA story. We didn’t let up on chasing the story because our audience deserves the best information we can produce under fluid, rapidly changing circumstances.
What the digital age presents us, through websites, Twitter, Facebook and other social media, is the opportunity, when a fast-moving story suddenly goes flat, to quickly change the tire, pump air into it and move on.
And getting to the truth of a story sometimes requires a more circuitous route than the map initially reflects.
The important thing is, despite unforeseen bumps in the road and miscalculations, we got there.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)