Society of Professional Journalists says basketball coach who threatened to deny student newspaper press credentials acted improperly

MINNESOTA — The Minnesota Chapter of the Society ofProfessional Journalists in January condemned the actions of aUniversity of Minnesota-Twin Cities’ coach who threatened to withholdpress credentials from the student newspaper when it publisheda column critical of his team.

In a letter to Tonya Brown, vice president of the university,the Minnesota SPJ said it believes men’s basketball coach DanMonson acted improperly — and possibly illegally — when he threatenedto deny the Minnesota Daily access to the basketball teamin October."We are concerned because we believe Coach Dan Monson andsome other University employees threatened to take actions thatarguably are illegal to pressure a student journalist to makean unethical decision," the letter said. "First Amendmentlaw clearly prohibits such actions. When the government decidesto offer special access to the press, even when the access isgreater than offered to the general public, that access must notbe denied because the viewpoint of a media outlet is offensiveto the government employee."In the letter, the Minnesota SPJ’s board cautioned Brown thatit will pay closer attention to university policies on accessto the media in the future.

Josh Linehan, Minnesota Daily sports editor,wrote a column entitled "Basketball Program Must Die"after numerous scandals surfaced surrounding players on the team.Linehan said Brad Ruiter, assistant program director, and Monsonwere displeased with the article and set up a meeting with Linehan,Ruiter, Athletic Director Tom Moe and Julia Grant, editor of theDaily, to discuss the situation. According to Linehan, during the meeting Monson suggested he writea more sympathetic story or the Daily would not receivepress credentials.Linehan said Monson and Ruiter rejected the first two offers madeby Grant — to allow team captain John Blair Bickerstaff to writea letter to the editor or to have a staff writer who disagreedwith Linehan’s column write a counterpoint.

But Monson accepted Linehan’s suggestion to write a "readerresponse" piece that he would submit for Monson’s approvalbefore publishing it in the paper.

Linehan said he decided to compromise with Monson in orderto maintain access to the athletes and the athletic departmentin the future.

"I got a record number of calls about this story, andalthough I didn’t want to write a retraction, I think, in theend, it turned out for the best," Linehan said.

As a result of the compromise, Linehan said the staff did receivetheir press credentials and retained access to athletes and coachesfor future stories.

Judith Borger, president of the Minnesota SPJ, advised studentjournalists to use caution and consider a variety of options beforedeciding how to deal with controversial stories.

"When you get into situation where someone disagrees,it is always wise to sit and listen," Borger said. "Fora student newspaper, there are lots of options students can consider.But ultimately, what students need to know is you review the factsand then, to the best of your ability, do what is right for thereader."

The Minnesota SPJ’s letter to Tonya Brown is available onlineat: