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Oregonian Investigation Reveals Pac-12 Allegedly Agreed To Pay For Positive Media Coverage

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 17: A PAC-12 logo is seen during the PAC-12 Men's Basketball Media Day on October 17, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Oregonian investigated a deal that was reportedly in place between the Pac-12 and the Los Angeles Times which was intended to provide the conference with positive media coverage.

Pac-12 insider John Canzano released a detailed report of the alleged deal between the LA Times and the Pac-12 on Thursday.

Canzano reported that the conference was in “deep distress” in 2018 after the instant-replay scandal along with the basketball programs losing in the NCAA Tournament.

The instant replay scandal started in 2018 when Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel received documents that said an “untrained third party” overruled a controversial targeting call in a Pac-12 game. The game Thamel referred to was Washington State and USC back on September 21, 2018.

Deal With LA Times

In the report, the Pac-12 hired a high-profile crisis-management firm. One of the things the firm suggested was “seek to identify positive voices that could shift the conversation.”

That is when conference officials went to the Los Angeles Times and The Players’ Tribune with deal requests, according to Canzano’s investigation into emails and other documents the Oregonian found.

A Pac-12 staff member told Canzano, “Literally, in a meeting, our communications people were like, ‘Is there anyone we can pay to write positive stories?’”

Canzano explained the issue with the deal in his story for the Oregonian.

“Most newsrooms fiercely guard against any interference by advertisers with editorial content, any appearance of special treatment in exchange for ad dollars, any whiff of quid pro quo. It’s a tenet of journalism that the newsrooms are independent of the advertising department,” he said.

LA Times Hire Pac-12 Reporter

When the agreement was signed, the LA Times hired former intern Blake Richardson to be the Pac-12 reporter. Conference vice president in charge of communications, Andrew Walker, promised Richardson via an email obtained by the Oregonian from the conference that read, “I can make sure you have all the access and info to become the best Pac-12 reporter out there.”

Walker wanted to schedule two telephone calls per month with Richardson, offered that the reporter could even “be embedded with Cal’s basketball team on a trip to China a few weeks later.”

“I will connect you via email with each of our 12 universities (sports information directors) so that you can develop a working relationship with each of them, and get their story ideas,” Walker wrote.

Employee Complaints

Employees of the LA Times questioned the deal with the Pac-12 and how it was being handled. They submitted complaints to the Human Resources department.

According to Canzano’s piece, one of the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize winners filed a complaint with the newspaper.

Part of that complaint read:

“The Oregonian reported on the purported partnership with the Pac-12; needless to say, we should not partner with an institution we cover…. in an email to staffers, this partnership seemed to involve an agreement in which we would cover certain non-major sports at Pac-12 schools in exchange for advertisers the conference would direct to us. It looked very much like a violation of journalism standards.”

A senior staff member with the conference told the Oregonian that the “Los Angeles Times exercised the cancellation option. It officially shut down the partnership in February 2019, four months into a six-month arrangement.”

Walker is still in the same role at the conference. Canzano reached out for comment when the Pac-12 VP admitted to having conversations with The Times.

“We did have discussions with the LA Times but in the end we did not enter into any agreements of any kind (financial or otherwise) with them and there was no money spent by Pac-12 or our partners with the LA Times in connection with any potential advertising relationship discussed,” Walker wrote.

Canzano received another statement from Walker as he “walked back” some of his original statement.

“As part of the discussions we did reach the point of signing an agreement, but subsequently — and before any implementation of any kind — mutually decided to cancel it before implementation,” Walker wrote.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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