An Interview with Dave Hooker

An Interview with Dave Hooker

An Interview with Dave Hooker

“Those are U-T’s guidelines and they can suspend me if they like but they can’t be my guidelines. Ninety-nine percent of the time my guidelines fall perfectly in line with U-T…They say they’re going to enforce this from now on. If they do they’re going to have more suspensions on their hands. There are times you can’t go through the SID to get the story.”

“I don’t know if what U-T did was legal…in some ways the legality can be inconsequential. If you force your way through the courts and you go over there and they don’t want you what kind of cooperation are you going to get?

“I see some of the biggest homers being some of the worst journalists covering teams….you cover a game and get mad at the team because they let you down and you rip them more than an objective journalist would.”

Dave Hooker: Interviewed on October 17, 2006

Position: U-Tennessee beat reporter, Knoxville News Sentinel; radio host, The Sports Animal, AM 990

Born: 1974, Knoxville, Tenn.

Education: U-Tennessee, 1998, communications-broadcasting

Career: WNOX radio 1998-2004, Knoxville News Sentinel 2004 –

Personal: married, two children

Favorite restaurant (home): Nama, Knoxville “we didn’t have sushi until two or three years ago – now we got a couple places”

Favorite restaurant (road): Jim ‘N Nick’s Barbecue, Birmingham “Best barbecue I ever had. If I was sittin’ on a lot of money I would open one here.”

Favorite hotel: Marriott Riverwalk, San Antonio “I spend a week every January. Great atmosphere, lots of fun.”

Suspended: By University of Tennessee, for violating “access guidelines” in interviewing an injured U-T football player on October 4, 2006. The interview was not approved by the U-T Sports Information Department. U-T revoked Hooker’s media credentials from Oct. 11 to Oct. 23, 2006.

Q. Are you suspended by U-T as we speak?

A. Yes.

Q. How are you staying busy?

A. Half of my job is covering recruiting – we just amped that up a bit. I still host the sports radio show the News Sentinel sponsors, 10 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday.

Q. Do you talk about your suspension on your show?

A. That was a pretty big topic Wednesday – the day it happened. I could stoke those fires if I wanted but I want to move on.

I’ve been doing radio for ten years and I can’t remember being as uncomfortable as I was doing that Wednesday program. I was so angry at first I wanted to walk out.

Q. Angry at what?

A. U-T – that I had to deal with their nonsense.

Q. What was the public’s reaction?

A. Mixed. Of the 25 or 30 people who called all were supportive except one or two. On our website – the blog format – it was 50-50 if not slanted more towards supporting U-T. Some message boards on opposing sties were a little harsh towards me. There’s often a tendency for fans to side with the institution. They don’t realize it limits the information they get in the long run.

The response from other reporters has been tremendous. I’ve heard from reporters in 15-20 states. Rolling Stone Magazine, which is doing a season-long look at the Vols, asked me for a quote.

Q. U-T said you violated “accepted guidelines” of access. Accepted by whom?

A. Them. I think most of the time we’re not New York City or a market that goes overboard pursuing these athletes. I think we understand they are student-athletes and have more to their lives than talking to media and playing football. Our group of reporters is fair, but there are times you have to break the rule – that’s been true in the past and it will be in the future.

Those are U-T’s guidelines and they can suspend me if they like but they can’t be my guidelines. Ninety-nine percent of the time my guidelines fall perfectly in line with U-T. But there are going to be issues. It’s natural to have an adversarial relationship between the hometown paper and the university.

Q. Did U-T over-react?

A. If you’re talking strictly of this one incident I would say yes. This week they started to say it was a cumulative effect. I’m supposed to get some sort of apology for things they said about me, but I haven’t yet.

Q. What “things” did U-T say about you?

A. There are two versions of how I got the interview. One is that I ambushed this severely injured athlete on the street – it wasn’t true. I went through an intermediary at U-T who called him and who said he was open to talking. Once I provided the tape and you could hear the cell phone and it was ringing they dropped the whole story. Then they said I took advantage of being over there during another interview session – they used the terms “underhanded” and “dishonest” – they’re going to retract some of that language, I believe.

Q. Can you pursue a legal remedy?

A. I don’t know if what U-T did was legal. Seems like it’s public property of a state-funded institution. I’m told their counsel said it was legal – they tend to err on the side of not getting courts involved so they certainly believe it was. I haven’t met with an attorney with respect to that. The other thing is that in some ways the legality can be inconsequential. If you force your way through the courts and you go over there and they don’t want you what kind of cooperation are you going to get?

Q. Isn’t that the difference between covering City Hall and State House and covering sports?

A. Yes. Some have criticized the Sentinel for not taking a stronger stand. But they backed me 100 percent and I understand where they’re coming from. As long as the attacks on my integrity are retracted I think we can move on from this – although it’s not going to be long until there’s another issue. They say they’re going to enforce this from now on. If they do they’re going to have more suspensions on their hands. There are times you can’t go through the SID to get the story. Maybe a kid is transferring or a kid is suffering from a season-ending injury, as in this case. Maybe a guy gets in trouble and is about to be thrown off the team and the only way to confirm it is through him. The rule is to keep you from calling players to ask about a game – at times it’s appropriate. Reporters generally are respectful – that’s why it’s a shame they came down so hard.

Q. What kind of college football town is Knoxville?

A. The best way I would describe Knoxville is that the day after a big loss by U-T you can tell because everybody in the community is a little bit down. The day after a big win is just the opposite – it has that much effect on the community and the atmosphere.

Q. Can you be a fan and work in the business?

A. I don’t think so. I purposely laid that aside. I was a U-T fan growing up but I set that aside when I graduated from college. I remember going to the Orange Bowl in ’98 and saying that’s the last U-T game I go to as a fan. If I had gone to a job somewhere else maybe I wouldn’t stand by that. I see some of the biggest homers being some of the worst journalists covering teams – not U-T necessarily. You cover a game and get mad at the team because they let you down and you rip them more than an objective journalist would. This latest incident – if I was a fan of U-T I would have been crushed. But I understand they see things one way and I see them another and we move on.

Q. How competitive is the beat?

A. Very. You’ve got the News Sentinel, the Tennessean in Nashville, and the Chattanooga Free Press. Jimmy Hyams, at the local radio station (WNML) is one the best reporters I’ve come across – sometimes we think of sports talk guys as yukking it up – not him. I think it’s pretty darn competitive. You do have the Titans now – that takes some of the space and resources, but U-T is still really significant. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Q. Are you competitive with the Rivals.com and Scout.com websites?

A. They’re probably my main competitors on the recruiting side. Down here they go by volquest.com and Tennessee.scout.com.

We try to be aware of what they’re doing. Even though they cater to a small fan base it’s still a fan base you want to respect you. Those are fans paying to access our website every month. That’s what allowed the Sentinel to hire me.

Q. How’s your paid website doing?

A. Extremely well. Technically, I’m on the online budget. We were test-marketed for Scripps – you’ll see more people doing it in the future. Quite honestly, it’s because people like Rivals and Scouts have made money in the past.

Q. How much pressure are you under to be first?

A. To me personally that pressure comes from within – I’m just that type of person. Will I have editors call me and say how did such-and-such get this? Yeah, that happens, but it’s not a case where I feel threatened. There’s definitely pressure – we’re expected as the hometown paper to break every single story. It’s not realistic but we don’t like to let even one slip by.

Q. How many reporters do you have on U-T?

A. I’m not actually the beat reporter – it’s a co-beat system. The beat reporter is Drew Edwards – it’s his first year on the beat. My focus is recruiting but obviously there is breaking stuff I do. Drew and I are over there every single day. The Tennessean has Chris Low – he has the most time on the beat. They’ll hire a part-time person to be there as well. For U-T media day we’ll have other feature writers and column writers as well.

Q. Is TV a factor?

A. In some TV markets they’re competitive in breaking news but that’s not the case here.

Q. You were a broadcast major – how did you end up in print?

A. John Adams, the sports editor, came to me in 2004 and asked me to cover recruiting. They were hiring a new person because they were starting a new website, a paid website. It morphed into a 50-50 deal covering the team.

I had started writing for a small suburban paper while I was at the radio station – to make a little extra money. That turned out to be a good thing, otherwise I wouldn’t have had enough to show John.

Q. Do you prefer print or radio?

A. There are certain redeeming qualities in print I appreciate and would like to be associated with. I like both a lot though. It’s hard to pick between radio and print – it’s a fun challenge for me. To be honest, it’s a little daunting at times. I’m working with people I grew up reading, like John Adams, Mike Strange – I also read the late Gary Lundy. It’s intimidating – Mike is one of the best game-story writers in the country – John is a very good columnist. Having my stuff next to theirs makes me feel like a broadcast guy again.

Q. How do you educate yourself?

A. I look at sportsbriefs.com a lot – before going on the air. I read a lot of online newspapers. At the beach I like to read the classics – but my lion’s share of reading is in newspapers across the country. I don’t know how anybody did talk radio before the Internet. To be able to read about the Dodgers’ fourth pitcher in Knoxville is awesome. I bounce all over the place. Newslink.org has all the papers in the U.S.

Q. Any desire to work in a big-city market?

A. I would like to stay in the south – I hate cold weather. I love the passion of college football in the south – it’s pretty tough to match. I go to Atlanta frequently on business and I don’t see the passion for the pro teams that I see for college teams. I’ve sat in NFL stadiums where people talk about salary cap money and don’t care if the team is 2-8. That’s odd to me.

Q. Career ambitions?

A. I have ambition just to be the best at whatever I’m doing at that time. I don’t have real specific goals to be a lead columnist or sports editor or host of a national radio show – just because I never thought I’d be a writer. I feel blessed to have this opportunity, and at this point I just want to be the best journalist I can be and see where life leads me. So far it’s been fun.

(SMG thanks Dave Hooker for his cooperation)

UT suspends KNS writer

University says Hooker interview with Inky Johnson violated policy

By STEVE AHILLEN, ahillen@knews.com

October 11, 2006

The University of Tennessee suspended media privileges for Knoxville News Sentinel sports writer Dave Hooker on Tuesday citing its concerns involving a story written by Hooker on injured football player Inquoris “Inky” Johnson.

In a letter delivered to the News Sentinel and signed by associate sports information director John Painter, Hooker was informed that his suspension will last until Oct. 23 and will cover “all Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday access in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center, as well as all practice, post-practice interviews, community service appearances and the UT-Alabama game.”

Johnson received a possibly career-ending injury in the Air Force game on Sept. 16. The Tennessee Sports Information Office received numerous requests for interviews from area media. Media outlets that requested an interview were informed Johnson would be made available when possible.

The UT athletic department has published guidelines stating that all player interviews must be set up through the sports information office.

Working through a source within the UT athletic department over a course of several weeks, Hooker was able to arrange an exclusive interview with Johnson. The interview was conducted with Johnson by phone on the night of Oct. 4 and the story was published in the Oct. 5 News Sentinel.

News Sentinel editor Jack McElroy defended Hooker’s reporting on this story.

“Dave is an enterprising reporter who works hard to break news for our readers,” McElroy said. “Although this was a positive story about a great player, Dave got whistled for a false start. There was certainly never any intent to harm Inky Johnson or the UT athletic program in any way. The News Sentinel regrets UT’s decision in taking this action but looks forward to continuing to provide fans with comprehensive coverage of the Vols.”

In his letter to Hooker and the News Sentinel, Painter said the athletic department is concerned about the precedent set by Hooker’s story.

“Your action has caused not only the UT Athletics Department but also your colleagues to doubt your ability or willingness to follow accepted guidelines for access to Tennessee student-athletes,” Painter wrote.

“In this case a very hard and fast guideline was broken and we felt we had to act,” UT men’s athletic director Mike Hamilton said in a phone conversation Tuesday.

UT director of public relations Tiffany Carpenter said Tuesday that there have been two other incidents in which a member of the media was denied press privileges, one involving Hooker.

Brent Hubbs of Volquest.com and the Vol Network, was suspended for bowl week in 1998 for publishing what was said between a coach and player at practice, Carpenter said.

Hooker was suspended for a week or less in 2004 while an employee of Citadel Broadcasting over a “player accessibility issue,” said Bud Ford, UT associate athletic director for media relations.

Executive sports editor Steve Ahillen may be reached at 865-342-6259.

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