Why Isn’t the Big Ten Network Covering the Penn State Situation?

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Last night, as the Penn State board of trustees met to discuss the firing of Joe Paterno, and a press conference with a trustee was broadcast live, ESPN and CNN covered the event. When PSU students took the streets and some even flipped over a television news van, both cable networks had cameras rolling and talking heads squawking.

At the same time, Chicago-based BTN, which stands for Big Ten Network, did next to nothing when the biggest story in conference history broke. They just continued to replay taped, old college football games.

They had zero coverage of the board of trustees meeting or the riots and demonstrations in State College. Instead they just ran a simple crawl at the bottom of the screen explaining that JoePa had been let go.

USA Today even wrote a story about their lack of coverage.

Here’s an excerpt from that article which shows that on one hand, as a BTN spokesperson points out, they lack the resources of a bigger network. Then again on the other hand, a conference owned network can’t by definition be an objective news network (whatever it claims to be in their marketing slogan, “best Big Ten coverage,” etc. we know that really isn’t the actual mission statement) when negative news breaks relating to brands that it owns.

“We do not have a 24-7 news operation. To compare us to full-time news organizations is a little bit inaccurate. We do however recognize that, to be credible, we cover issues like what is happening at Penn State and we do report them. But we’re measured.”

The Big Ten Conference owns BTN along with Fox Networks. The conference doesn’t tell the network what to cover, says spokesman Scott Chipman. “It is up to the BTN to independently cover stories as they see fit.”

But BTN’s coverage raises the question of whether conference or school-owned channels such as BTN, or the new Longhorn Network owned by the University of Texas and ESPN, have either the resources, or inclination, to objectively report bad news about themselves, says crisis PR expert Mike Paul. Or whether they’re basically extended infomercials.

Whatever way you slice it, the Penn State scandal is one of the biggest Big Ten stories since the network went on the air. Yet the Big Ten Network doesn’t even seem to have sent a single reporter or producer to Pennsylvania to report live from the scene.

“They’ve proved they’re not objective. They’re like a mother lion protecting her young,” Paul says.

Local media, and reporters who cover Big Ten teams were absolutely right in ripping BTN apart on Twitter last night. If Comcast Sports Net Chicago can get their cameras on State College and their reporters analyzing it, so can BTN.

ESPN overall did a good job, up until the night of the firing, when they kind of reverted to form (i.e. sports marketing station, NOT a sports news station) at times.

The BTN chose to just continue playing replays of old college football games instead of showing us what’s going on at one of the conference’s marquee universities! Remember, the campus is in chaos, and the man whose namesake adorns the league championship trophy is chased from his job in disgrace- would have been a ratings bonanza for them.

Adam Hoge of CBS mentioned this in his column today articulating how much damage this has done to college sports:

The truth is, the Big Ten Network was late to the party. A 10-minute special Tuesday night doesn’t cut it for the network that claims to have the best Big Ten coverage. This is the biggest story the conference has ever seen and they should be all over it.

With that said, I can tell you that every single person working there wants to cover this story without holding back. While the conference — which owns 51 percent of the network — claims it has free reign to cover whatever it wants, my personal belief is that it doesn’t. So please, blame the conference, not the network.

Also, the Big Ten is airing a 90-minute special Wednesday night and I was told “the gloves are off”. Should be a must-watch.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports.

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; he’s also a member of the FWAA, USBWA and SPJ. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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