Aussie journalism student disciplined by US university after telling a source he did not have to be positive

An Australian journalism student on an exchange in the US has found himself in trouble for trying to write a profile of a hockey coach and telling one of his potential sources in an email that their comment “does not have to be positive”.

Alex Myers was threatened with suspension by the State University of New York College at Oswego after also telling the source that he worked at SUNY Oswego’s office of public affairs when he in fact interned there.

Myers is a fourth year sports journalism student at Charles Sturt.

He faces disciplinary action and was told he was suspended – although this was later withdrawn – over his email.

According to documents published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Myers wrote an email to hockey coaches:

My name is Alex Myers, I work for the Office of Public Affairs at SUNY Oswego.

“I am currently writing a profile on Oswego State Hockey head coach Ed Gosek and was hoping to get a rival coaches view on Mr Gosek.

“If you have time would you mind answering the following questions.

“1. How do you find Mr Gosek to coach against?

“2. Have you had any interactions with Mr Gosek off the ice? If so how did you find him?

“3. What is your rivalry like between your school and Oswego State?

“Be as forthcoming as you like, what you say about Mr Gosek does not have to be positive.”

It angered coach Michael Schafer who emailed: “Your last line of saying your comments don’t need to be positive is offensive.”

Despite Myers replying: “I apologise if you were offended by my last line. I was simply letting you know that this piece I am writing is not a ‘puff’ piece about Mr Gosek. I appreciate you taking time out of your day to reply to my email.”, his email still triggered a complaint to the university.

The university issued him with a notice of suspension. It also issued him with a statement of charges accusing him of violating rules on academic dishonesty over saying he worked at the organisation. And it accused him of “disruptive behaviour”over the “does not have to be positive” line.

FIRE’s revelations around the incident generated a string of headlines in the US aroudn the issue of whether journalists are being taught to write only positive pieces about people.

gawker alex myersHigh profile site Gawker headlined its coverage: “University suspends journalism student for asking questions for a class assignment”.

Myers has not commented on the incident.

Peter Simmons, associate professor and associate head of school at CSU told Mumbrella that he had not spoken to Myers. He said:

“Alex is an enthusiastic student who went abroad to develop his skills. He made a couple of errors of judgement, but you learn your craft from the mistakes you make, and hopefully emerge better off for it.

“He should have represented himself more accurately as a student doing an assignment. That was his biggest mistake. He will be shocked by this experience, but will have learned about working in different environments and cultures.”

Journalism academic Jenna Price, undergraduate coordinator of the journalism major at University of Technology Sydney told Mumbrella that Myers’ approach to his profile piece was “a recipe for disaster”, but labelled the response from SUNY Oswego as “absolutely ludicrous”.

She said: “Trying to conduct an interview like that over email is a recipe for disaster. You have to develop a relationship with someone, preferably in person or over the phone, before asking negative questions. It was a beginner’s error.”

“Developed journalists prefer phone conversations,” she added.

However, Price said the no Australian university would have responded to Myers’ approach as SUNY Oswego did.

“It was absolutely ludicrous. The university was thinking about itself and not the student. A better way would have been to back the student while counselling them on a better approach to the interview,” she said.


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