Two words stuck out from Butch Jones’ weekly press conference on Monday: “Our media.” Those words were part of a larger monologue made at the end of his appearance in front of the media, one that showed Jones’ continued disconnect with the actual role of sports media.
First, for me: I’m not claiming to be some media expert. As a senior in J school in Knoxville, I don’t have much experience on the beat. I’ve written for four years for both a student website and now here at FOX, and I’ve spent exactly five games in the press box covering Tennessee football games.
I don’t have the experience or skill of Grant Ramey, Wes Rucker, Mike Strange, John Adams, Jimmy Hyams, Rhiannon Potkey, John Brice, even our own Nick Davis and Boomer Dangel.
However, one thing is abundantly clear to me: we as media are not spokespeople for the University of Tennessee or Tennessee athletics. To even have to clarify that makes me shake my head. It’s the one concept Butch Jones (and other coaches) are failing to grasp.
We don’t write, talk, and video everything Tennessee football related because we want to affect the image of the program. We report the facts and numbers to let you — the readers, listeners, viewers and fans — decide what you think the image represents.
So when I see Butch Jones asked two legitimate reporting questions, I see two media members doing their job. One was about the absence of Jauan Jennings on the sidelines during games, the other to address the orbital injury Shy Tuttle suffered and the rumors about a practice altercation that might have caused it.
Butch’s response has been well documented. The finish to his appearance at the presser end with these incredible quotes: “I think we have to understand, what do we want out of our media?” Then, to answer Patrick Brown’s inquiry about Jennings, Jones replied “You guys look for everything. I think you’re running a reality TV show that runs off of drama.” Yes, he really used the words “reality TV show” to describe our jobs.
Jones answered the actual question by saying Jennings is “in the building every day” and hates being on the sidelines, but his must-say jab at the media drags on this pointless fight against reporting. He imagines media as a Pony Express he can hold the reigns on, a carriage he can drive. It’s not.
The problem with Jones’ disconnect is not so much that he doesn’t realize the media’s role, it’s that he also thinks that role should be pro-Tennessee. His disconnect doesn’t allow him to differentiate between the responsibilities of media relations and media in the press room. There’s a big difference.
Jones says that the Knoxville and national media promote “a society of negativity,” but fans and disinterested people alike can see that the end of the 2016 season and poor showings against Florida and UMass are shaping that negativity. The writing is on the wall, and we’re not the ones with the pen. Each word was written by Jones, the artist, each stroke a loss to Vanderbilt and Florida or a blown fourth-quarter lead.
I get Jones’ tough position. There’s no question he’s feeling plenty of outside pressure, but trying to punish the media or bend them to show the program in a more positive light is hurting the integrity of everyone involved. There’s no reason that reporters and coaches need to be seen as enemies, even as opposed. At the core of things, both parties are just trying to do their jobs.