Was it unethical for the Hartford Courant to hire Geno Auriemma’s daughter?

Womens Basketball FinalThis week the Hartford Courant women’s basketball reporter John Altavilla announced that the newspaper had hired the daughter of University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma to blog about the team. Altavilla and Alysa Auriemma have a pre-existing blogging relationship. This summer they traded questions with each other via Altavilla’s work blog and her personal blogger.com account.

Alysa, 23, began her blog “Life Beyond the Postseason” this past March with a chronicle of UConn’s postseason run and subsequent championship. Her posts provided an insightful and often comical behind-the-scenes look at the lives of UConn players, staff and her family. Readers loved her commentary and writing style. Altavilla took notice and in mid-July they began their back-and-forth Q&A’s on their blogs.

This week, Altavilla wrote on his blog that Alysa had been retained by the Courant “to write occasional and original blogs, stories and participate in question and answer sessions for us during the season.”

She said she would also counter what she called “false press” about her father.  “This is a good format to kind of clear up some things and kind of get the truth out there.”

After spending the summer in New York City pursuing a career in acting, Alysa is returning home to possibly take a job in her father’s restaurant at Mohegan Sun Casino according to her blog and will also travel with the team when she can to gather material for her Courant gig.

The Associated Press called her for an interview about her freelance writing job. On her blog she indicated she was excited about the interview but when the story was published, the excitement turned to anger. “What I thought was a complimentary article about my writing was an ethical treatise,” she wrote.

The AP story questioned the ethics of the Courant hiring the daughter of a coach for a team that already gets substantial coverage in the newspaper.  Furthermore, the Courant, already under the ethics microscope, came under fire this summer for plagiarizing the stories of local newspapers after laying off most of the reporters who cover small towns in the surrounding area.

According to Kelly McBride, head of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute in Florida, hiring the coach’s daughter is a problem.

“When you hire the coach’s daughter, as an institution your independence is compromised,” McBride told the AP. “They’re going to have to explain how this does not imply that they’re essentially not going to become part of the family.”

Readers also questioned hiring of a young writer in the wake of veteran journalists losing their jobs.

“I don’t like it, it still comes off as pandering, but it probably wasn’t a huge ethical problem,” wrote one reader. “On an ongoing basis for pay? Ridiculous, especially given that the Courant has recently laid off dozens of talented writers who provided readers with the incisive local coverage that made the Courant relevant and even essential.”

Alysa posted a response to the brouhaha on her blog.

“I would never participate in something that remotely smelled of unethical,” wrote Alysa on her blog in response to the AP article.  “I am contributing every once and a while as a celebrity freelance blogger, not a regular columnist. The article was vastly misconstrued and I was misled of its true meaning.”

She also responded via her Twitter account:

“For the last time, people…I was never going to COVER the team. I’m BLOGGING about the team. Fun vignettes from the bus! MY GOD.”

Today, Courant Sports Editor Jeff Otterbein chimed in with his own response to the tempest:

“The intent was never to curry favor with Geno Auriemma,” he wrote. “We have had our battles over the years and fully expect to have more when we write something he disagrees with.”

Connecticut media-watcher Duby McDowell, who indicated a love for women’s basketball with “every fiber of our being” pulled no punches in her criticism of the newspaper’s hiring.

“Does the Courant really need to cast more doubt on its journalistic credibility? Alysa Auriemma may be a very talented budding sports journalist, but hiring her to provide insight on her father’s team — at a time when dozens have been laid off at the Courant — seems ethically challenged and insensitive.”

Some Hartford Courant Alumni (reporters who were laid off) also had some choice words for the newspaper on their blog. They put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the newspaper. Alysa’s reaction to the criticism and newspaper’s response “confirm my fear that the young lady has no idea what she has gotten herself into,” wrote a contributor the alumni blog.

“Her excuse is that she is 23. The Courant management, unfortunately, will have to come up with something else.”

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