Tuesday, February 26

You gotta read this

Cricket "mania" in Fort Collins simmered down at the end of the weekend with the final game of the Stanford 20/20 tournament that was specially beamed into local homes over the past month.

Sir Allen Stanford, a Texas billionaire, paid $3.5 million to target Fort Collins for the games, which included billboards and bus-bench ads throughout the city, reserving an entire cable channel for a month, and sponsoring publicity in the form of community cricket games and viewing parties at local bars -- and paying for at least one newspaper to send a reporter to Antigua to write how fantastic cricket is.

From the Fort Collins Now's cricket correspondent Erin Frustaci:
I'm no expert on sports, but I was logical enough to know all the buzz had to be about the sport and not the annoyingly loud chirping insects. Still, I knew virtually nothing about the sport-nothing.

Little did I realize that I was a coin toss away from a trip to the Caribbean to witness the unfamiliar sport in person, to stand in a crowd with celebrating, chanting fans, to feel the vibrant, magic pulse in Stanford stadium and to befriend those who idolize the sport that is cricket.

To people in Fort Collins, once including myself, cricket is alien but for people in Antigua, it is an essential part of life—a common thread that ties the people of the West Indies together.

With a little bit of luck, I soon would become a tiny fiber within that thread.

Living up to my Libra nature, I balanced the pros and cons in my head while I watched the quarter landing in my favor.

Pro: Free trip to Antigua to watch cricket.

Con: The trip would be paid for by Sir Allen Stanford, creator of the Stanford 20/20 Tournament in Antigua. That technically-or even practically-could raise some ethical questions.

Pro: Free trip to Antigua to watch cricket.

The journalistic code of ethics says that reporters should refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel, special treatment and so on-if it compromises journalistic integrity.

The key is if these things compromise journalistic integrity. Because the story would be a feature on the sport and would be written the same way regardless of who was paying for the trip, integrity would still be in tack.

Plus, my boss said it was OK.
Frustaci goes on to say she traveled with a CSU prize winner on the publicity junket, and her trip included a tour of Stanford's estate.

I'm sure cricket is a dandy game, and perhaps Sir Allen is a philanthropic whirlwind on the Caribbean sports and social circuits. But Chronicle staff, myself included, just can't see how this possibly passes a journalistic integrity test, even one that also excuses the use of "in tack" in place of "intact" (an error that someone apparently caught between the web and print editions).

In this case, Stanford is paying for an international flight, accommodations and who-knows-what-else in exchange for an article that seems to skirt the ethical questions, technical and practical, by briefly addressing it with a few cheeky lines in the story. The explanation that the story "
would be written the same way regardless of who was paying for the trip" is pretty thin -- was the paper going to send someone to Antigua before Sir Allen came along? -- unless Now is becoming a Cricket 20/20 newsletter. As its outgoing A&E columnist Kurt Brighton might say, Cricket Diem.

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