Evan Woodbery

If the hat fits....

February 3, 2012 – With an unexpected change in its sports staff on the horizon, the Mobile Press-Register has a unique opportunity to improve its position with fans of  both  major football programs that make up its subscription base.

Izzy Gould, beatwriter for the University of Alabama who contributes stories to the Press-Register (and by extension al.com) announced that he was leaving his position with the newspaper to take a job covering the Miami Dolphins of the NFL.   His last day with the paper is February 27.

With the departure of Gould, the Press-Register has an opening and an opportunity to do the right thing for the thousands of Auburn fans who live in its subscription area and the thousands more who follow its articles online.

In the interests of fairness and  integrity the paper should transfer current Auburn beatwriter Evan Woodbery to the Alabama beat and for the first time in decades bring in an experienced reporter with no agenda (real or percieved) against Auburn to cover the Tigers.

Auburn fans aren’t asking for a sunshine pumper or someone who contributes nothing but fluff pieces glorifying the program or its players.

What we do demand, however, that the Press-Register finally put someone in the position who doesn’t have a predisposed bias against Auburn.

When Tommy Tuberville was head coach, the Press-Register brought in Neal McCready to cover the team. McCready was fresh out of Oxford where he’d covered the Ole Miss Rebels.  In case you’ve forgotten, Tuberville had coached at Ole Miss and left the program on less than friendly terms, something that remained a sore point with Rebel fans for his entire Auburn tenure.

You might also remember that McCready was removed from his gig as a radio host in Mobile for “not being positive enough toward Alabama”.

In 2004, at the height of Tuberville’s coaching reign, the Press-Register installed Evan Woodbery as Auburn beatwriter. Woodbery was not far removed from Tuscaloosa where he had served as editor of the Crimson White, the University of Alabama’s student newspaper. Woodbery’s resume included a short stint with a newspaper in Anniston where he served as beatwriter covering Alabama football. Of course there’s no rivalry between Auburn and Alabama, so there couldn’t possibly be even the perception of a conflict of interest.

Intentional or not, Woodbery’s portfolio while covering the Tigers has been sprinkled with subtle snide comments, curious timing of reports and occasional efforts that caused harm to the program.

Before we touch on some of the specific complaints against Woodbery’s coverage, let’s examine the overall concept.

Would fans of the University of Alabama who read the Press-Register accept a beatwriter who had little experience and was recently graduated from Auburn?  Would Tide fans be content if the Press-Register had hired the editor of the LSU campus newspaper as beatwriter when Nick Saban came to Tuscaloosa?

The answer is no.  The Press-Register would not have made those hires and if it had, Alabama fans would have loudly and rightfully demanded a change.

Why then should Auburn fans be expected to accept a similar situation without complaint?  It’s disrespectful to assume that we would or should.

Woodbery’s entire tenure as Auburn beatwriter has been peppered with negativity toward the program, the players and occasionally the fans.

On Wednesday, Woodbery wrote four articles about Auburn recruiting.  All four profiled players who chose to sign with other programs.  Not a single one of his pieces profiled a recruit Auburn did sign.

It may have been editorial discretion on the part of the newspaper to hand Woodbery every negative story of the day.  It could have been luck of the draw.

But Woodbery’s history calls his bias into question.  If it was the first incident or there was no predisposition of bias in his background the odd fact that all of his entries were negative might have gone unnoticed.

That Woodbery would focus on the negative aspects was no surprise.

We’ won’t bore you with a line by line recitation of Woodbery’s numerous negative articles over the last eight seasons.  You can pick almost any Woodbery entry at random and find some subtle slur, slam or dig.

In the interest of edification, however, the following are a few prime examples of the perpetual negative slant.

Woodbery’s involvement in an eventual NCAA  inquiry into Auburn’s Big Cat recruiting weekend and Auburn’s Tiger Prowl warrants question.

It was Woodbery who first reported what he considered to be violations at Big Cat Weekend in 2009. It was Woodbery who dug through message board posts looking to build a case to prove violations existed. It was Woodbery who outlined the minor NCAA rules he believed had been broken. It was Woodbery who contacted Auburn detailing his list of presumed violations and requesting additional information.

The packet of information from the NCAA leaves little doubt of Woodbery’s involvement.

At the very least Woodbery’s reports drew national attention.

Widespread rumor said Woodbery actively and directly contacted the NCAA to question the event and inquire about possible violations.

Does it matter whether Woodbery did, in fact, directly provide the NCAA with damaging information?  No.  His predisposition to bias makes it irrelevant.  The perception of bias is more than enough.

Would an Alabama beatwriter openly state he believed Alabama had committed minor violations before that question had been raised by other venues?  We know better. You do too.

Earlier this winter, Woodbery rehashed the Big Cat Weekend event and again attempted to shoehorn NCAA rules breaking on Auburn in his discussion of a Hueytown recruit.

When Auburn hired defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder from the Atlanta Falcons, what was Woodbery’s focus? Baseless implications about compliance issues in the contracts of Auburn football coach Gene Chizik and Tiger basketball coach Tony Barbee.

Enough is enough.

Move Woodbery to the Alabama beat where he belongs.  For the first time in decades, give Auburn fans the respect they deserve.  Give us a new beatwriter with clear neutrality and objectivity. It’s past time.

Contact the Mobile Press-Register and ask the newspaper to take a  positive step toward restoring balance and limiting even the perception of bias. It’s time the Auburn fans who live in the paper’s subscription area to demand at least the illusion of impartiality from the state’s second-largest daily newspaper.

The Never to Yield Foundation urges  you to conact Press-Register sports editor Randy Kennedy and let your voice be heard.

Email: rkennedy@press-register.com



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