Osborne & Sipple Take Exception to Barfknecht's Coverage of Coaching Search

Last night, while most people were either watching basketball or out enjoying the remarkably beautiful spring weather, a Twitter war erupted between Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald and Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star. This flareup started when Chatelain took offense to Sipple's retweeting of an uncomplimentary remark towards Lee Barfknecht of the World-Herald:

Tom Osborne says he offered job to only Tim Miles. I believe that. "We don't engage in semantics and words games," Osborne said. Bam.

Would you like me to "retweet" every time a Husker fan trashes you or one of your colleagues on Twitter?

At the beginning of the press conference to announce Tim Miles as Nebraska's new basketball coach, Osborne made it clear that Barfknecht's report that Wichita State's Gregg Marshall had been offered the job (and later "clarification") were wrong:

Tim Miles was the only person we offered the job to. We don't engage in semantics or word games.

Osborne made it clear that Barfknecht was wrong in characterizing it as "nuanced". Basically, he called out Barfknecht a second time. Was Barfknecht wrong? It's notable that (1) Barfknecht hasn't responded to Osborne's second statement and (2) Gregg Marshall announced he was staying at Wichita State (with a new contract) just hours after Miles' press conference. What probably happened? Nebraska did talk to Marshall about his interest, and in the scope of discussing whether Marshall was interested, the $2 million figure was brought up. Barfknecht probably was right about the money, right about Marshall not being interested, but wrong about whether it was anything resembling an offer. (How many times have we heard this same story regarding Bo Pelini: Miami, Ohio State, Penn State, etc.)

While Barfknecht hasn't said anything, Chatelain did in response to Sipple retweeting a criticism of Barfknecht. Was Sipple out of line? Perhaps, but remember that a lot of media people retweet responses to their tweets. (Even Chatelain does it occasionally.) Usually not one that calls out a competitor, though. But as the tweet-war goes on, you find the origins lie in Brian Rosenthal's Journal-Star report that the Huskers were talking to Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Rob Jeter. Barfknecht dismissed that report in his blog:

Folks, Nebraka’s contact with Jeter was nothing more than that — a simple, baseline, elementary contact that happens in the early days of any search to gauge a POSSIBLE candidate’s interest. See that word POSSIBLE. Remember it.

How many of those contacts is Nebraska making to POSSIBLE candidates? I’m told it is into double digits or will be soon.

So tap the breaks, catch your breath and be careful whose "information" you swallow.

Note the quotes on "information"...an obvious slam at Rosenthal. And frankly, far worse than Sipple's retweet. Sipple took offense at that remark, and brought it up in response:

Chatelain ignored that, and turned it back to Sipple's condemnation of Chatelain's infamous "Bench-Martinez-Because-Brion-Carnes-Isn't-Ready-To-Play" column from last October. Remember Barfknecht interjected himself into that little squabble by the way...

In the past, these debates would have been held in someplace somewhat private, like the Omaha Press Club over a few beverages of choice. Well, the newspaper game has changed...and frankly, media people don't get paid like they used to. And with the advent of Twitter, we see these squabbles play out in public. This one was different, though. Usually Twitter battles break out in the heat of the moment, but in this situation, Chatelain sat on it for four hours. Perhaps he had shut Twitter off for the day, only to turn it on later in the day to find Sipple's comment, and reacted instinctively. I would hope that he didn't stew on it all afternoon, because there are better ways to handle this than vent on Twitter after it's died down.

So what do we make of this? If I'm scoring this Twitter battle, I'm scoring it as a clear win for Sipple. Rosenthal was first to report that Miles was on campus. Osborne obviously feels that Barfknecht was off-base in his reporting on Gregg Marshall, and Barfknecht's attack on Rosenthal was much more vicious than Sipple's retweet of a criticism of Barfknecht. And if you have to go back to October, Sipple wins again over the muddled mess of Chatelain's criticism of Pelini and Taylor Martinez.

In the end, all of the media end up looking badly on this front. Is Steve Sipple a homer? Yes...but let's not forget that considering the relative sizes of their sports departments, the Journal-Star generally provides better coverage of the Huskers than the World-Herald. Anymore, it seems that the World-Herald stoops towards the sensationalistic aspect in their coverage, which is unfortunate. Chatelain is the poster-child of this, as he seems to find ways to muck-rake and stir the pot in his coverage. But the executives at the World-Herald have to be happy about it, because he draws attention to the paper at a time when so many people are cancelling their subscriptions to printed newspapers.

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