Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mizzou's live tiger story just a case of bad journalisms

Posted By on Thu, Feb 11, 2010 at 10:45 AM

click to enlarge tim_noce.jpg

Yesterday, Tony Reali, the host of ESPN's Around the Horn, introduced one of the final topics on the show by reading a headline: "Missouri students trying to bring a live tiger to games." He turned to panelist J.A. Adande, former columnist of the Los Angeles Times, and asked, "What do you think of a live tiger at games, Adande?"

Adande replied, "[It's a] bad idea to have a live tiger around campus."

"Just pop in The Hangover," guffawed panelist Michael Smith of ESPN.com. "They're actually in college thinking this?"

Well, sort of. But if ESPN's reporters and producers had looked beyond an outdated article in the University of Missouri's campus newspaper The Maneater (it ran January 26), the Horn-ers might have held their tongues.

The tiger issue was already a nonstory on February 2, when The Maneater published a corrected follow-up headlined, "[Tim] Noce cools on tiger initiative."

Likewise, a story from the Associated Press on Tuesday trumpeted MU student body President Tim Noce's plan to bring a tiger to campus. But the AP never called Noce. It just took its "news" from a January 26 Columbia Daily Tribune article that has since been updated.

The story is getting national play, yet as of yesterday evening, Noce told The Pitch, he'd only actually been contacted by three news outlets: The Columbia Tribune, The Maneater and The Pitch.

Noce finds it ironic that no one from ESPN or the AP tried to call him for comment, given that many reporters at those outlets are graduates of MU's highly respected journalism school.

The student body President -- who was just inaugurated last week, by the way -- says that the whole "movement" to get a live tiger at Mizzou started when a buddy jumped the gun on Twitter

click to enlarge LSU_live_tiger_lsusports.net.JPG
"Conversations like this come up randomly with friends," Noce (pronounced "no-chay") told us last night. "Me and my friends and some former student leaders were hanging out watching SportsCenter, and LSU's live tiger came up. Someone said, 'Hey, Tim, why don't you work on getting a live tiger?' I said I'd look into it. Literally, from those few words, one guy put on Twitter that I was gonna get a live tiger at Mizzou, and this has gotten all the way to this point from there."

Noce says that student reaction to the plan was about 50-50, and that he never advocated dragging a terrified wild animal onto the football field. "The first, original idea was to build a habitat like LSU. It would essentially be like bringing the tiger lair exhibit from a zoo, with waterfalls and stuff like that, to campus."

But LSU's tiger lair, described as a "one-exhibit zoo" by officials there, cost more than $4 million in donations to build. A more realistic idea, Noce soon discovered, would be for MU donors to raise money to sponsor an existing tiger at a Missouri zoo. "If we could raise a few million for a good habitat for a tiger, fine," Noce says, "but we'd still like to do something good to encourage the tiger conservation effort. Essentially, we'd help [a zoo] out by educating people on their conservation efforts, and we'd get a plaque in the zoo by the tiger lair that says that these are the official Mizzou tigers. That's the idea now, but obviously nothing is set in stone yet." Noce says he's been in talks with the Kansas City Zoo, as well as zoos in Springfield and St. Louis.

Alumni have already contacted Noce to ask where they can send a check to support the efforts. Mascots have the power to engage a lot of fans, Noce says.

So does a winning team, we pointed out.

"Right," Noce says. "We had record enrollment two years ago after our football team was ranked first. That was the first time we had to cap enrollment. I'm not going to say it was because we ranked first in football, but I'm not going to say it hurt by any means."

So if getting a live mascot wasn't part of Noce's platform in order to be elected Student Body President, what was one of his issues?

"Parking," he says.

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