By Jonathan Okanes
Tuesday, June 12th, 2007 at 4:34 pm in Spring sports.
Today’s story on Allison Stokke has produced a significant amount of reaction from readers. Some believe the story just adds to the problem, that it simply increases the amount of unwanted attention she is getting.
Believe me, don’t think that didn’t cross my mind as I worked on the story.
I knew there would be some people out there that would be interested in googling her name or finding her pictures on the internet after reading the story. I wish that wasn’t the case but I know it is. But I hope the majority of our readers will interpret the story for what it is — the university that we cover is welcoming this high-profile athlete on campus, and how the situation is being handled.
As our Cal beat writer, I didn’t feel like I could ignore Stokke’s impending arrival on campus. For better or worse, she has some name recognition now, just like Natalie Coughlin and Leon Powe did when they got to Cal. The reason for her celebrity is both unique and disturbing, and I didn’t treat that cavalierly.
While one could make the argument that the story will bring Stokke more undesired attention, could it also serve some good? Perhaps stories like this will make people more aware of the pitfalls of the internet, so the next Allison Stokke won’t be subjected to it.
I don’t want our readers to think that we decided to do this story without any thought of the implications. I acknowledged my concern about the potential negative ramifications with my editors and we discussed it. But as a newspaper, it is our job to report what is newsworthy. We arguably cover Cal athletics as thoroughly as anyone, and the fact that Stokke is coming to Cal is a significant story.
Perhaps the reaction would have been less had we not run any photos of Stokke, or not as big. But as our sports editor Tom Barnidge points out, it wouldn’t make sense to not run a photo when a big part of the story is how Stokke’s looks has attracted such a following. And I didn’t think it was a photo that was in poor taste or was manipulated somehow. It was simply a shot from her at the state track meet in Sacramento a couple of weeks ago, where, by the way, anybody could have attended and seen her for themselves. In fact, the state track meet is attended by thousands every year.
For the record, I did have a brief conversation with Stokke’s father, Allan. He told me that he isn’t really worried about Allison; just that the experience has been a “nuisance,” in his words. He was well-aware that I was working on this story and even helped me by explaining how he contacted Cal in preparation for Allison’s arrival. Granted, he still probably would have preffered the story not be done. But he also seemed to understand that I had a job to do, especially when I explained that I cover Cal and was more interested in writing from that perspective — what will it be like when she gets on campus.
Other stories that have been written have gone much deeper into the specifics of the internet exploits of Stokke. My intent was to give some general background but focus on the Cal side of things. You’ll notice that the only quotes in the story are from Cal folks.
I hope this story will promote sympathy and awareness, not more Google searches. That was my intent, at least.