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Allison Stokke

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.

Jonathan

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • Mark James

    Aside from the quotes that Stokke’s coach Scott Slover provided (whose name was misspelled throughout the entire article) there was little coverage of how Cal is going to be handling the celebrity status of this young athlete, as reporter Jonathan Okanes claims.

    Aside from a Cal media contact (Herb Benenson) stating that the school had been in contact with the Stokke family, there was really nothing NEWSWORTHY whatsoever about this article, let alone specifically describing what actions or precautions the university was going to be taking. In fact, none of the latter was presented in the article whatsoever.

    What was also made clear is that members of the Stokke article were not availible for interview; something that should have been able to register a brain cell or two with management at the CC Times.

    In the end, one can only speculate that this article was given the go ahead by the senior sports editor, Tom Barnidge and perhaps others in the executive editorial and sports departments at the Times.

    One wonders if Mr. Barnidge (or others on staff at the CC Times)would be as comfortable to give the SAME “thumbs-up” to a 7 x 9 photo of his daughter in the paper, under the same circumstances, not too mention a lead-in photo from the top of the front page of the newspaper.

    That would be the real “acid-test” of how appropriate this article was for public consumption.

    Given the lack of substance that this article presented and the lack of significant newsworthyness, one would tend to believe that such a “story” would have been more suited for human interest consumption in another section of the paper, and not the Sports Section.

    As it was, the article made no mention of Stokke’s athletic career, her training as a gymnast, what her personal best height cleared in the pole-vault has been, why she struggled at the recent State Meet, or the credentials and background of her Coach, Scott Slover.

    This might come as a shock to the CC Times sports staff but believe it or not there are many very attractive high school track and field athletes that compete at the highest level of CIF State competition. This is nothing new for a sport that usually only sees serious sports coverage once every four years for an Olympiad. Perhaps if the media covered track and field on a consistent basis, this would not be such a surprise.

    Moreover, given the lead photo of Allison Stokke in the upper-left hand corner of the newspaper’s front page header, one can certainly question whether or not newspaper sales were at the heart of this decision.

    Given that the Washington Post and other newspapers in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas had already delved into the unwanted internet “celebrity” of Miss Stokke, one wonders why the CC Times would wish to “pile-on” weeks later.

    One would hope that for Miss Stokke’s sake, the CC Times and others in the media business would show some discretion about how they choose to cover this fine track and field athlete in the future so as to avoid further exploitation.

    I would suggest that a good start would be to focus on her athletic accomplishments, and do so only after she has begun her career at Cal.