Hartford paper hires Alysa Auriemma

HARTFORD, Conn. -- A daughter of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma has been hired by The Hartford Courant as a freelance writer to blog about the six-time national championship team.

Alysa Auriemma told The Associated Press that she'll regularly give an insider's viewpoint about her father and the team beginning this fall. The articles will be published on her blog and linked to the Courant's Web site, she said.

The newspaper's sports editor, Jeff Otterbein, said she'll be paid $125 per story to contribute to the newspaper's Web site on a monthly basis. He said Auriemma will be a celebrity blogger, not a reporter.

The 23-year-old, who graduated from UConn with a degree in dramatic arts, said she'll take readers behind the scenes, but will not write anything controversial about her father's team.

She said she'll also counter what she called "false press" about her father, a Hall of Famer who will coach the women's basketball team in the 2012 Olympics.

"There's a lot of false press about my father," she said. "This is a good format to kind of clear up some things and kind of get the truth out there."

John Altavilla, a Courant reporter who covers the team, first reported Auriemma's role on his Courant blog Wednesday. He compared her hiring to ABC News hiring former President Ronald Reagan's son, Ronnie, and NBC's recent decision to hire former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager as a "Today" correspondent.

"Her blog, an inside look at what it's like to be her, is an entertaining read, and a nice insight into the life of the women's basketball team you all care about so much," Altavilla said.

Geno Auriemma did not return a telephone call Wednesday.

The move was questioned by a journalism ethics expert and media observers of the Courant, which has come under fire in recent weeks for allegedly stealing news stories from competitors and allegations that it dismissed its consumer columnist because he wrote columns critical of advertisers.

Kelly McBride, head of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute in Florida, said Alysa Auriemma's job poses problems for the Courant and its readers.

"When you hire the coach's daughter, as an institution your independence is compromised," McBride said. "They're going to have to explain how this does not imply that they're essentially not going to become part of the family."

In a column posted late Wednesday on the Courant's Web site, Otterbein said the newspaper doesn't expect to win Geno Auriemma's favoritism through its arrangement with his daughter.

"The intent was never to curry favor with Geno Auriemma," Otterbein said. "We have had our battles over the years and fully expect to have more when we write something he disagrees with."

Alysa Auriemma blogged about the team and answered some of Altavilla's questions in a Q-and-A format last season, but she was not paid and her work was not linked on the Courant. She wrote a bylined story this spring at the end of the team's undefeated, national championship season that still appears on the Courant's online archive. She was not paid for that story, Otterbein said.

Auriemma said she's learned that her readers want a behind-the-scenes look at the program and her father, which she'll get by watching practices, watching the players interact with each other and talking to her father about what he may tell them.

"In Connecticut, everyone views this team as their family," she said. "They always say, 'How are your girls doing' or 'How are our girls going to be this year?' It's a very close-knit familial feel that the team generates."

Otterbein said Auriemma will write about the program in a light-hearted manner. "The question remains if paying the daughter of the coach to contribute to the Web site is an ethically sound decision," Otterbein said in his column. "I thought in a complicated media world we were giving the UConn fan base a slice of something they could not get elsewhere -- a unique view, an entertaining view."

The arrangement is one of several recent ethics controversies at the Courant, owned by Chicago-based Tribune Co. Editors at several area newspapers have accused the Courant, which cut its news staff in half in recent months because of sagging advertising revenues, of stealing news stories and republishing them online and in the Courant.

The Courant's publisher apologized last week for plagiarism, saying it improperly stripped attribution from stories it published in the Courant that were first reported by its competitors. But it says it will maintain what it calls its "aggregation policy" of taking stories off of other newspaper's Web sites to use on its own site.

Last month, the Courant dismissed its former consumer columnist, who has accused the Courant of firing him because he wrote columns critical of the newspaper's advertisers. The Courant has said columnist George Gombossy's position was eliminated and that advertisers don't play a role in news decisions.

Duby McDowell, who runs a Hartford communications company and publishes a blog that covers the Connecticut news media, said the Courant's arrangement with the coach's daughter is an ethical lapse that would have been unthinkable until recently at the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper.

"If you had told me this a year ago, I wouldn't have believed you," McDowell said. "But the way that upper management has been willing over the past few months to dismantle the newspaper's journalistic reputation, it doesn't surprise me."