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BYU's Brandon Davies returns, but what does lack of stories say about the media?

Published: Thursday, July 30 2015 11:18 p.m. MDT

Brandon Davies sits on the bench during the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, NV, Thursday, March 10, 2011. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brandon Davies sits on the bench during the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, NV, Thursday, March 10, 2011. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

It's been two weeks since BYU's announcement that forward Brandon Davies would return to school and the basketball team, but still little has been written or said about it, especially compared to the immense and widespread national attention his suspension generated last spring.

In March, when BYU decided to suspend Davies for an honor code violation in the middle of one the school's best basketball seasons ever, news of and commentary about his suspension flooded Twitter, sports websites and other outlets.

During the commotion, Deseret News reporter Jamshid Ghazi Askar, captured some of the intensity in a story that included at least 15 links to national stories about Davies and the suspension, and that was just a small sampling of some of the biggest and best stories.

Five months later, far fewer sources are closing the loop on the story by noting his return.

Brandon Davies' suspension made headlines nationally last winter, but his return to BYU has netted less attention.   (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Brandon Davies' suspension made headlines nationally last winter, but his return to BYU has netted less attention. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Why not? And is it a black eye for the media?

When the media fails to follow up on a story like this one, it leads consumers to assume the media always focuses on the scandal, Poynter Institute media business analyst Rick Edmonds said. "It leaves the story incomplete and may contribute to the common perception (not all wrong) that the media dwells on the negative."

He also said the timing matters when covering a follow-up to a story and suggested organizations keep a record of stories to update.

"Media are notorious for losing interest and not following up, especially if the sequel is delayed over months or a year," Edmonds said. "The remedy is to maintain a good tickler file. But most editors and reporters don't."

Jay Evensen wrote a Deseret News column last week about how he believes Davies' return has not been well-publicized because people care less about stories of redemption than scandal.

"But there ought to be more room on our public radar screens for stories about redemption, as well, and about an honor code that forces athletic programs to focus on students more than games," Evensen said.

Other factors likely contribute to the lack of focus on the decision by BYU to allow Davies to return, and the decision by Davies to do so.

Author, writing coach and senior Poynter Institute scholar Roy Peter Clark believes the media have avoided covering Davies' reinstatement because of a cultural clash on religious views in sports.

"Any time religion or moral values enter the news, there's going to be debates and disagreements," Clark said. "Mainstream journalists and maybe a poll of general Americans would probably not list sex before marriage as a reason to be suspended from an extracurricular activity."

He said some media outlets might disregard the story because they didn't agree with BYU's actions in the first place.

"What you may be seeing is kind of a judgment that's being made on the university's values, maybe the perception that the kid got a bad deal to begin with," Clark said. "It's not a matter of not covering his reinstatement, it's that they may not want to drag his name through the mud."

Dr. Andrew Billings, a sports media expert and broadcast chair at University of Alabama, identified four factors he thinks determined the relative lack of coverage following up of the Davies story. He said widespread publicity of the reinstatement was constrained by the timing, the circumstances, the degree of Davies' offense and the breadth of his story.

"Part of the reason his story got so much attention last year was because of Jimmer Fredette, and it seemed to have a bigger affect on the team's potential Final Four bid," Billings said.

He explained that with a 24-hour need for news people have moved on from the story by now, and the only new aspect of the story is his reinstatement because Davies hasn't spoken with any media or reporters since the announcement. He also said for audiences outside of BYU, most guessed BYU would let him back on the team after the violation.

"We know about the honor code, at least the story that was circling in the media," Billings said. "… That story, a lot of people assumed it would have that ending because people didn't see it as a major offense in the first place. Also, Davies isn't speaking to anyone, so there is no new color or nuance."

The passage of time also complicates coverage in different ways. Columnists and reporters are giving all their attention to football, like most BYU sports fans, especially after a close Cougar win over Ole Miss last weekend. And Jimmermania has now moved to the NBA.

Some publications have given the reinstatement some attention, but most are short mentions or asides.

espn.go.com/espn/commentary/story/_/page/howard-110901/brandon-davies-return-byu-rare-positive-story-college-sportsESPN.com writer Johnette Howard took one of the longer looks, writing that Davies' perseverance despite his fall from grace displays an example of someone all athletes should aspire to follow. When she heard what he said about feeling grateful rather than cheated or exploited on getting back into BYU, she said, "That word choice alone makes Davies my college athlete of the year."

Oregonion columnist John Canzano wrote of his amazement BYU has the ability to field successful teams despite such a strict honor code.

USA Today published a story about Jimmer Fredette getting engaged to a BYU cheerleader and added the Davies reinstatement as a simple sidenote to that story.

Other outlets focused on the impact the reinstatement will have on BYU's outlook on the court this winter, like Bleacher Report's columnist Jeff Hansen, who said letting Davies back on the team is a second chance for the post player and also gives BYU a tougher roster as it joins the West Coast Conference.

"This year's team might not have the star power it had with Fredette, but now that Davies is back on the roster, (the Cougars) are poised to make another run to the NCAA tournament," Hansen wrote.

With stories of collegiate sports disgraces plastering the news, like the story of University of Miami players who accepted yacht rides, cars and other questionable gifts, or the tale of how three of Ohio State's football players took impermissible cash benefits and gifts, some see Davies' return as a breath of fresh air.

The Washington Post appreciated BYU's offer of a second chance to the player who averaged 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. BYU guard Charles Abouo told the Post he finds having Davies back on the team a great comfort and huge benefit for the team.

"We have lofty goals pretty much every year and don't know if we can get there without him in the equation," Abouo said. "He's a big part of what we do and having him back with us definitely helps us."

EMAIL: sgambles@desnews.com

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