JoePa's Media Drills Land Him in Class

Article excerpt

STATE COLLEGE -- If he gets a break during the busy fall football season, Joe Paterno will head to a journalism classroom at Penn State University.

He said he wants to sit with students and listen to lectures. Possibly, he'll stand up and tell them how it feels to face microphones and cameras and people firing questions about everything from his coaching strategy to his age to his paycheck. If nothing else, he'll offer some advice about dressing professionally, acting fairly and working hard.

"I'd tell them to have a little pride in their writing, try to be accurate and don't go in with a slanted attitude," Paterno said. "I'd tell them to be fair and open-minded."

After all, this class is all about him.

The Hall of Fame coaching legend whose name is synonymous with Penn State football is the subject of a course offered this fall for the first -- and possibly, the only -- time in the university's College of Communications. "COMM 497G: Joe Paterno, Communications and the Media" will examine changes in sports journalism in the past six decades and take a critical look at Paterno's love/hate relationship with the media.

Mike Poorman, the course's creator and instructor, is a 1982 Penn State journalism graduate who has covered Paterno for six newspapers and The Associated Press. He said there's no better benchmark than Paterno to gauge the shifts in sports reporting in the last half- century.

"Joe is part Santa Claus, part grandfather and part icon," Poorman said.

Media madness

Many have written and broadcast stories about the coach in the six decades since his graduation from Brown University. The young man from Brooklyn, whose path to law school ended at a football stadium in Happy Valley, has become a household word.

For example, if an Internet surfer typed "Joe Paterno" into the Google search engine last week, the query generated more than 1 million hits instantly. More than 3.3 million hits popped up on Yahoo.com.

"That's ridiculous," Paterno said, leaning forward on a sofa in his plush corner office in the university's football building. "Thank God, I don't get into that."

Paterno, 81, said he's amazed at the way information appears on the Internet, where searchers can read his biography, research his teams' statistics and talk in chat rooms with people who want him fired.

It worries him, because anonymous bloggers can post whatever they want. More than once, he said, he has had to respond to a reporter's question concerning something inaccurate that was written about him online.

"It's impossible to tell the difference between a good blogger and a bad blogger," he said. "The media has to figure out a way to teach students about the impact of blogging on legitimate journalism."

Paterno has perfected the art of handling legitimate journalists.

It's always on his terms.

When he took over the Nittany Lions in 1966, he was one of the first college coaches to broadcast a show on public television. Poorman, who called him an innovator, described the show as black and white, low-tech and something Paterno did without pay.

During football season, before the spring game and whenever else he believes it's necessary, Paterno holds news conferences. Often, he uses his weekly radio show as a forum to convey information that he will not tell reporters directly, Poorman said.

Occasionally, Paterno holds "off-the-record" sessions with journalists at his home, where his wife, Sue, serves home-cooked meals and desserts. Any reporter who prints information from these sessions is not welcomed back.

The journalists who cover Paterno share stories about his keen intelligence, quick wit and his ability to charm, but they complain about his impatience and his temper. He'll tell anyone who needs a haircut to get one; if he doesn't want his picture taken, he'll kick a photographer out into the hallway. …