The Pac-12 Conference had a publicity problem.
The conference was in deep distress in 2018. It was drowning in negative sentiment after an embarrassing instant-replay scandal in college football. The Pac-12′s basketball programs were coming off a winless showing in the men’s NCAA Tournament. And commissioner Larry Scott’s prized Pac-12 Network was stuck in distribution purgatory, still unavailable to large swaths of frustrated fans.
Said one longtime Pac-12 staffer: “We were incredibly desperate.”
The Pac-12 hired a high-profile crisis-management firm. The conference began working from a 34-page printed manual The Oregonian/OregonLive reported in 2019 — a playbook that directed the conference to “seek to identify positive voices that could shift the conversation.”
That plan further instructed the conference to “expand upon media partnerships” with two primary media platforms — the Los Angeles Times and The Players’ Tribune. According to emails and other documents, the conference struck a deal in 2018 with the Los Angeles Times that aimed to steer $100,000 in advertising to the newspaper in exchange for an expansion in conference coverage…
The Oregonian/OregonLive has obtained internal communications from both the Pac-12 and Los Angeles Times that reveal new details of the partnership. The Pac-12, which long denied there was a formalized agreement, for the first time now acknowledges it signed a contract to provide advertising revenue to The Times.
We interviewed more than a dozen insiders over the last 18 months, including Times president Chris Argentieri and executive editor Norman Pearlstine, who reached out early in the investigation expressing a desire to tell his side of the story.
Said Pearlstine a year ago: “Don’t let the Pac-12 speak for me.”
Pearlstine is now declining comment.
Emails, memos, and a human resources grievance show how the Pac-12 promised special access for the LA Times reporter and how the partnership set off alarm bells inside the news organization.
Unbelievable? No. Shameful? Yes. Especially you, LA Times.