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CU fights anonymous bashing with press-pass policy

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A sharp-eyed reader noticed an odd editor's note at the bottom of an INDenver Times account about the CU Buffs' 24-0 victory over the Wyoming Cowboys this past weekend. It reads: "Comments have been turned off on football stories involving CU to meet the university's requirement for giving media credentials to Web site reporters and photographers."

Turns out this line means precisely what it says. According to Dave Plati, CU's director of sports information, the university will not provide press passes to websites lacking a print or broadcast component unless they disallow pseudonymous posts or anonymous comments -- an absolutely standard function in the Internet age.

"Credentials are a privilege, not a right, which a lot of people don't realize," Plati says.

Plati doesn't go into detail about the roots of this policy, which has been in place for most of this decade. "I'm saving it for my book," he jokes. However, he does reveal that the university began using this approach after being sued by a website representative who'd been denied credentials -- a case that dragged on for several years before CU prevailed. Still, he doesn't see the method as one that ignores the way the web has developed. Rather, he believes it's among the best ways CU can encourage people writing about the Buffs to exercise some responsibility.

"All kinds of rumors get put up, often by fans of opposing teams," Plati says. "The other weekend, Hawk [CU football coach Dan Hawkins] wasn't wearing his wedding ring at a press conference, so someone started a rumor that he's having marital problems. Well, guess what. Hawk's wife took the ring in to get it repaired.

"To me, it's just a matter of being fair and accurate," he goes on. "Why should I credential you if your name is Ralphie 2000 or something like that, and you won't tell us who's criticizing us? Comments were created for intelligent, back-and-forth banter. But when they turn into talking about a coach's marital status or insulting coaches and players' personal lives, that's when I draw the line. To me, that's not legitimate media."

Plati acknowledges that TV stations and newspapers like the Denver Post allow anonymous comments on their sites, creating what he calls "a little bit of a gray area" as far as CU's credentialing policy is concerned. But at least staffers there all use their real names when they write, and he feels most of the operations take greater care in overseeing and filtering comments, to make sure nothing that's slanderous or simply too outrageous stays online for long. Of course, "even if it was only up for five minutes, you never know how many people saw it or commented on it before it was taken down," he notes. But it's better than nothing, in his view.

Because most local sports websites don't have the resources to cover games in person, Plati says few of them even bother asking for credentials. "It's not like I'm turning down people all the time," he points out. Moreover, some larger sports websites, like Scout.com and Rivals.com are fine with CU's policy, he says, and have received full credentials as a result. He isn't sure how many other colleges or universities mirror this procedure -- but he's confident CU isn't the only one to see posts and comments offered under bogus names as unacceptable for credentialed media sources.

"If you want to do it, fine," he maintains. "But we don't have to credential you."

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