On Saturday, the Lobo football team eked out a tight, exciting 55-52 victory against the rival Aggies. It was one of the most electrifying games at Dreamstyle Stadium in recent memory.
Better still, it was done before a crowd of almost 30,000 people, suggesting that UNM football can be a desirable product for UNM students, alumni and the community. We’d love to be writing a triumphant editorial, touting the comeback of the once-great football program. Instead, Saturday's game was another reminder of the disgraceful and unjust treatment Daily Lobo reporters receive while covering UNM Athletics.
In this most recent dust-up, Assistant Athletics Director of Communications Frank Mercogliano felt compelled to message a student and suggest he was endangering his journalism career.
First on the official Twitter account of @UNMLoboFB, then from his personal Twitter @fmmercogliano, Mercogliano sent four direct messages to Daily Lobo Senior Reporter and Copy Editor and Albuquerque Journal Contributor Andrew Gunn, criticizing one of Gunn’s tweets and suggesting that people in the journalism community were talking negatively about Gunn’s personal Twitter.
Mercogliano wrote with the @UNMLoboFB account, "If you are a media member as your bio says, you are representing the views of both the Albuquerque Journal and the Daily Lobo, and it’s HIGHLY unprofessional of you."
Mercogliano was responding to a tweet from Gunn with a photo of an empty Dreamstyle Stadium with the caption, "Sneak preview of fourth quarter crowd size for @UNMLoboFB x @NMStateFootball. There are 6,000 Aggie fans not pictured behind me, so it's a bit misleading. #GoLobos #NCAAF."
Gunn, who does not cover UNM sports and was not attending the Rio Grande Rivalry as a member of the press, responded to Mercogliano by saying, “I am a member of the journalism community. I am not, however, covering the football game in a professional capacity. Frankly, you’re not in a position to tell me what’s professional or not as a member of a public relations organization. This is a personal Twitter account. Take your spin elsewhere."
At this point, Gunn had no indication that Mercogliano was messaging him.
"Sorry that message was actually from me (Tweetdeck issues). Message still the same though. It’s completely unprofessional,” Mercogliano then wrote from his personal Twitter account. He followed with, "I agree with most of that but whether you like it or not, you represent the Daily Lobo and the Journal based on your bio, much like I represent UNM. By you doing that you are standing as a member of the Daily Lobo saying those things. I didn’t have to deal with Twitter when I was the editor of the school paper."
Gunn responded with, "Are you requesting that I take it down?"
"You are your own man... I can’t request that," Mercogliano wrote. "I can tell you that I’m not the only person who notices the shots you take and I’m not talking about UNM. I’m talking about in the media. I don’t think you want that reputation."
In an email exchange between Mercogliano and Daily Lobo Editor-in-chief Jusin Garcia, Mercogliano clarified his intentions with, "Andrew asked me if I wanted him to take it down and I told him no, it's his prerogative. I am trying to help him. It’s a bad look for a reporter who should be neutral to be making fun of the school."
Perhaps Mercogliano valued the advice of public information officers when he ran his student newspaper. After all, who knows journalism better than the people hired to control and manipulate the message of journalists?
You would think that UNM Athletics would be especially supportive of the student newspaper — after all, we write directly to the students. You would think that UNM Athletics, on the verge of returning to respectability from years of financial mire and trying to leave behind a name synonymous with corruption, would do everything possible to be open and transparent. You would think UNM Athletics would feel obligated to follow the lead of UNM President Garnett Stokes, who recently and often has reaffirmed the University’s commitment to transparency.
At least in our experience, you would be wrong.
We will not speculate on Mercogliano's intentions. We will, however, point out the extremely asymmetrical power relationship between a student and the Assistant Athletics Director of Communications. Mercogliano’s unsolicited advice, well-intentioned or otherwise, was unwelcome, uncalled for and unprofessional.
We fully expect Mercogliano to respond to this editorial with hostility by ignoring our emails and denying reporters and photographers access to UNM student-athletes and sporting events, as he has done on multiple occasions in the past. That is a risk we are more than willing to take. It’s the status quo we have operated in for years, contrary to Mercogliano’s memory of events.
At the end of the day, all we want is access to student-athletes. We want to write profiles, explore their stories and celebrate their success. And yes, we want to criticize the department from time to time when it is necessary, as any good watchdog should.
This editorial is unsigned as it represents the views of the Daily Lobo editorial board and not those of its reporters.