A reporter from the Southern California News Group was suspended from covering the USC football team for two weeks for allegedly violating the school’s media guidelines, the news organization announced Tuesday.
Orange County Register and SCNG reporter Luca Evans had his access to the team suspended after head coach Lincoln Riley apparently took issue with a story Evans published last week about freshman running back Quinten Joyner.
In the lede of that story, Evans detailed a harmless conversation between Joyner and fellow freshman Braylan Shelby. The conversation, which occurred in front of reporters but before media availability, was about how they were nervous to speak with journalists — something they hadn’t done much of so far in their careers. Evans even talked with Joyner’s father on the phone later, and his dad thought the conversation was funny and spot-on.
Yet USC claims that Evans violated its policy that prohibits reporting on anything outside of media availability in the practice facility, even though the conversation Evans detailed happened right next to the “USC practice field media backdrop.” It also didn’t reveal any insider or private information but simply added color to the story and showed the players’ personalities.
“This is a huge overreaction to what the USC program perceived to be a policy violation,” Orange County Register senior editor Todd Harmonson said. “We clearly disagree and stand fully behind Luca.”
Harmonson, sports editor Tom Moore and SCNG publisher Ron Hasse wrote a letter to the university on Monday formally asking for the suspension to be lifted. The university stood by the football team.
“As an institution, USC prides itself on treating the media as a respected partner and key constituent,” the university replied. “We understand the responsibility of reporters is to fairly and objectively cover stories, news events, and their respective beats. As you know, our media policies exist to protect our student-athletes and promote a culture of trust that is critical to building successful programs.
“After careful consideration and in alignment with the sentiment above, USC supports the football program’s decision regarding Luca’s two-week suspension. We recognize this may be disappointing, but we hope you can understand the need to enforce our media policies as we strive to create a positive and comfortable environment for our players and coaches.”
Riley was asked about the decision Tuesday afternoon, but he declined to elaborate, other than saying that "we felt it was far enough that we needed to act on it." He also said he knows "the article in question was not accurate," but it's unclear what he meant.
Asked by @DanGreenspan and @Jim_Alexander about which policies were broken to result in suspending a beat reporter, Lincoln Riley declined to get into specifics. Says "we felt it was far enough that we needed to act on it." pic.twitter.com/6SmtBRb38i
— Thuc Nhi Nguyen (@thucnhi21) September 20, 2023
Evans posted a statement on social media later on Tuesday night, where he said he would continue "to cover the program as best I possibly can."
This isn’t the first time such an incident has taken place at USC or under coach Lincoln Riley, who is in his second season with the Trojans after a five-year run at Oklahoma. USC briefly suspended an L.A. Daily News reporter in 2012, when the team was led by head coach Lane Kiffin, after the reporter reported on an injury. Riley canceled media availability at Oklahoma in 2021 after student journalists reported on developments within the quarterback situation while watching practice from the school’s on-campus journalism building, which is across the street from the practice field.
No. 5 USC will take on Arizona State on Saturday.