Posted: Thursday June 2, 2005 12:25PM; Updated: Thursday June 2, 2005 4:07PM
4. Don't quote anyone on the record. That is, if you quote anyone at all. With stories like these, it is best to speak only to those sources who truly can't say what's on their minds until they've relinquished all manner of identity. In your reporting, it will be important to for you to qualify these sources to denote the exclusivity of your specific information. It's not enough to quote an "anonymous source," but a source "close to Brown" or a "Brown confidante." In the event that your Deep Throat is slightly outside the loop, describe him or her as a someone "with firsthand knowledge of the situation." If you fail to get anything out of Brown's camp, remember the NBA leaks information all the time.
5. Get a denial from Brown. No longer is it necessary for you to cover Brown on a daily basis in order to land an interview. With the right attitude and enough "anytime" minutes, you should be able to get on any sports talk radio show in the country on which Brown might appear as a guest. When addressing the coach, don't hesitate to preface your questions using phrases from Step 4. In his answer, Brown is likely to hit on several points, from the satisfaction he enjoys in his current job to his reluctance to uproot his family an umpteenth time. In your reporting, be careful to note the tone of his denial, whether he did so "angrily" or "vehemently." Brown must deny the rumor on record before it is officially considered true.
6. Introduce the rumor at an inopportune time. Now that you've got your quotes, your connections and the inside track on a vacancy, it's time to tell the world what you've learned. Unlike Step 1 (which you want to get out of the way as early as possible), Step 6 cannot be carried out until Brown's team is assured of a spot in the playoffs. The cut-and-dry storylines in a best-of-seven series tend to grow rather stale by the second game, and a juicy rumor is essential to renewing interest. It's also a great way to generate new themes, such as: "Is Team A distracted?" "Has Brown coached his last game with Team B?" "Will they send Brown out a winner?"
7. Shoot down competing rumors immediately. If there is any disparity in your information and what is being reported in the mainstream, immediately denounce it as false. Don't be shy about accusing your competitors of being irresponsible -- or better still, slander -- if you think it can help your story. In the rare case that you might be credentialed for the NBA playoffs, be proactive in getting a second denial from Brown. In your interviewing, make sure that he understands that you are "seeking clarification" while emphasizing your commitment to "set the record straight." For sports talk interviews, remember to announce yourself as a first time caller.
8. Say that Phil Jackson is also up for the same job. Granted it is unlikely that Brown would take a job in which Jackson also might be interested based on what we learned in Step 3, but as the only other coach not named Popovich or Tomjanovich to win an NBA championship in the last 14 years, Brown is one of the few coaches who can hold a candle to Jackson's considerable credentials. Any analogies to the rivalry between tween stars Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff are helpful to strengthening such an argument.
9. Hit up the message boards. A rumor is only as good as the number of people who believe it, and the message boards are as good as any outlet for garnering grass-roots support. For maximum effect, introduce your rumor in a new thread and with an anonymous handle favoring that rumored city or team (such as chapel_schill63 or le-bron4life27) so as not to reveal yourself as a journalist. Add to the thread liberally using additional screen names to inflate credibility as others log on to join your debate. This is what is known as creating buzz.
10. Don't retract. No matter how off base you were in the end, no matter how badly Brown burns you in his ensuing introductory news conference, you must remember to always stand by your story -- even if you did make the whole thing up. Remember: with Brown, there's always another chance to get it right.