AFL reporter Tom Morris has defended his decision to break the news that Damien Hardwick would be stepping down as coach of the Richmond Tigers, after copping backlash from fans on social media. The AFL world was left stunned when the news emerged on Monday night, first revealed by Morris on radio network SEN.
Morris, when he returned to air on Tuesday morning, revealed he had received an avalanche of abusive messages regarding how he broke the story. He said he had reached out to both the Richmond Football Club and Hardwick personally, saying he was pushed 'hard' to delay breaking the story until the morning.
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He has since received widespread support from his peers in the media, many commending him for having broken such a massive story. Morris defended the way he had broken the story on SEN Breakfast.
“What’s become apparent, when you break a story or write a story, you’re not going to be able to please everyone,” Morris said on Tuesday morning. “My only loyalty yesterday was to get the story accurate and to make sure the club knew I was going to go with the story and that I tried to ask for a comment from Damien Hardwick and the club. I did all that.”
It is believed Hardwick made the surprise decision primarily due to being burned out by the job. He has 18 month left to run on his current deal with the Tigers.
Morris defended himself for going ahead with the story on Monday night, revealing he had been urged to do so on Tuesday morning. He said any journalist in his position would act similarly, given it was a story rivals would have been just as keen to break themselves.
“To suggest that I was going to wait until 9.15 this morning when you know that other journos would have been rummaging around for this story is just absurd,” he said. “I was always going to go with the story as soon as I knew it was accurate and as long as I could give all parties an opportunity to comment at a reasonable time to get back to me.”
— SEN 1116 (@1116sen) May 22, 2023
Media figures back Tom Morris over Damien Hardwick story
Once it became apparent just how much criticism Morris was facing, he got support on social media from a variety of media figures, and even some former AFL players. Hawthorn great Luke Hodge described getting the scoop as an 'amazing effort', adding that it was 'very rare that a reporter hears this before the players'.
Fellow former AFL player Jack Fitzpatrick also backed Morris' reporting. He said people needed to 'put aside' their opinion of Morris, who was sacked from Fox Sports in 2022, and accept the fact for what they were.
“It’s boggling my mind that Tom Morris is copping it for breaking this story," Fitzpatrick wrote on Twitter. "Put your personal opinion of him aside and, assuming he’s right, it’s an exceptional piece of journalism and a story that every other journo in the business would love to have broken."
The likes of TV host Andy Maher, veteran reporter Rohan Connolly and 3AW host Shane McInnes also threw their support behind Morris. McInnes said waiting for approval from Richmond to run the story would have been tantamount to running PR for the club.
“If you honestly think Tom Morris was wrong for breaking the Damian Hardwick story, you have no idea how media and journalism works," McInnes said. "Tom got a scoop, he checked it, he ran it. That’s journalism. Waiting for permission to run it is PR.”
Meanwhile, Channel 7's Ricky Mangidis said it was ridiculous that so much focus had been placed on how the story was broken, rather than focusing on the man at the centre of it all. He said fans should have been more focused on Hardwick's achievements in his 14 years as Tigers coach.
“Are we going to talk about the job Damien Hardwick did at Richmond, playing a large part in turning that club around from however many years of being a mess?" he asked. "Or are we going to place way, way too much of a focus on how the story got out instead? Come on. Priorities. Please.”
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