I'm pleased to note that this website is over a year old. It has been a learning experience and a fulfilling one. I had pondered it for some time, but wondered if I was enough of a "geek" to get it going.
A sense of urgency grew when one of the legacy media businesses in our community, the newspaper, went into serious retreat by becoming once a week. That's a 50 percent reduction in frequency of publication. With a weekly paper, we are now in league with Clinton, a nice little town but admittedly a much smaller one.
The newspaper in Clinton has actually stayed more true to the tradition of community newspapers, so kudos to them. For example, they still put out a bona fide "bridal edition" in the spring. We used to have this in Morris until the corporate ownership in Fargo, or Detroit Lakes, depending on what layer of the bureaucracy got involved, decided it wasn't bringing in enough profit.
Those same bean counters decided it was no longer practical to publish obituaries for free.
For free? Aren't obituaries "community news?" Isn't this one of the most valuable features of a community media institution?
Of course, the newspaper is a business and it will try to make money on anything. It makes money on publishing high school sports schedules three times a year, even though this is arguably "news" and has inherent value like obituaries.
Those tiny boxes with names of businesses on the edge of those sports schedule pages probably cost the "sponsors" way too much. I would have a hard time living with myself if I were selling those. I would have a harder time processing obituaries knowing that the grieving families were being squeezed financially for this.
I know there 's an obit charge because a friend told me, a friend who had a family member die in another state. He submitted the obit info and was told he'd have to pay. He was told the charge was 50 bucks.
Who knows, maybe it's a hundred now, because that's the way these things go. My friend Glen Helberg and I call this the "creeping effect" in our economy.
Let's assume the obit charge is still $50 - I think it's disgusting. Obits are presented beautifully on the Pedersen Funeral Home and kmrs-kkok websites. If I were a grieving loved one, I would go this route and tell the newspaper to take a flying leap. My friend with the deceased sister (who lived in Iowa) was too nice a guy to do this.
Ironically, in the old days when the paper was the only way to report this, there was no charge. So why in this new age of online reporting (where there's no overhead expense) should there be a charge for a "print" obit? It's like climbing a mountain, I guess - "because it's there."
If you can get the money, go get it. That has become the ethos surrounding us.
With my website, "I Love Morris," I am trying to supply some exciting coverage of Morris area youth sports and other local stuff for absolutely no cost to anyone who chooses to visit.
The type size does not have to be made small to "squeeze it in." Some of the Tiger wrestling reports in the Willmar newspaper have had a type size so small (agate?) that you almost need a magnifying glass, not just reading glasses.
And why spend over a buck for the weekend edition just to see if your kid's name is in one of the sports articles?
The solution is obvious: online.
My website will not be the long-term solution. Mainly I'm trying to build awareness and set an example. I started doing this about four years ago just by talking to people. I urged the radio station to beef up its website.
I once saw great potential in the radio station website, but I have gotten a little discouraged. I now realize that radio is essentially part of the old corporate media that are governed by a profit hunger at every juncture.
Too bad, because the radio station could heighten its visibility and popularity substantially by making its website more dynamic. This is a process that costs so little (if anything).
For example, all they would have to do is post a link to the Tiger football photo album I put together (through Flickr) last fall, and its web traffic would jump. That album is linked right here.
With my website, virtually the only cost I have encountered is getting an occasional roll of film developed at our local friendly Thrifty White Drugstore. I appreciate "Jen" over there asking "are you working these days?" I appreciate that she sees potential in me for gainful employment!
Sometime I'd like to answer "yes." There was a time when I gave the impression of being a "working fool." This becomes problematic when you enter your 50s and must begin pacing yourself. It's also highly problematic when you are in an industry - newspapering - that went into convulsions of downsizing and consolidation starting about the time I left it.
So I got out of the cave before the walls collapsed. But it's hardly consolation to know I'm out of work. It can be terrifying in fact. It's like a wall slowly builds up between you and other people. I'm suddenly not like them anymore.
The feeling of isolation is troubling sometimes.
I'm heartened that Jen and some other friends root for me.
Republicans say we might have to raise the age of retirement in this country to 70. As if it's that easy to just hang on that long. And we're supposed to approve of continued tax cuts for the very wealthiest among us. Well, the citizenry gave the nod to the Republicans in the mid-term, so that must be our will (not mine, though).
My website is a way for me to reach out and show I can still contribute some valuable journalism to the community.
I almost had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming last fall when I ventured back to Morris Area Tiger football games. At first I was tentative and somewhat fearful.
A sideline volunteer (and long-time acquaintance) cautioned me that school administration might not approve of my presence as a "new media" practitioner. Actually he pinpointed one person but I won't type that name here.
He felt everyone else would be fine with what I was doing. (And I won't type his name, either.)
Why would anyone disapprove? Because public schools represent an old, ossified system with qualities of a monopoly, and monopolies have a primal fear of change. They'd look at me the way a group of monkeys might look at a bright red rubber ball.
Anyway, I survived the fall and produced some sports journalism that I feel the fans and parents enjoyed. I got some very nice feedback. And my journalism could be enjoyed for no cost whatsoever.
Surely, though, such a system could not take over as the norm, right? Why not? The Morris Benson hockey association has taken a big step forward this winter with a new and dynamic website. I just knew this would happen, because the hockey crowd is pretty independent and self-starting in comparison to the older sports programs.
And the hockey association operates much closer to the private sector model. In other words, "if it works, do it." Don't think of obstacles. Monopolies always think of obstacles.
I have been told by a school administrator that people at the school "don't have time" to initiate their own sports infomation bureau, comparable to what UMM does brilliantly on its own website.
"We don't have time" can be translated to "show us the money," in my experience.
The hockey association is not encumbered by this thinking. There are people associated with hockey who will gladly take the time. And with time, the glitzy new MBA Storm website might help that sport become the premier winter sports attraction here.
I hope that fans associated with other sports raise their voices to try to rectify this, and see that a neat new sports info bureau gets established, somehow, some way. Where there's a will there's a way.
And, a dirty little secret about what I'm doing is that it's actually fun.
My experience covering MAHS football last fall was thrilling and unforgettable. All that was missing was attending the Lions fall sports banquet and having coach Jerry Witt mention me from the podium. I'm sure he acknowledged the corporate media in the habitual knee-jerk fashion, because. . .because, well, that's the way it's always been done.
That's the problem. MBA Storm hockey is throwing off those shackles, setting a fine example in the process. Now we need to see other programs, sports and non-sports - hey, theatre! - follow suit. Fundamental change can happen slowly in society but once it's accomplished, we ask "why didn't we do this sooner?"
"I Love Morris" is striving to set an example.
People shouldn't have to pay to read obituaries, and grieving families certainly shouldn't have to pay to have such information reported. There are links to the Pedersen Funeral Home obituary page and the kmrs-kkok obit page along the right-hand side of this website.
Please explore those links (and everything else).
-Brian Williams - Morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org