"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sports media work: evolution, pressures

I remember a critic of the Morris newspaper, when I was there, saying "why don't you take all the sports, put it in a separate publication, and then the people who want it can buy it."
I knew exactly where this person was coming from.
I remember a retired school administrator saying to me once "the only people who read the sports are parents who want to count the number of times Susie's name appears compared to Betsy's."
I must admit there was a hamster-in-a-treadmill feeling to it all. At a certain point in time we established what we felt were reasonable standards for sports coverage. Problem is, new programs get created like swimming and gymnastics, and hockey went from a sandlot type of sport to being completely legitimate for varsity purposes. The Lee Center totally transformed hockey.
There were people in the public school system who actually tried to resist hockey. How quaint: to think there were elements in our local educational apparatus who actually thought hockey could be resisted. It all came down to politics of course. There were enough people who wanted to see hockey become "big time," that they simply asserted themselves through the political channels.
And then the media had to respond by treating hockey as an equal.
This was fully logical. Nobody wants to slam the door on swimming or gymnastics either. I remember when swimming was a peripheral sport - sort of ragtag. Finally the push came for varsity status. I remember Rick Lucken shaking his head about what varsity swimming would mean for the powers that be: "another non-revenue sport!"
Girls hockey got established along with boys. Any notion that sports was a male bastion in any way, shape or form came crashing down. You're surprised there was a time when it was? Well, you're maybe 20 years younger than me.
All of these thoughts are not to suggest that the proliferation of serious youth sports was any sort of questionable thing. It's not for me to decide anyway. Parents assert themselves through the legitimate political channels. Eventually they decided they didn't care what certain teachers thought about it. The teachers could just do their job as laid down by the authorities. And shut up.
I remember setting up a pretty nice system for covering UMM men's basketball, interviewing the very gregarious and friendly Perry Ford. All that was fine and dandy, but guess what? The phone rang with demands for total equality for the women's program. In principle this was totally legitimate. But even back when the newspaper was twice a week, we had limited space.
And there was the obvious question of how much sports coverage the general reader, i.e. non-sports parent, would want to receive (and pay for) each week. In the final analysis, sports coverage wasn't really a service. Rather it was a sop to the crazy quilt of self-interested sports boosters out there. The programs themselves were fine. The expectations imposed on the media were not so fine or reasonable.
And of course the pressure could be vented in the most emotional of ways. Our family had to change dentists.
There was a time when the Morris newspaper was expected to provide a certain amount of coverage for the non-Morris high schools in the area. This was always a thorny issue.
I always flirted with the idea of trying to press for a Morris-only sports section. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to this was non-Morris sports parents being on the newspaper staff. Looking back, one of the biggest mysteries I see about the Morris newspaper is why there weren't more Morris school parents on the staff. I wish we could have had some nice, passive, non-assertive and non-emotional Morris school/sports parents on the Sun Tribune staff, who would just send their kids through the programs and shut up. I mean parents like Barb Lienemann (toward the end).
It wasn't to be.
For many years, to the extent we covered UMM sports at all, I had to go out and get it. I had a basic zest for my work so I pursued it even if I knew there'd be imperfections. Boiled down: We couldn't be all things to all people.
This was in the pre-Internet (pre-historic?) age when the print media had the kind of primacy it thought it would always have. The print media were like a beacon bestowing attention. It was a totally unreasonable burden. And the general interest reader got turned off. I can't blame them.
"Why don't you take all the sports, put it in a separate publication, and then the people who want it can buy it."
If we had it to do over again, maybe. . .
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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