"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)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Looking back on leaving the Sun Tribune

I had to leave the Morris Sun Tribune newspaper in 2006. It was extremely unfortunate for me. It's up to others to determine if it was unfortunate in general.
I am told by another former employee, someone who left after me, that after my departure, the person running the place said "things will be better now." Better without Brian Williams. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
It's hard to believe the Hancock newspaper is better off when you consider the sheer amount of coverage I gave school activities in the weekly Hancock Record. Often I would fill two whole pages with sports for that newspaper. Sometimes I would run a particularly good sports photo the entire width of the page. My football photos - the hardest kind to take - were sharp and looked good when enlarged. I don't see that kind of quality now.
Hancock sports was actually second on my work list. The Morris newspaper was twice weekly back then. I am amazed, looking back, at how I could type through a mountain of sports information in limited time, as well as I did.
I tried covering a wide swath of sports. I sought sub-varsity information and tried working it in on a reasonably timely basis. Because of the workload and the time realities, I knew perfection wasn't going to be attainable, at least most of the time.
I had systems with a variety of coaches who had different approaches to cooperating with the press. I just tried to hold things together as best I could. And all along, I realized that kids sports was probably getting more attention than it should. At least it was local and it was full of kids' names from the community.
In 2006 we had reached a point where apparently the whole sports section needed re-working. My biggest mistake, looking back, was that I felt I worked more for the community than for my masters within the company.
Out on "the street," as it were, I got lots of feedback, suggestions and pressure regarding my work. I felt it was essential to try to answer to those people. The scrutiny from the public was such, I went a couple decades without attending church because I could never be perceived as an individual outside my work role.
A footnote: I occasionally got involved with church by showing up and covering church-based events, which was really rather often. I was pleased to have a feature article re-printed by the Catholic diocese newspaper. It was an upbeat article, so different from so many of the newspaper articles about the Catholic Church these days.
One Easter I was invited to that Hosanna church because they had some sort of celebrity visitor, at least a celebrity in their eyes - perhaps someone who made it on TV on some obscure channel - and I was treated to this individual basically just asking for money, after which the church's own pastor said maybe we all shouldn't consider owning pets, because pets cost money and we ought to consider giving that money to the church. It was the worst Easter of my life. I was offended.
I should have said "to heck with all this" and just gone to my childhood church of First Lutheran, the plain vanilla church I attend now.
Oh, and then there was the Easter when I traipsed over to Faith Lutheran to follow up on a pledge I made. I had written a feature article on a new pastor there. I usually tried to develop a good personal rapport with people I interviewed for such stories. As I concluded my interview with this man of the cloth, a Reverend Boettner, I mentioned that I might stop by at the church sometime to hear him preach.
Nice considerate arrangement, eh? So it dawned on me, Easter morning, that it would be an apt time. An usher directed me to a spot in the pews amidst the large turnout. And then I realized the pastor wasn't there! The pastor of the church wasn't going to preach at the Easter service where we celebrate Christ's sacrifice on the cross and the resurrection.
Had the pastor been in some calamity or come across some health inconvenience? I ended up being told health was a factor but in kind of a dubious way. I was told that The Reverend's daughter was having a baby. I was taken aback hearing that. So, the health issue wasn't his, rather his daughter was having a baby, which I'm not sure is a health issue at all.
Parishioner Dolora Hendrickson apparently had thoughts similar to mine following this. The wise Dolora said: "She (his daughter) was having the baby, not him."
I thought of the irony of how I had always had so much difficulty trying to get out of work obligations at the newspaper. I missed one major Williams family reunion. So here I am, so absolutely obligated and loyal so as to not miss any little thing when people in Morris might expect my presence, and then the chief pastor of a church takes off for Easter.
There were people in this community who'd scream bloody murder if I didn't show up or adequately cover certain things - a dentist was at the top of this list - and many of these people themselves would consider it quite appropriate to take long vacations - even sabbaticals. But when it came to me, I had no such right. It could get intensely personal as with the dentist.
I missed high school graduation receptions for a friend of mine in Willmar who always scheduled these receptions on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. You see, I had to cover the Chokio-Alberta graduation which was held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I did this without gnashing my teeth because I actually enjoyed fulfilling my mission for the Sun Tribune newspaper.
Covering the C-A graduation was a must. Covering C-A sports was a must. C-A sports doesn't exist anymore.
When it came to sports, I was informed in an internal written directive that, among many other things, I was to make UMM sports the top priority. I felt I had always done a reasonably good job getting UMM into the paper. That would make sense given my family's background. But in 2006 it was made clear to me, from a member of newspaper management, that UMM was No. 1.
I made a photocopy of those directives. I'll quote: "Very few communities our size have college sports to feature in its pages, and we'll take full advantage of that, especially now since the university's programs are competitive." So, he takes a jab at UMM at the same time.
Continuing: "Morris high school sports will be a close second to UMM athletics."
A close second!
Do we need a "pecking order?" I had long been tired of the sports section being seen as some sort of vehicle for "promoting" certain programs. And here I am being told of what amounted to a "pecking order" among teams, so that we're "selling the right ones," UMM at the top of the list.
Frankly, if I'm running UMM I'd want fans to just come to the UMM website, where the sports portion is 100 per cent high quality and timely. I'm not sure I'd even want the Morris community newspaper around as a distraction (or annoyance).
Fans should come to the UMM website where not only can they learn all about what's happening with sports, they can explore the rest of the University of Minnesota-Morris world.
The community paper, the Sun Tribune, should be focused on the public school athletic program, where the participants after all are natives of the community.
I thought I could get by continuing this philosophy. But in the spring of 2006, things were getting tense at the Morris Sun Tribune newspaper. To the extent some struggling had set in, fingers had to be pointed.
Today we know that it was precisely in 2006 that the newspaper industry went into sort of a panic mode over what was happening to it. I didn't make it to the lifeboats. But I am now going to church. So there was a silver lining after all.
There is more I can write about circumstances I faced at the paper at the end. I'll probably do that.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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