"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)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"Hector" is not the same as "Hancock"

Legion baseball
Just got home from the senior center where I glanced through the (pretty small) July 9 Morris paper. I see where the Legion baseball team beat Hancock 18-4. Right away it dawned on me: this is a game that had the Willmar paper reporting that we played "Hector," not "Hancock." I reported on the game online assuming we'd played Hector, based on the West Central Tribune. It is so common to find errors and inconsistencies in that paper's sports reporting.
I do not appreciate being made to look like a fool. I don't have the standing to work one-on-one with coaches anymore. I rely on other media outlets. I'm not sure the Willmar paper has enough credibility to rely on anymore.
BTW isn't Hector that community presented as exhibit 'A' in how small towns are struggling when they're close to a cluster of big box stores? In Hector's case that cluster is a half hour's drive away. In the case of our Motown, we're a 45-minute drive from Alexandria. Hector was profiled in the Star Tribune for struggling in this regard. Is adversity on the way for Morris? I don't know, but that new service road on the north end of town suggests that development is on the way. What do you think?
 
Our paper's dubious ad products
I took a glance at the Morris paper on Sunday, July 3, while at church. I take a glance at the letters to the editor page to see if Jeff Backer is being described as a saint or something less than that. Operatives on both sides are always busy scrutinizing. My bias is that the Republican side is a propaganda machine. There is really only one thing to keep in mind with Republicans: they don't want you to like government. They don't want you to assume you can get safe, healthy drinking water. Rick Snyder has not yet resigned.
I discovered the honor roll page in the Morris paper. For a long time this was made into a "sucker ad." In other words, there were sponsors for that page, maybe six of them. Above was this heading: "These businesses congratulate the MAHS honor roll achievers." Something to that effect. I always found that amusing. You mean the other businesses in town don't give a rip about MAHS achievers? I'm sure we're all astute enough to know what's up, because the heading should read: "These businesses were willing to get our their checkbooks for the Morris newspaper."
But that's the nature of the world we live in today: Everything has a price, even a mere gesture of congratulating kids.
I'm happy so many more kids make the honor rolls than when I was a student. If I were a student today, I'd be put on behavior meds (LOL).
When I was at the Morris paper, I was required to write local feature articles for those ag promotion pages: beef, pork and dairy. People were getting some supposedly valuable content to go along with the mere listing of "sponsors." The content appears to no longer have any value. Today it's just a listing of "sponsors," those little boxes with names of businesses. The page has no value at all. Oh, but to honor these ag producers? I assure you that the large farmers of today operate with no interest in getting any media attention at all. They want to be left alone, to be off the radar screen and just produce and make money. Media attention might just invite scrutiny from the likes of PETA.
The newspaper still thinks it can find enough sucker businesses who will sign up for the promo pages. How about a poultry page?
When I was at the paper, I was required to submit a list of articles I was working on, for the "status meeting" every Monday morning. Because we went to press on Friday, naturally it was difficult to come up with a fresh list. The Morris paper published twice weekly and with larger pages through my whole tenure there. I remember a local bank employee who was upset when the paper reduced the page size a wee bit. I wonder how she reacted when the paper went from two issues a week to one.
The Morris newspaper still has an associate editor (the position I held). Is that person required to compile a whole list of major non-sports articles every week?
A former co-worker who has since left the paper told me that the status meetings for the ad department were getting so stressful, it was starting to affect her weekends. What a way to live.
I was at the paper for 27 years. Over the last few years, I noticed a trend of the public being less willing to cooperate with the paper. People seemed to want to be left alone. I think they were getting more savvy, realizing that there was really nothing in it for them to "talk to the paper." Also, people were feeling empowered to communicate their own interests to the world via the Internet, a bottom-up system of communication. The old top-down system, as represented by the print media, seemed to be less appealing for people.
The Sun Tribune had people turning down the chance to be our "cover couple" for the bridal edition. This never would have happened years earlier. The Morris paper has nixed that whole special section, opting to just list businesses - another "sucker ad" - in a box in the regular paper. This is a real test of the basic intelligence of local businesspeople.
The paper is advertising for a new editor, who, according to the ad, will serve as a community "watchdog." I haven't noticed this inclination on the part of the newspaper at all. Did the paper investigate to see how the chancellor search process broke down at UMM? That would be elementary. Is there a story "behind the scenes?" There has to be.
I guess a highfalutin search committee is getting ready to do its thing again. People with all sorts of fancy stud papers are on that committee. A local lawyer is on that committee who needs to lose weight, IMHO.
A UMM insider told me Saturday that Rodney Hanley "would not have been a good fit for UMM, based on his background." Really? Who made this determination? Are there factions on the campus that are more influential than the search committee? If so, that's odd and unacceptable. It's also politics, which I have been around way too much in my life. I told this individual that we'd probably be seeing Jacqueline Johnson again for the Chancellor's Christmas Reception. He said Johnson might be phasing out commitments like that.
He also told me UMM is going to be challenged in the near future because of reduced tuition. Good news for students, but less money flowing into the institution.
I noticed that the July 9 Morris paper was just 20 pages, four less than the usual. Is this an aberration? Based on my research, newspapers continue quietly in a retreat mode, not so celebrated as it was ten years ago when the Internet made it obvious that the old newspaper model was seriously challenged. Ad circulars from Alexandria have helped keep our Morris paper afloat. I hope that doesn't float your boat.
I consider the content of the Sun Tribune to be basically pablum with lots of puffery. I certainly don't buy the paper. Certain people can be counted on to talk up the paper just like they talk up the Willmar paper (owned by the same company). If the Willmar paper is so great, how come it is abandoning having a local carrier? It's now using the Post Office. Here we have an example of that quiet retreat process.
The Morris paper's hike in newsstand price, from a dollar to $1.25, was asinine, but it doesn't surprise me considering the company we're dealing with.
I don't check the paper's website very often. Look at sports and you'll see a lot of non-local links. One of the reasons I felt I had to leave the paper was management's ambitious talk about what they would do with the website. The top manager said we'd have to get sports "scores" for the website. Well, has the Sun Tribune website turned into a "scoreboard central" for the area, being the go-to place for sports scores?
We had this "photo gallery" as part of the website, and there was no limit to the work we could do for that. I had sleepless nights wondering how far management was going to take this. Do people really need to come to the paper's website to see a hundred or so photos from something like Prairie Pioneer Days? What does that accomplish, in this age when nearly everyone takes their own photos with their handy devices? Selfies.
There was a time when it was special to have the newspaper photographer around. Not today.
Should the newspaper even try to put sports updates on its website? Problem is, as Jim Morrison will readily tell you, whatever you do for one team, you have to do for all the others. I think it's best for coaches to just type some paragraphs about each game and see it gets put online somewhere, anywhere.
The radio station has had some nice Legion baseball updates on its site, but recently that commitment faltered. When you start this sort of coverage/PR, you have to stay consistent with it. People certainly would have shot me out of the saddle if I abruptly abandoned coverage of a team. There were well-educated people in this town in dignified positions who could be reduced to talking like junior high boys in the boys room, when it came to criticizing the Morris paper's sports coverage. Many of those people were poised with their professional resumes ready to leave this town in a heartbeat if they could find something better. I won't name names.
In my last days with the Morris paper, I couldn't count on anything being predictable from one day to the next. They were playing mind games with me. The editor found time, when he wasn't smoking cigarettes, to type several pages of micro-managing directives on sports. The situation was becoming a parody of itself. He wanted UMM sports to be our highest priority. He wanted quotes from players in the articles. He wanted feature articles. I couldn't even come close to keeping up with all that was going on. My self-esteem was long gone. I knew full well I couldn't write as well as I was capable, such were the stresses wearing on me. So very sad.
The editor decided we should have weekly meetings to evaluate the sports section. I assure you these wouldn't be back-patting sessions. The sports section of a paper is the easiest thing in the world to shoot down, if you simply want to. I bailed out from the paper before we even had a meeting like that. I told Jim Morrison about this and he said: "Why don't they have meetings to evaluate the rest of the paper?"
I consider myself to be the biggest wasted talent in the history of Morris. I am genuinely saddened.
If the current newspaper management were to read this blog post, they would react by giggling and mocking me, because this is in the nature of media people: they are smartass know-it-alls. I have been around this attitude for much of my life.
On top of everything else I had to deal with, there was the aftermath of the goalpost incident at UMM. I needed that goalpost incident like I needed a hole in the head. UMM was competing at such a low level, why should anyone have given a rip about the goalposts and how the game turned out? And then I had to deal with holier-than-thou critics. Someone was proud to note he was a "friend" of the deceased. I just wanted to be left alone to have my supper at Pizza Hut that night.
The public should have realized that I just wanted to spend some time at home sometimes, like everyone else does: mowing the lawn, washing the car etc. Instead I was publicly accused of being "lazy." Mike Busian seemed to think we shouldn't cover the goalpost incident at all.
Today I don't have to worry about such things, but in 2006 I had to sacrifice my employment.
The last MAHS graduation that I covered was in 2006, the first year it was held at the new gymnasium. I sat there feeling sick, knowing that never again would I have the privilege of doing this. The paper's management arranged for three total employees to be there, including an intern and yours truly. The cigarette smoker was there too. The top manager said we should photograph all the graduates getting their diploma, I suppose offering the pix for sale.
The newspaper was in effect creating a whole new business: a photography business. The manager said that having three photographers would allow us to rest our batteries periodically. Three employees?
And then the smoker, who was the editor, vetoed the manager's plan anyway. That was insubordination, wasn't it? The Forum is a top-down company, not friendly at all to anyone being insubordinate. But maybe that was B.S. - the Forum is like any other business: as an employee you're either "in" or "out."
For most of my tenure with the paper, I was the only employee at graduation and I handled it just fine, just using some common sense to take notes and take some obvious photos. It was a relaxed job and even uplifting. I enjoyed myself being there. I didn't even stay for the awarding of diplomas because it wasn't necessary - I had all the stuff I needed. So I just went home! My work behavior wasn't placed under a microscope.
Nothing was routine at the end of my days at the paper. Nothing I did was good enough. Perhaps the goalpost incident was the whole catalyst for my downward slide at the end.
Forum Communications has a reputation of jettisoning people they don't want around anymore. A former manager of Quinco Press, Lowry, put it this way: "They make it so you don't want to be there anymore." Nice trick. He said he knew a vendor who called on Forum Communications properties and dreaded this, because the people at those properties were so short, humorless and sullen. It's sad.
 
At the park for PPD
We spent a short time at East Side Park for Prairie Pioneer Days. I saw a police officer walk across the park with her gun so visible at her side. What are the odds that the Morris police are going to have to shoot and kill someone at East Side Park on Sunday of Prairie Pioneer Days? Maybe these officers should leave their guns in their vehicles.
I don't think they should wear guns inside Morris restaurants. They will not have to shoot and kill anyone at DeToy's Restaurant. They could, however, scare some business off. In light of recent events, I think the Morris police chief should issue a strong public statement to the effect of "the Morris police will not shoot and kill someone at a traffic stop." It can't happen here? That's what we thought about the misbehaving Catholic priests. And then it happened here.
PPD has a distance run named for Marv Meyer. Has anything yet been named for Jerry Witt or Lyle Rambow?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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