Sunday, July 03, 2005

Hey, Raise Your Hand If You Care About Paper's 25 'Power' Sports People

The local paper’s top-25 has turned out to be a big zero.

Few people are talking about it. Few people seem to care about it.

Many who have read it are critical of it.

The story about the “25 most powerful people in Iowa sports” appeared last Sunday. Some people tell me they still haven’t read it, which might say something about the newspaper business these days.

“I didn’t read it. On purpose,” said a man who spent most of his working years as a newspaper editor and writer.

“I make a point of avoiding reading things in the Register that I know are going to piss me off—and anything with Rekha Basu’s name connected to it tops that list.

“I figure that list was just another of the things the Register does to avoid actually gathering and reporting news.”

Newspaper editors like to make a big splash with something like a top-25 list—especially at a time when circulation is nosediving and people are spending more time observing the Internet, watching TV and listening to sports-talk radio.

This newspaper idea has drawn a huge yawn.

I always try to watch Keith Murphy’s popular “Sound Off” show on Sunday nights on WHO-TV. I tuned in last week to see if there’d be any calls about the local paper’s top-25.

Not a one.

“I haven’t received a single e-mail, phone call or comment from a viewer about the Power 25 list,” said Murphy, the station’s veteran sports director.

Listeners haven’t exactly bombarded Steve Deace with comments about the top-25 on his 3-to-6 p.m. KXNO-radio weekday sports-talk shows, either.

“We talked about [the top 25] on Tuesday,” Deace told me. “We received no phone calls on it [last] week, and about a half-dozen e-mails—most of those were folks loyal to our show who either were surprised I wasn’t on [the list] or wanted to know what I thought about not being on it.

“They also wondered if it was self-serving of the Register to place two of its own people on the list.”

I said in an earlier column that the paper was wrong in having sports editor Bryce Miller and sportswriter Tom Witosky on the list. As far as I was concerned, including their names immediately destroyed the credibility of the rankings.

A high-profile Iowa media person, who deserved be on the list but wasn’t, said this:

“Bryce Miller being mentioned in that thing? You know he forced that down Randy Peterson’s throat.”

Peterson wrote the story. A number of people have indicated to me that they think Miller forced Peterson to put the names of the two Register people on the list.

“Forced” might be too strong a word. “Influenced” may be more accurate.

Then there’s the matter of Sean Keeler, one of the local paper’s sports columnists.

He was left off the list. What kind of message is the paper sending Keeler when Miller, who has been the sports editor only since February, and Witosky make the list and he doesn’t?

I guess one of my reactions to the list was the absence of Keeler,” said a well-known retired newspaper editor. “If you are going to name Register people—Miller and Witosky—how can you leave the lead columnist off?

“The obvious answer, I guess, is looking at the selectors. Keeler’s acid, sarcastic, always negative attitude does not turn folks on.

“I agree with you that no member of the Register should be on there. But, for heaven’s sake, what is Christine Grant doing on there? Did you notice that in the list of selectors, the sports information directors from Iowa State and Drake were on it, but Phil Haddy was not?”

Tom Kroeschell is the sports publicist at Iowa State and Mike Mahon has that job at Drake. Haddy is the sports information director at Iowa.

Peterson’s story said “there were 21 letters not returned” – which means, I guess, that 21 people were asked to vote, but didn’t bother.

Earlier in this essay, when the retired editor asked why Christine Grant was on the top-25 list, he was referring to a retired women’s athletic director at the University of Iowa. These days, she’s not exactly a household name in sports.

Murphy also had a question about Grant being on the list.

“What year was this survey mailed out?” he asked.

My guess is that the paper was desperately trying to not make it an all-white-male list of 25 so-called powerful people. So Miller, Peterson and anyone else who had a role in the decision-making wanted to be sure they had as many women and blacks as possible on the list.

A few people wonder about the purpose of the project.

“What constitutes ‘power’ for crissakes?” asked a Des Moines writer who has authored a number of books.

There’s a feeling among some critics of the list that Peterson was merely blowing smoke up Miller’s ass, as well as Witosky’s, by putting them both No. 10 on the list. Others say they’re convinced the project was Miller’s, and that he obviously had the final say on who went on the list and who didn’t.

“I agree completely about the Register’s self-serving inclusion of its sports department among the top 25 power brokers in Iowa sports,” said a man who has worked for a couple of the largest newspapers in the state and now is happy he has left the business.

“I’m guessing that, these days, 90 percent of the people in Iowa would have no idea who Bryce Miller or Tom Witosky are. They would be more likely to select the guy who covers their high school in the Weekly Bugle or the sports guy on the TV station they watch…..”

Murphy said, “I enjoy lists like this one, so I was a little surprised it didn’t spur more discussion. Steve Deace and I did talk about it on his KXNO radio show Tuesday…..

“How do you define power? Name recognition?....pull?….bank account?…..influence?…..accomplishments? I don’t know. That’s the big question. Is Bryce Miller really more powerful than Bruce Van De Velde [Iowa State’s athletic director] or Dan Gable [former Iowa wrestling coach]?

“Does the president of Musco Lighting [No. 13 Joe Crookham] have more power than Steve Deace or Larry Cotlar [KXNO’s morning sports-talk show host]? Guys who have a microphone in front of them talking sports to a captive audience for 15 hours a week? Does Tim McClelland [No. 24] umpiring games—all of which are played outside our borders—give him more power than the guy behind him on the list, [No. 25 Iowa State wrestling coach] Bobby Douglas? I really don’t know.

“McClelland is the best umpire in the Bigs, and a great guy, so maybe it does.”

Murphy said he agreed with the paper that Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby deserved to be No. 1 on the list.

I didn’t. I thought Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz, whose football teams have won 18 straight games at Kinnick Stadium, should have been No. 1, Bowlsby No. 2.

“Bowlsby would make a national list of college sports’ most powerful people,” Murphy said. “I also found it interesting that Van De Velde was ranked so low [No. 14]. That certainly shows that the lack of a long-term contract, and Iowa State’s poor crisis management during the Larry Eustachy fiasco lingers. Van De Velde has more power than No. 14, but the fact so many people ranked him that low shows what power perception is.

“As for the media, Witosky deserves his spot. He’s a terrific reporter—respected [and feared] by both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones. Tom doesn’t go after people, he goes after the story.

“In the end though, who are we kidding: It’s Kirk Ferentz’s world.”

Deace, a former part-time employee of the Register’s sports department, said he “had no problem with Witosky being on the list, and Bryce Miller was probably on the list because folks have respect for the sports editor of the Register, regardless of who it is. Besides, no Register folks were listed in those that did the voting.

“I was disappointed I wasn’t asked to vote on it,’’ Deace continued. “With all due respect, no one in the state of Iowa talks to more sports fans each week than we do from 3 to 6 p.m., and there are a few folks on the list I have never even heard of.

“In addition, I was disappointed to see the folks who actually pay good money to go to the games were not given a vote, either. I was also surprised not to see a couple of media folks like Keith Murphy and Mike Hlas not listed, as well as Bill Krause. And, frankly, we’re now in an era when a Jon Miller has more daily interaction with the mighty athletic department at the University of Iowa and its hefty and passionate fan base than does a Jim Zabel, Gary Dolphin or anybody else, for that matter.”

I suggested that Murphy, Hlas [the veteran Cedar Rapids Gazette sports columnist], Dolphin [Iowa’s football and basketball play-by-play radio announcer] and Jon Miller [who runs the Hawkeye Nation site on the Internet] deserved to be in contention for spots on the list.

“I don’t think Michael Gartner belonged at No. 2,” Deace said. “I don’t know about you, but in all my years thus far, I’ve never heard a coach or athletic director on or off the record give a rip about what the Board of Regents thinks. I would’ve put him on the list, but that was purely political to have him at No. 2, and I think Gartner would probably agree with that.”

I don’t think Gartner belonged on the list at all.

“I’m not sure how you can do a list like this and have it be complete and respectful of everyone because it is so subjective,” Deace said. “All in all, I thought it was a good attempt at something—as Murphy told me—that is interesting, but really only inside-baseball folks really care about.

“I’ll give them credit for trying to be creative during a slow news period.”

Well, I guess things are slow at 8th and Locust. I haven’t noticed one letter-to-the-editor in the last week's daily and Sunday papers regarding the rankings. In a business that likes to get reader feedback, that’s not a good thing.

Vol. 4, No. 356
July 3, 2005