Friday, September 09, 2005

High School Football Coverage 'Shows How Far the Register Has Slid'

Bud Appleby of Des Moines has uncomplimentary remarks about how the local paper handled coverage of some games during the first week of the high school football season.

“Did you notice the Terry Hersom byline on the Hoover-Sioux City East game story in the Sunday paper?” Appleby wrote me in an e-mail. “Hersom is the sports editor of the Sioux City Journal, and the story in the Register is, word-for-word, paragraphs he wrote for his own paper.

“I guess the Register has such a weak presence in that part of the state these days that the sports editor of the Sioux City paper doesn’t mind writing stories for it.

“That, as much as anything, shows how far the Register has slid.

“And I’ll bet the bean-counters who run the Register are overjoyed at the money they saved by paying Hersom a few bucks to cover the game for them.”

I answered Appleby, a retired editor and writer at the local paper, by saying that I was initially shocked by how a couple of other high school games were handled in the Saturday, Sept. 3, edition.

Dowling’s 41-0 victory over Sioux City West was written by an unidentified reporter from the Sioux City Journal, and Southeast Polk’s 27-25 loss to Council Bluffs Lincoln at Council Bluffs was written by an unidentified reporter from the Council Bluffs Nonpareil.

Frankly, I can’t believe that the local paper didn’t assign a reporter to make the trip to Sioux City for the Dowling game. It was Tom Wilson’s first game as the Maroons’ coach, and the story was buried on Page 8 [the back page] of the sports section.

Former Drake coach Chuck Shelton used to complain to me about how results of the Bulldogs’ games were carried “back by the tire ads” in the local paper. Dowling’s game story was so far back in the section that it was above two auto body collision repair ads and an ad for cell phones.

Wilson came to Dowling from Dike-New Hartford. Hell, I’ll bet he thought he was back in Dike—or maybe wished he was--when he saw how piss-poor his opening game with the Maroons was covered by the local paper.

Had the local paper sent a reporter to Sioux City to cover the Dowling game, he or she could have stayed overnight – at a Motel 6 or even on a park bench or the back seat of the car – and covered the Hoover-Sioux City East game Saturday afternoon.

“I didn’t see the Saturday paper, so I missed that,” Appleby said of the shabby way the local paper handled the Dowling and Southeast Polk games.

“The Register probably has a trade agreement with those papers. You cover Des Moines teams for us when they play in your town and we’ll cover your teams for you when they play in Des Moines.

“No money changes hands. They just swap stories. That way, the paper gets coverage of out-of-town games for free and the reporter gets nothing.

“Some non-competing papers do that. Since the Register has not tried to compete in other cities in years, I guess it was inevitable.

“Gus Schrader [the late sports editor at the Cedar Rapids Gazette] would never do that. His style was: I’ll cover your team when it plays in Cedar Rapids and you pay me for it. You cover my team when it plays in your town and the Gazette will pay you for it.

“That seems like the only way to do it that is fair to the reporters.”

The next time I see Hersom, I’ll ask him if he got paid by the local paper for his coverage. I’ll also ask him how many Registers he thinks are sold in Sioux City now—six……..or just the one the library gets in the mail a week later.

One reason the local paper used stories from the Sioux City and Council Bluffs papers was undoubtedly because the sports editor, Bryce Miller, feared there might be no report of the games in Saturday’s and Sunday’s papers.

That’s happened, of course, a couple of times in recent years—the most notable being when Randy Brubaker was the local paper’s sports editor and didn’t bother sending a reporter to cover Valley’s opening game—and the game was in West Des Moines!

The paper must have been hoping to get a phone call from Valley’s student manager or the cleanup guy at the stadium, but got stiffed. So there was no report of the game in the Saturday—and, I think—Sunday papers on the Tigers. And I don’t blame anyone at Valley for not calling it in. It was the paper’s responsibility to have a reporter on the scene.

That was at a time when the local paper’s bosses—and I mean the big bosses—were laying the groundwork for what is now the West Des Moines Register. By the way, the coaches and the other critics of the local paper’s sports coverage no longer have Brubaker to kick around.

He’s now been shuffled off to Siberia -- in other words, the paper’s website operation. And that’s not going well, either.

I mean, the bosses at 8th and Locust are suddenly caught up with putting “blogs” on the web page at a time when nobody – even the people who work at the paper – knows what a blog is.

Frankly, the blog experiment is turning into an embarrassment—for the paper and the people who write them.

At least the sports blogs have been more active than the others—if you want to call 13 contributions to Gary Dolphin’s blog and six to Terry Allen’s blog “active” on a website run by the state’s largest paper. Dolphin is the play-by-play announcer for Iowa’s football games, and his first blog contribution ran this week.

I like Dolphin and the work he does on the radio, but 13 responses to what he wrote about tomorrow’s Iowa State-Iowa game isn’t many. Even less-impressive were the half-dozen responses to the blog written by Allen, an Iowa State assistant coach. I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet the local paper tried to get an assistant coach at Iowa interested in writing a blog, too, but got turned down.

Ready for the scrap heap are the blogs written by Jeffrey Bruner, who writes about movies and the theater; Kyle Munson, who writes about music, and Tina Ristau, who writes about books.

As I write this column, the words no blogger wants to read—“no responses”—are attached to what Bruner, Munson and Ristau wrote in their blogs. I still don’t know what the local paper hopes to gain by having people respond to the blogs, but it ain’t happening.

There's nothing worse about reader participation projects at a newspaper than readers who don't care enough to participate. Kind of destroys the spirit of things, don't you think? A couple of years ago, the local paper's sports department all but begged readers to send letters-to-the-editor.

Unbelievably, I don't think one letter has appeared in the paper since then. That, folks, is pretty bad.

As far as I know, books blogger Tina Ristau doesn’t even work for the local paper. She’s listed as an “elementary media specialist”—whatever that is--in Waterloo, who also works part-time at a northeast Iowa public library.

I guess that qualifies her as the paper’s books blogger.

That tells you one thing—there’s nobody at the paper who seems qualified by the bosses to write about books.

Joan Bunke, where the hell are you when you’re needed?

Vol. 4, No. 373
Sept. 9, 2005