Saturday, December 17, 2005

Chuck Schoffner's 'Retirement' Didn't Last Long--He's Writing 5 'Big Four' Basketball Blogs a Week For the Register After 33 Years With AP and UPI

One of the more interesting developments in this state's sportswriting scene involves Chuck Schoffner.

Schoffner [shown on the lower right, receiving a plaque at a recent Drake basketball game] was the longtime sports editor of the Associated Press bureau in Des Moines.

He covered as many college football and basketball games and wrote as many high school sports stories as anyone. He somehow kept most of his sanity while spending 33 years with the AP and United Press International.

But, as in so many other parts of the writing field, things changed for the AP as well as for Schoffner.

He didn't particularly like some of the changes, so he decided to retire at 55 years of age.

Now Schoffner is writing for the Des Moines Register's web pages, authoring short-and-to-the-point articles on the men's major-college basketball teams in the state.

"They wanted to take the pressure off the Register's other sportswriters," Schoffner told me. "So I'm doing five 'blogs' a week on the Big Four [Iowa State, Iowa, Drake and Northern Iowa] teams.

"It's nothing controversial that I'm writing. I just make observations, and see if people respond to what I write."

Getting readers to respond might be a challenge.

The Register has gone full-scale into its Internet product, and some people are finding it hard to understand why.

Especially those people who subscribe to the daily and Sunday paper -- and pay for it.

Reading Register stories on the Internet, on the other hand, is free.

People -- especially the veterans -- who work at the paper can't even figure out why the news is given away on the web pages.

The Register had everyone and his brother writing blogs [short for weblogs] during the football season.

Among the writers were Iowa State assistant football coach Terry Allen, play-by-play radio announcers Gary Dolphin of Iowa and John Walters of Iowa State and some Register sportswriters.

I'm sure the Register tried to find someone on the Iowa football staff to write a blog, too, but failed. Allen is history now, of course, because he became the head football coach this week at Missouri State University.

The likely reason there was no University of Iowa coach among the bloggers was because the relationship between Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz and the newspaper isn't good. For months, the paper has been questioning where some of Ferentz's players live in Iowa City, and the coach also took issue with a Register headline the week of the game at Northwestern.

After making periodic checks on the paper's blog traffic, I'd say reader response has been disappointing.

The paper has tried blogs about movies, books and music, but they have largely been flops. If they were dumped today, no one would notice.

Popular newsside columnist John Carlson also has a blog--evidently whether he wanted one or not.

I hope Schoffner does well with his blogs. And I hope the paper is paying enough money to make it worthwhile for him. But don't bet on that.

Schoffner is doing other things, too, in his "retirement." He told me he's continuing to monitor the AP's women's national basketball poll, he may staff the women's Final Four for the wire service and he's doing some non-sports articles for other companies.

Some retirement.


Speaking of John Carlson, my friend George Wine of Coralville sent the Register this letter to the editor:

"Thanks to Register columnist John Carlson for showing us how George W. Bush used selective quotes from Lt. Col. Todd Wood to make the training of Iraqi troops appear to be successful.

"It's not difficult to imagine how this President used selective intelligence to justify a preemptive invasion of Iraq.

"Kudos to Carlson for revealing what a manipulative president we have."

George Wine

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: I hope Carlson gets a pay raise. If it'll help him, I'll say something good about him, too].


An e-mail from "Hawkeye Hal:"

"What did you make of the big spread on Kingsbury? Where did that come from? I was most curious what he was doing in Ponca Neb. The answer was buried deep in the story -- his family has owned the bank there for years. As usual, his momma is taking care of him. The last year he was at Iowa she was at damn near every practice. . . ."

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: "Hawkeye Hal" is referring to the Register's jaw-breaker of a story last Sunday on Chris Kingsbury [pictured in the basketball jersey at the top], a highly-overrated basketball player at the University of Iowa late in the previous century. My guess is that "Hawkeye Hal" is wondering why the paper decided to write anything about a guy who spent his basketball career being a legend in his own mind. Hey, I guess the paper's bosses deserve a pat on the back for sending a reporter and photographer across the state line to do a story. That no doubt cost the bean-counters a tank or two of gas and a couple of Big Macs].


I wrote about Pat Harty, the Iowa City Press-Citizen sports columnist the other day.

I said it took some balls for a columnist in a city the size of Iowa City to write negatively about the athletic teams -- particularly one coached by a high-priced guy like Steve Alford.

More of Harty's anatomy came up for discussion in this e-mail sent to me by "Quad-Cities Quentin:"

"Pat has had a hard-on for Alford for some time. The piece he wrote the other day was really out of the blue and inappropriate, in my opinion. And as you know, I am no fan of Alford."

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: I'm finding out more about Harty than I really wanted to know].


This e-mail is from "Central Iowa Cy:"

"i hear that mike gartner writes all of the stories dealing with the media in general and the register in particular for his little newspaper, cityview. it seems strange to me that the head of the board of regents, the owner of the iowa cubs and the former boss at the register would have enough time and be writing so many negative things about his former employer."

[ron maly's comments: i'd say cy has it all covered. there's nothing left for me to say].


An e-mail from "Getting to the Bottom Of It:"

"I understand Sean Keeler was suspended by the Register at Iowa's bowl game last year. What do you know about it?"

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: Right guy, wrong year. Keeler, a sports columnist, was taken out of the lineup two years ago for reasons that were never explained by management. One rumor had it that no one knew where Keeler was. His bosses kept him out of the paper for a couple of weeks, and he was taken off the Super Bowl beat. There were rumors that he was fired, and people in the Register office saw him clean out his desk in the sports department. At least one Des Moines TV sports director called Paul Anger, then the Register's editor, to ask if Keeler was canned. Anger said he wasn't. Some Register news people considered it strange, and wrong, that no explanation was given to the staff by the or to the public by the editors about why Keeler was suspended].


Gordy Scoles, the coach-turned-author who now lives in Bennettsville, S.C., said he'd write to me about the Northern Iowa-Appalachian State Division I-AA national championship football game. Here's his e-mail:


"I rode with Larry Gabe [UNI, 1965] from Clemson to Chattanooga. Larry
played baseball for Mon Whitford and was all-North Central Conference in 1965
for the SCI Panthers. If you watched the game on TV, then you were warmer than
we were in the packed stadium.

"The claim that there were 5,000 UNI fans at the game is probably correct. We parked in a hotel parking ramp and counted all the salt-covered cars with Iowa license plates. There were lots of them in 'Nooga pulling for the Panthers. I thought UNI was lucky that "App State", as the school is called around here, didn't have [Richie] Williams, the injured QB, at full strength. As it was, he was a tough passer, even though he was basically one-legged. Someone told us that when App State played LSU this fall, LSU couldn't stop Williams and his running. I'm not sure if UNI could have done much with him at full strength.

"I also thought that [Jason] Hunter, App State's defensive end, was the MVP of the game. There was also a lot of talk about how nice it was that two Division I-AA powerhouses, such as UNI and Appalachian State, finally made it to the championship game and played each other. And that those two teams were most likely the top two D-1-AA teams in 2005. Larry and I also said that it will be interesting to watch the bowl games this year and to see how many teams bring fewer than 5,000 fans to the game. Enjoy the start of the bowl season. Go
Hawks and Cyclones!"

Gordy Scoles

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: Too bad Northern Iowa couldn't win the game. When a team gets its chance to win a national championship, it's a shame it can't come home with a victory. Those opportunities come only about once a century].


"Does this sound familiar?" writes Bud Appleby of Des Moines.

Appleby sent the copy of this story that appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal:

"The Courier-Journal will close its regional bureaus in Hazard, Paducah and Elizabethtown early next year, the newspaper announced yesterday.

"Publisher Edward Manassah, who made the decision, said the closures won't entail layoffs. The three reporters in the bureaus will receive as-yet-unspecified reporting jobs -- two likely in Louisville and a third in Frankfort.

"'We want to continue to focus on local news and better utilize our resources,' Manassah said.

"He added that the newspaper still is committed to covering the big stories in Kentucky, but 'we would like very much to grow our suburban coverage. We'd like to intensify our online presence to continue to improve the newspaper in terms of impacting our readers.'

"But some people said the action could signal the end of a proud tradition of statewide coverage and hurt readers outside Louisville.

"'It will be a terrible thing. People need to know what's going on," said Bill Gorman, 81, the longtime mayor of Hazard. "I just think that it's going to cause all of Kentucky to suffer.'

"Gorman said the newspaper 'has been such a part of the mountains. We have the holy Bible and the Courier-Journal.'

"Michael A. Lindenberger, the Elizabethtown bureau's reporter, said there are a myriad of stories out in the state and he worries that more might go untold.

"'I think it's a huge step backwards -- it's a really sad day for the newspaper,' said Lindenberger, a Louisville native who has worked at the Courier-Journal for more than three years. "I came because of the paper's tradition of doing big-picture stories that try to hold the state together.'"

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: The Courier-Journal and the Des Moines Register are both owned by the Gannett Co. What Appleby meant by his "Does this sound familiar?" comment was that the same thing happened at the Register that's happening with the Courier-Journal. Register bureaus were closed in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Sioux City, Dubuque and Davenport. That's the Gannett way. Anything to save a buck or two].