Monday, June 18, 2007

Covering University Of Minnesota Sports

The announcement at the Gopher Hole that the STrib's longtime Gophers basketball beat writer Jeff Shelman is moving on to another endeavor gives me the opportunity to talk about the coverage our two local periodicals lend big-time sports at the U.

To be kind--and this isn't an attack on Shelman, who I've enjoyed reading for a long time--I've felt Gophers sports coverage has been lacking.

The Star Tribune and Pioneer Press sports staffs have daunting tasks. On any given day they have to deal with the Vikings, Twins, T'Wolves, Wild, Saints, Gophers football, basketball, baseball, hockey, men's and women's this and that, other small colleges, high school sports that demand coverage and an expanding AAU scene. Getting everything in a tightening news hole is a daunting challenge. Ad revenue is declining. Papers are being run these days by corporations interested only in the bottom line, not in providing a service.

As someone who works in print journalism, I try to understand the choices our periodicals make. But as the Star Tribune endures a hefty reshuffling, I hope they will take the time to make more choices in sports coverage.

The odd man out usually has been Gophers football and basketball. The papers will jump on the bandwagon, as they did with Janelle McCarville and Lindsey Whalen a few years ago, and Bobby Jackson and Sam Jacobsen in the late 90's. But day-to-day coverage of even men's basketball and football is sparse. On most days, the only printed items on major U of M sports comes from Charley Walters and Sid Hartman.

And don't think that college coaches from cities like East Lansing, Ann Arbor, South Bend and Columbus don't see this as an advantage. In those towns, the college athlete is the star. The college athlete is the toast of the town, not the NHL or NBA multi-millionaire. Now, there is nothing the STrib and PiPress can do to change that. They must cover the Vikings, Twins, Wild and T'Wolves. But, in my opinion, they need to cover those sports more efficiently and lend more space to big-time college sports. And because actual print space in the paper's hard copy is declining, the STrib and PiPress ought to do a better job providing information online.

Let's take the recent story by the STrib's Chip Scoggins on Brewster's football camp as an example. The article is essentially five paragraphs and tells us that Brewster is holding a camp, mentions four names who will be in attendance and adds a random quote talking about why camp is important. Scoggins wrote this story, it would seem, for a news hole. His editor probably told him he had 10 inches, or 400 words of space. Even if Scoggins had more information that diehards want, it wasn't included in the print or online editions. The Internet, these editors need to learn, is the future of newspapers. The online product shouldn't be dictated by hard copy space limitations.

Scoggins could have, had his editors asked, given us far more to digest online. Instead, the STrib loses readers to a pay service like Rivals, where many Gopher fans seeking information go--and pay these days--for the best recruiting information.

And then there is the choices the newspaper editors make. A quick look at the STrib's Gophers page--which includes links to additional Vikings information but not Gophers--illustrates my point. Today, as one scrolls down and looks through the online offerings, a reader gets far more coverage on non-revenue college sports than might be necessary. Stories on golf, baseball and track dominate the page.

While those sports deserve some coverage, and their seasons were winding down, the majority of readers don't go to the STrib for college golf or track coverage. And while it may anger those involved in the programs, for the good of the paper, and to appease the majority of its readership, I'd like to see the STrib and PiPress make better choices. And by that, I mean more men's basketball, football and hockey.

I'll miss Jeff Shelman's work as the Gophers men's hoops beat writer. But I hope his move to the STrib's metro section gives sports editors and the new beat writer a chance to review its coverage.

The lack of coverage is one of the reasons I started this Web site. At some point I might actually report here, instead of offering opinion, insight and the occassional gossip. I'm partially hoping that will never be necessary and our local periodicals step up to the task.


Mark said...

I can't say that Jeff Shelman's writing stood out to me in the same way as someone like Steve Aschburner's, but if Shelman's new assignment means even less Gopher coverage in the Strib, I'll agree that it's unfortunate.

And ill-timed considering the rising interest in Gopher hoops with Tubby on board now.

PJS said...

There were times when I really enjoyed Shelman's work. But there were other tiems, lately, that I've felt he wasn't giving a great effort. He alluded to that on his post at GopherHole. Hopefully whoever takes over will feed off the rising interest.