Staff column: Coverage depends on cooperation
Last Friday we got an anonymous email that blasted us for our poor little league coverage in the Carbon County area.
Often when I get anonymous emails I think about them and the ideas they pose and then either take it to heart or dismiss them. But this one has really hung on, because the person that wrote has so little of an idea what has gone on in the past and this year too.
First of all (and many anonymous letter writers do this) they challenged us about printing the letter. They said "I bet you don't print this."
Well read the rules for letters at the bottom of this page. It states clearly that we don't print anonymous letters or letters signed by authors who want the letter to be anonymous. If the person had put their name, phone number, and address on it, I would have published it. We have often published letters criticizing this newspaper.
But the issue here was not that it was anonymous, but what it said. Obviously the person writing it has little knowledge of how we function.
The letter was about our lack of coverage of little league baseball this summer. Sports stories in this area require cooperation between the paper and the leagues, schools or organizations we are writing about. In the nine years I have worked here (five as sports writer, then sports editor and the last four as publisher) we have almost had no cooperation from little league officials about how to get us information. We can't get regular season schedules on when teams play or even what teams there are in the leagues. Every year we plead for information from the leagues and are ignored until they win some kind of championship. Then we get criticized because we didn't cover them.
The letter also said they enjoyed reading about the American Legion teams, but that there was more baseball in the county than just those.
Here is the simple reason the AL teams get coverage. They cooperate in helping us to get the stories. In fact they are aggressive in being sure we have information. Before the season even starts, Jeff Cisneros (Helper) and Willie Ellington (Price) are in here talking to us, getting us schedules, setting up times for interviews each week so that their teams get covered.
On the other hand other than word of mouth, we don't even know when the opening baseball parade is except that we know from years of experience that it is on the first Saturday in May. And the only reason we know that is because the years we missed it or forgot that it was coming up, once again we got yelled at.
This past season I worked with one of the baseball league presidents whom I know pretty well to get us information. We agreed that we would like to have at least scores of the league he was in charge of in the paper weekly and that he would have coaches and other league officials talk with us during the season so we could run some legitimate stories. During the season little happened. When contacted he said he had talked with them, given them phone numbers to call, etc. and said he would talk with them again. Towards the end of the season he basically told me that he had tried repeatedly to get people to work with our sports writer, but if we had not seen anything, he had done what he could. Obviously he couldn't force anyone to do anything, and they didn't.
During my years as sports editor, for two summers we produced a summer baseball special with photos of teams and the kids names. I had an intern working here those two summers to help me with it. They did their best, but largely what they got was grief and complaints as we tried to gather the information. Coaches were flaky about keeping appointments; when we tried to take team pictures often coaches would forget and kids would leave before we could get everyone in. Information was difficult to come by. League officials often dissolved into the background when we asked for information. We had a hard time selling advertising to support it too. Both years we ate the cost; we didn't make a dime on those publications, in fact we lost money by the time I paid for everything. Still I thought they were a good public service. And what did we get for our efforts? Once again we got yelled at because a couple of teams got left out (we had no way of even knowing how many teams there were). We got yelled at because the lists of names we were handed, in some cases, had dozens of misspellings. Worst of all, no one on our staff got one word of thanks for the endeavor. We just got grief.
This is a baseball community and we realize that. We want to give good coverage, but we need cooperation like we get from the high school and AL coaches to cover things correctly. Our sports writer is a single person with limited hours in which to do her job. The writer of the email on Friday asked us to justify our "gross omission of the accomplishments of these kids." Well if our justification isn't clear by what I have already written, it is this. Some of the baseball community in this town wants us to cover everything but does little to help us do it.
I have often published letters written by others criticizing our paper for many things. I and my staff will take our lumps on things we are wrong about or don't do properly. But on this neither I, nor my sports writer will take a beating for what we can't control.
Because of the constant year to year criticism we get on this issue and despite our best efforts to change things, I am planning on holding a meeting next March for all league officials, coaches and whoever else wants to come to our office to get the lines of communication open, so we can do the job we want to do on this issue. It will be advertised in big letters so no one that wants to come misses it. Those who show up and want to cooperate with us for the season will get as much coverage as we can give. Those that don't, won't.
It's that simple.