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3 posts from August 2010

August 22, 2010

Iowa football: A frustrating duty

Retiring from full-time work has been incredibly liberating. I don't have to show up at an office. When I do work, I can pretty much set my own hours. I have more flexibility for just about everything I want to do, whether it's spending time with Pam, planning trips and long weekend getaways or just working in the yard.

If it's too wet to mow Wednesday, I'll do it Thursday. If we decide at the last minute to leave for a trip on Thursday instead of Friday, we do. If Pam and I decide we've worked enough by 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon, we quit and go sit on the porch. We might have a cocktail then or we might not. Depends on how we feel at the moment.

There's also another bonus to being on my own: I don't have to cover Iowa football on a daily basis. Now that would be frustrating. Sure, you get to cover a winner when you follow the Hawkeyes. You visit big-time stadiums and watch some of the brightest stars in college football. The season usually ends with a nice bowl trip. But all that comes with a price because your access to coach Kirk Ferentz and the players, especially at this time of year during preseason camp, is severely limited.

If you're one of the local reporters, that is. If you're with the Big Ten Network or have a national radio network talk show, well, that's entirely  different.

Look what's happened in just the last few days.

The local media had to confirm the fact that linebacker Jeff Tarpinian injured a hand by talking to Howard Griffith and Gerry DiNardo of the Big Ten Network. They were allowed to watch practice last Thursday. Local reporters weren't.

When Ferentz confirmed for the first time that running back Brandon Wegher had left camp, he did so on ESPN radio's Scott Van Pelt Show, not in a session with local reporters. To get an update on Wegher's situation, reporters had to listen to Ferentz on Fox Sports Radio.

If someone wants to be secretive, fine. But don't be secretive on a selective basis and freeze out the people who cover you day in and day out, the ones who keep the vast majority of your fans informed, not only through breaking news but with interesting features and analysis.

Reporters around here will cover the bad news when it happens, but it's been my experience that most would rather write stories with a positive bent. And it seems to me they've been incredibly fair with Ferentz. No one gripes too much when the Hawkeyes struggle. When something does go wrong, offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe usually gets blamed. No one harps on the fact that while he's one of the highest paid coaches in the country and gets around $3 million a year, Ferentz has taken Iowa to only two BCS bowls -- and has a losing record against Iowa State.

The thing is, interview sessions with Ferentz are almost always pleasant. He doesn't toss out one-liners or homilies the way Hayden Fry did, but he gives reporters something they can use. And after his "formal" press conferences, he willingly steps to the side and answers more questions from print reporters. That's when those reporters get in the questions they really want to ask.

So c'mon, Kirk. It wouldn't hurt to give the local media a little more time. They might not dress as well as the network types or comb their hair as neatly, but they're a hard-working bunch who are fair and just want to do a good job. And they'll be there regardless of whether you're in the Top 10 of the nation or the bottom half of the Big Ten.

In the meantime, to all of you covering the Hawkeyes, I sympathize and feel your pain.

August 10, 2010

Thank you, Social Media!

Okay, I finally gave in to Facebook and at least one excellent thing has happened. I set up an account after attending Banded Together's social media gathering on July 20. While I really only wanted a P.S. Writes Facebook page for business, one has to have an individual page first, so that's where I've been bending my learning curve. Special thanks to Karey Bader, Blizzard Communications, for my private tutoring. Looking forward to more learning at your August gathering.

My Facebook friends now number 110 and I've been keeping tabs on other business owners, friends and even family members for a couple of weeks. The value of social media for a business like mine has been a big question mark for me, but that question mark became more of an exclamation point this week. The most excellent happening: I won a free 60-second Web video from Munoz Productions. I "like" them and their Facebook post said they were giving three free ($150+ value) Web videos away to the first businesses to contact them. 

I'd managed to find my "news feed" area, and was exploring all that my Facebook friends had been doing when I saw Dave and Margie's post. Looking forward to working with these two pros and to saying that "I won something for my business!" the next time someone asks me how social media is impacting my bottom line. 

August 04, 2010

A day almost no one likes

Ah, yes, it's that time again, time for college football media days. They're among the rites of August, like the State Fair or back-to-school shopping. Everybody is undefeated and a bowl contender. The players are bigger, faster and stronger. They can't wait until that first game. Optimism courses through the team like the river of water that rushes through our front yard when it rains.

All the players and coaches are available for interviews, so it's easy for the reporters. Most everyone is smiling and happy.

Yet hardly anyone likes media days.

For reporters, it's the same thing every year -- listen to the coach talk for awhile, ask him some questions, then head out to the field and wait while the players have all sorts of "official" photographs taken.

Rarely does anything new come out of these sessions, other than maybe a player being suspended for some off-the-field transgression or learning of a couple of guys who, for one reason or the other, won't return. Players are coached to stick to the company line and answer questions politely but with caution so they don't say anything controversial.

For the players, it has to be even worse. It's usually hot and sticky and they're out there in full uniform in the middle of the day. Most end up sitting or standing around the whole time because they're not the stars and no one wants to talk to them, though I imagine for some, that's just fine.

The stars, meanwhile, are paraded in front of TV cameras, where they answer the same questions over and over. Finished with those interviews, they're promptly surrounded by writers and radio types and get the same questions yet again. I mean, how many times can Iowa State's Austen Arnaud come up with a creative way to answer when he's asked for the umpteeth time if the offense will be better now that everyone has a year of experience with coordinator Tom Herman's system.

Oh, and don't forget the photographers, who arrange the players in all kinds of silly poses to try to get something different. I'd like to see them go retro, back to those black and white photos of the 1940s and '50s, you know, the ones with the quarterback cocking his arm like he's getting ready to pass, the running back in a swivel-hipped pose while stiff-arming an imaginary opponent, the wide receiver pretending he's leaping to catch a pass and my personal favorite, a defensive lineman diving to the ground with arms and legs outstretched because, well, what else do you do with a defensive lineman?

So, why does everyone put themselves through this yearly exercise?

Mainly because that's just the way things are done. With everyone available in one place, reporters can stock up on stories for a couple of weeks. As repetitive as the questions might be, the players and coaches can get them out of the way in one day and then start concentrating on football. The school gets a ton of free publicity because newspapers and Web sites display their media day coverage prominently. It might be a drag, but in the end, everyone benefits.

Plus, if you're at Iowa State, like I was today, you can always go to Hickory Park for lunch. And that makes enduring almost anything tolerable.