History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, November 18, 2013

Joys and difficulties within community newspaper

Perry Ford, fun to interview
Holidays always bring some memories of when I was out and about with the Morris newspaper. Halloween could be a very stimulating time. There was always a wide choice of Halloween parties. I remember a terrific Darth Vader costume at a party at UMM. Kids' parties were the best.
Perhaps my favorite memory is of a "Midnight Madness" unveiling event for UMM basketball, coinciding with Halloween. I remember coach Perry Ford handing the microphone to a young man dressed as Elvis Presley. This was the late Elvis: white jump suit and bell-bottoms. This was the kind of Elvis who jumped out of an airplane - a group of Elvis "clones" skydiving - in that movie with James Caan. Those "Elvises" landed on the Las Vegas strip.
I took a photo of the costumed student standing next to coach Ford. The student made a little speech projecting Elvis' persona quite fine. A bemused and proud Ford looked on. Also that night, I photographed a student dressed as a gremlin befriending Chuck Grussing of Campus Security. The student put his arm across Grussing's shoulder and the two smiled.
UMM in those days played in the Northern Sun Conference. UMM hoops may be quite fun to watch today, but the average caliber in the UMAC is lower.
Coach Ford had a pretty long tenure here. He was a strong recruiter and PR man. As a bench coach I don't think his grade was that high. His intensity didn't always come across as uplifting. Sometimes it just seemed more like exasperation. I'm sure it was a challenge trying to hold things together at an institution where athletics was never going to get an abundance of resources. That's not a criticism, really. Joining the UMAC eased the frustration.
Ford was intense but this seemed to put him in the, well, manic range sometimes, IMHO. He was a little like Robert Hays trying to land the plane in the movie "Airplane." Remember the Robert Stack character saying of "Striker" that "he felt too much?" That was coach Ford, in my assessment.
I gather that Perry has had a happy landing career-wise with American Family Insurance. He's a very family-oriented man. UMM basketball was not going to continue to be a good fit for him. The UMM hoops coaches today seem on sedatives by comparison - a totally even keel, with no clipboard-throwing.
I interviewed coach Ford very often for articles. UMM had no true sports information director in those days. UMM either had no SID at all, or an SID in name only (like an assistant football coach who was always on the road).
I'll admit there could be a hit-and-miss quality to my sports journalism in those days. How could it be any different, considering how many teams were out there? The only alternative would have been to cut way back, just to ensure "equal treatment." That would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. So I kept plugging away with my own personal philosophy of just "casting a wide net."
I produced a substantial amount of sports for each issue and I had to try to budget adequate time for "quality control" - you know, proofreading and such. It didn't really work to give my sports sources a "deadline" for getting stuff to me. The deadline would only work if they all didn't wait until the last minute. I had to roll up my sleeves and get started.well in advance of any deadline. So it was an imperfect system.
But I was still happy to soak in that whole wide world of sports in Stevens County. It was fun to be amidst the likes of the gremlin and Elvis. Thinking of Chuck Grussing reminds me of when UMM Campus Security was more relaxed and less uptight than today.
The end comes, amidst discomfort
When I left the Sun Tribune newspaper in 2006, the atmosphere had become tense and unsettled. At one point, showing my usual candor, I said directly to the top person: "Why can't we just enjoy life?"
What a stupid question. Meeting quotas and profit goals is much more important than enjoying life (sarcasm intended). It's much more important to watch your back while the eyes of higher management glare down on you.
The Morris newspaper was no longer a relaxed family business. We were "corporate" with the accompanying crack of the whip. We were two weeks from high school graduation and the start of summer when I made that "enjoy life" comment to the top manager. (I don't use the word "publisher" because I don't believe that's accurate.)
I was hoping we could just slide into summer and then reflect and make any tweaks. But no. People had their cheeks sucked in. It was "tight."
Marching orders, in writing
Regarding sports, the news editor told me in writing: "We want more features on individuals. I know some coaches tend to balk at this kind of thing, with the old bromide that no one should be singled out. Bushwah. If they are athletes people are talking about, we're going to write about them. If people feel slighted, that's the way of the world. It's a safe bet that a lot of people would've thought twice about going to MAHS boys hoops games last year if Brent Winkelman weren't there to watch."
(Actually his name is Brett Winkelman.)
Well. . . In theory there is nothing wrong with more feature articles. But how was I supposed to scrounge these up week after week? There really aren't that many captivating ideas out there. We had triplets in MAHS sports in those days, so that's an obvious feature story candidate. However, it's very delicate, in my view, singling out high school-age student athletes for feature story recognition. Would those triplets even want that kind of attention, or might they prefer just being viewed as individuals?
Maybe if there's an amputee in wrestling, that's a feature story. But we wouldn't want this individual to feel like a freak. Athletes under the age of 18 deserve some generous privacy. I was already trying to write 3-5 decent non-sports feature articles every week. In fact, the top manager was requiring me to turn in a list of these story ideas every Monday morning. And now I was being required to start churning out sports feature articles, presumably on a regular basis.
Also, just as impractical, I was being required to try to get quotes from players for sports articles. Again, this directive was in writing. Every working person knows that when you're being showered with written directives, you're in effect being harassed. There should be a simple element of trust between an employee and his superiors. But remember, all this bad stuff was happening in 2006, the year which we all now know was when the newspaper industry realized it was in trouble.
The newspaper industry has adjusted and stayed alive through cutting and consolidating. I in effect got cut, although the remaining people there would like to just pretend I left voluntarily. It must be miserable to have to live with a lie.
Apparently no follow-through
Judging from the written directives I was given in sports, the Morris paper was going to go in a totally avant-garde direction. Of course it didn't. What actually happened? First there was an editorial about a month after I left, stating that sports coverage in the Morris paper was going to be "more timely" in the future. How wonderful Brian is gone, eh?
And you have to just hang it out to dry. Instead of disparaging me, why don't you just show you can do it better? Oh, I guess that would be harder. The individual who wrote those directives went on to taunt me when I simply wanted to visit East Side Park one day and maybe say hello to Tom Emmer. I knew there would be someone from the Sun Tribune sticking to Emmer like glue.
My sin was of trying to stay employed by the local newspaper where I'd been for 27 years.
When I glance at the Morris newspaper sports section today, it strikes me as totally generic. I don't sense any special enterprise at all. And of course the whole product is substantially smaller now - perhaps even less than 50 per cent of what it had been (in the heyday when I was there).
The newspaper editor wanted to suppress what he called the "gamer" sports article - the kind of article that simply reviewed what happened in a game. Again, I have all this in writing. But doesn't the Morris Sun Tribune of today present "gamers" totally and unapologetically? I'm not sure I couldn't sue. I was told to do things in a certain way, to make UMM sports our top priority, to write lots of sports feature articles and include lots of quotes in sports re-caps.
And then the paper turns around, after I left, and appeared to do little if any of this. If anything the sports articles in the Sun Tribune today seem plain-Jane, devoid of any imagination at all. So, was I harassed out of the workplace? You decide.
I was told all game stats would be moved to a special section on page 2. Fine in theory, but what if we're in a slow sports week, like around a holiday, and I'm just trying to flesh out page 1B of that section? I was being micromanaged in a way that can eventually affect one's mental health.
Fact is, the newspaper was headed toward retrenchment. I just wish they had undertaken a more direct and honest way of dealing with it.
Quotes from players? I felt highly uncomfortable getting on the phone and regularly tracking down adolescents, especially girls, for quotes on some game. The kids might be busy with other things. The parents might be uneasy about this.
I walked out of the Sun Tribune building for the last time on June 2, 2006, relieved of all that anxiety. But without a job, and about to lose my health insurance. I'm not sure Obamacare is going to be a lifeline. (Spell-check doesn't recognize "Obamacare." Is that a bad omen?)
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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