morris mn - We're a community on the grand, seemingly endless prairie of the Upper Midwest. Empty, you might say? It's the epitome of richness, both in the overall environment and the hardy souls who populate. Morris is home to the University of Minnesota-Morris, a small public liberal arts college of distinction.
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
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
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
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
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?)