Contrasts in coverage: Spurrier and the flag
Big-time college football. The Confederate flag. Kudzu.
If you're looking for three big-time icons of the South, there they are. We don't have kudzu for today's reflection, but we do have the two that can provoke a knife fight at the drop of a hat: The flag and football. Specifically, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's remarking how he thinks the Confederate flag that flies in front of South Carolina's Statehouse should come down.
The way this has been handled on the Web sites of South Carolina's major papers is a study in contrasts, and shows how far we still may have to come.
OK, from the outset, let's acknowledge there is some editorial judgment here. You first have to judge that this is a big story. If I'm in charge of the desk, I can't see how it isn't one of my lead stories. If anyone in the state can jump-start an issue, it's the football coaches at USC and Clemson (for instance, the state's anti-litter campaign was just so much background noise until then-USC coach Lou Holtz started speaking out, and note this from the latest AP story: Spurrier's predecessor, Lou Holtz, joined Clemson's head football coach Tommy Bowden and both schools' head basketball coaches in calling for the flag to be removed from the Capitol dome in 2000, when the NAACP started a boycott of the state. The flag was removed from the dome in 2000, but place at the Confederate Soldier Monument on Statehouse grounds.).
So how did the papers do? Well, first, The (Columbia) State originally got caught flat-footed. It didn't cover Spurrier's Friday night City Year speech at which the coach made the remark and had to scramble big time just to get a few inches of secondhand info in Saturday's paper. It's understandable; this is spring game weekend and the staff was going to have a faceful of Spurrier on Saturday. But in 20/20 hindsight, this is spring game weekend -- and one could rationally assume that he might be peppered with all sorts of interesting questions from the hoi polloi.
Having said that:
-- Kudos to The State for its second-day recovery. The breaking news story from Spurrier's Saturday news conference is front and center with video and audio (I like that -- good for slower-speed connections and also when I couldn't get the video to work right initially.) Points also for having a version that at least seems to be an attempt to write more for the Web. Demerits: No way is given to comment on the story, and lord knows this is a story that will generate plenty of comment, some silly but also some good stuff, judging by what I've seen elsewhere. Another demerit for not having a time stamp on the story.
-- Greenville: Points for having comments. Extra points for having time stamps for the original story and when it was updated. Demerits for waiting until 8:30 p.m. to have it up (or, if there were earlier versions, not allowing the reader to go back and see the story progression). And demerits for a story that clearly appears to be the print version slapped on the Web.
(Disclaimer: The State's might have been up later, too, but without a time stamp you can't tell. And the way it is written tends to signal it was earlier.)
-- Spartanburg: Defaults to an AP story written after the spring game -- and you find it by scrolling down the main page to the lower third and the "latest S.C. headlines." Hmmmm. No one staffing, even after having a bylined preview story on Friday? (Nice touch on that one. Right in the middle is this line: "SEE USC PAGE B6." Can you say shovelware**?) But better than nothing, and it does allow comments, although you have to click on another link to get to them.
(As of this hour - 12:22 a.m. -- the paper does not even have a spring game story up that I can find.)
-- Charleston: Can you say "apparently oblivious"? And this from a city where a good chunk of the economy still relies on memories of away down south in the land of Dixie. I have searched high and low on the Post and Courier site and see nothing. Any breaking headline from the AP sports wire has long since been pushed off the page by the plethora of Saturday events. The only story featured is spring game preview that's a day old. (However, the paper is all over its local pro tennis tournament and an apparent Ponzi scheme by a local professor that's leaving a college and others holding the bag, so points back for those efforts.)
-- Florence: It has a "notebook" item on the flag. It wasn't posted until well after 10 p.m., but it did go up before the fresh story on the game. But no ability for anyone to comment. Points for time stamp and staffing it. Some demerits for slowness, presentation and lack of commenting ability.
-- Myrtle Beach: Good luck. And don't tell me it's not local news when the site is still, under "local news," fronting an AP story on Barack Obama in Columbia (a story that interestingly enough centered on racism, the Imus remarks and rap music. Guess the Confederate flag isn't nearly as controversial?).
** Update: The beauty of the Web is that you get a much more nuanced picture of things from feedback. I understand Spartanburg may have had some tech troubles that resulted in this. Hope to be able to provide more details later. (see bottom of this post for another thought on this.***)
Bottom line: I would have even liked to see an updated story on the spring game from some of these sites. But they largely dropped the ball on something -- the flag -- that their readers will also be talking about for days. (Myrtle Beach, of all of them a sister paper of Columbia, should have done better with shared resources -- but that's an internal thing McClatchy may want to address. Heck, if nothing else, link to The State's story.)
To keep things in perspective, some closing words from something Myrtle Beach did have on its site from sports columnist Terry Massey:
I've covered "ball" games ranging from base, basket, foot, dodge and even paint.If it's that unimportant but brings people out in droves, I guarantee you that when the coach speaks about one of the most controversial things in recent memory in the state, those fans will listen and want to know more. We need to use Web sites more creatively and effectively to meet that desire.
I have covered races between people, cars, dogs, horses, bikes, boats, soap boxes and even camels.
Tractor pulls, cow-chip bingo, donkey-back basketball - I've just about covered them all, many of them not worth watching.
But the one sporting event that still makes little sense to me is the college spring football game - a spirited scrimmage that pits one team against, well, itself.
Yet hard-core fans turn out in droves to see their players play their players, rooting for God knows who and God knows why.
***I can't go into detail at the moment on Spartanburg's troubles. But it does help frame the priorities and equality question that continues to hang over much of the digital part of this business. Spartanburg is one of the savvier medium-sized shops around. But readers don't care, any more than they care if their paper is out of color register or there is a bad jump. All such things send a poor signal. Sure, they happen, but they usually bring pointed questions the next day and at least some genuflecting toward effors to keep them from happening again. My point is not to hit on anyone's Web staff but to simply raise the question: If the presses suffered a massive failure, what kind of expense and effort would be brought in to fix it, and wouldn't most publications have a full backup plan? Look around your shop? Do you have the same commitment to fixing anything wrong with your digital side? Do you have a full backup that can be implemented with the flip of a switch (perhaps shared time, reachable by network, on an identical system elsewhere till yours can be repaired?). If not, why not in a digital age when that small black box can be as valuable as "Big Iron."