Dear Minnesota State High School League,
I’ve been covering high school sports for almost seven years now. Throughout those years, I’ve had the pleasure of telling so many great stories about great people. I’ve covered state championship teams. I’ve covered teams just happy to be at a state tournament. I’ve even covered teams that failed to win a game in their entire season. The common theme in all of those is that there are stories to tell.
In my college journalism class, we were taught to find the stories and angles that others might miss. I’ve taken that to heart throughout my journalism career.
A lot of people think the story is about who scored the most points, who hit the game-winner, or who made the fancy play. That’s not true at all. It’s part of it, but there’s so much more.
When I heard the news last week that the MSHSL is considering not letting media cover state tournaments in person, I was immediately disappointed. I was disappointed for so many reasons.
Covering high school events in person is critical to every sports editor’s coverage. This past fall, I was forced to cover games remotely due to being in close contact with a positive COVID-19 test. While I was able to do my job in a way, it just wasn’t the same. There were so many stories, moments, and opportunities for great coverage that I missed as I was sitting at home watching through a screen.
On John Millea’s podcast last week, he stated the MSHSL is considering having media cover state tournaments remotely. I have so many worries about that.
First off, Millea said the MSHSL wants us to cover games via live stream. Even though we’ve been covering games in person with no problem all year long, now they want to make that change. We can cover them throughout the section tournament and then all of sudden it’s not safe to do so anymore?
Millea stated that if the MSHSL goes forward with having media cover games remotely, the live streams need to be working 100 percent of the time. I struggle to believe an organization that struggles to have a working and useful website can pull that off. The MSHSL supposedly updated their website within the past two years, only to make it harder to find what you need to find, and then once you get there, the information isn’t even there. The MSHSL had months to find a way for teams to enter something as simple as a roster, yet we have nothing.
My other concern about working remotely to cover these important games is the things we will miss. We are at the mercy of what the camera shows us. I can’t tell you how many times the best part of my stories have come from non-action moments. It’s the moment on the bench between teammates. It’s the moments between a player and a coach. It’s moments that the camera isn’t looking for. It’s what we’re looking for. It’s what journalists are looking for.
We take pride in finding stories that go beyond the top scorer and who won the game. My saying is that 85 percent of people who read our articles were at the game. They know what happened and who won. It’s our job to find a story they didn’t know or see. Trying to watch a game online hinders that greatly.
Another big concern I have is the idea of a pool photographer for each media outlet. Sure that sounds like a great idea, but in reality, it’s just not possible. If the plan is to get a general picture of each team, that’s great. That’s just not how we do our job.
Like looking for stories, we’re always searching for the perfect picture to go with it. We’ve been covering these teams all year, and for most of us, we’ve been covering these kids their whole careers. We know what to look for. We know what we want. To say a pool photographer will work for our coverage is simply not true. It only takes away from it even more.
If the MSHSL goes forward with a pool photographer I’m sure we’ll get some photos. I’m sure some of them will be very nice photos. When we will actually get them I have no idea. It’s not like we’re on deadline or anything.
What that pool photographer will send us is a generic photo of the team’s best player most likely. They won’t get that shot of the player off the bench we want to feature in our story. They won’t get that photo of that kid coming in at the end of a blowout who has nothing but a smile on their face playing in a big arena. They won’t get that photo that adds so much to our coverage.
Oh, and I look forward to that pool photographer taking photos of my 15-20 wrestlers that qualify for state this year. To say that’s possible for each team is asinine. When I get an email from a parent asking why there isn’t a photo of their kid in the paper, can I just forward that email to you guys?
On his podcast, Millea also stated “We’re following the Gophers and the pro teams on this” in regards to not allowing media to cover games in person. First off, that is a flat lie. The Gophers, Timberwolves, and Wild have all been allowing media to cover games in person all season long. Where Millea got this information is beyond me. I expect more from a ‘media specialist’.
While there are new protocols for those people covering college and professional sports, they are in the building. They are looking for stories they won’t see watching at home. It’s critical to their coverage.
The last thing that ticks me off about this discussion is the disrespect to local newspapers the MSHSL would make if they go forward with these decisions. Newspapers in general are struggling. Add in a global pandemic, and many are finding it hard to make ends meet.
I know for Herald Journal, we have invested a ton of time, effort, and resources into covering high school sports this year. With no community events going on, it’s all we have. To allow radio stations in and not newspapers who need to be there to do their job is a slap in the face.
There’s no doubt I have had a lot of issues and problems with the MSHSL over the years. I am thankful for what they did in getting a winter sports season going and having a state tournament. Without that, I wouldn’t have a job.
With that said, I hope they take a hard look at what this means if they decide to not allow media to cover the tournaments in person. I hope you see how much it affects us journalists and the papers we work for. We’ve been doing it safely all season long. We are grown adults. We can wear masks. We can stay six feet apart. Let us do our jobs the way we know for our coaches, players, schools, and communities.
Herald Journal Sports Editor