Running the full court press on the JS

As we come to the dawn of a new season, hopefully our best since 2005-06, the Milwaukee Panthers are full of quality news stories.

The game tonight in the Klotsche Center marks the first time since 2003 that the men take the court for intercollegiate hoops.  Shaq Boga, the highest-rated high school recruit in Milwaukee Panthers history, made his commitment.  The annual intrasquad scrimmage showed a Panther squad lighting up the scoreboard.  Ryan Allen burst on the scene.  Tone Boyle, an all-conference performer 2 years ago, is back and healthier than ever.  Mitch Carter, a senior center who is expected to be a major contributor on the front line has one hand wrapped up.  The new basketball arena is moving forward, slowly but surely.  And, oh yeah, the season is upon us.

This absolutely warrants a major level of coverage by the local newspaper, right?  Think again.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which prides itself on covering tons of local events and breaking news, has done a pretty decent job covering the Milwaukee Panthers, the D-I school in town that happens to have 40,000 alumni living in the county and over 100,000 in the MJS’ readership.

However, the Panthers are lacking in both the amount of coverage and the placement in the print section of the newspaper.

Yes, Milwaukee receives a weekly Panther Report, as do the Golden Eagles of Marquette and the Badgers of Wisconsin.  They get roughly the same amount of game stories as the other two relevant D-I state schools (covering GB wouldn’t make sense for the JS), and Tom Enlund is a fantastic reporter who does a great job with our Panthers.

Mr. Enlund is where I’ll start.  When Dan Manoyan was replaced on the Panther beat by the double team of Charlie Gardner and Gary D’Amato, Panther fans let out a collective groan yet again.  We were forced to swallow the bitter pill of having a reporter get familiar with his beat yet again.  Nothing against Charlie G and Gary Golf, who are excellent reporters, but Panther fans were tired of the song-and-dance that came along with writers new to the beat.

Since I got to UWM as a freshman in fall 2005 (or the same time as coach Jeter), the Journal Sentinel has assigned five “beat” reporters for the “UW-Milwaukee” basketball team: Bobbi Roquemore, Dan Manoyan, Charlie Gardner, Gary D’Amato, and Tom Enlund.  I put quotes around that because the fact of the matter is you can’t call it a beat when the most the JS allows a reporter to cover the team is two years at a time.

Herein lies a problem that has plagued the Panthers “beat” for some time now: unfamiliarity with coach Jeter and his program has led to a lot of quality story opportunities being overlooked, or statistical and factual errors making it into print; they’re as much a problem of the copy desk as they are of the beat writer, but my guess is Todd Rosiak (my favorite JS writer and Panther alum) doesn’t put out a lot of factual errors.  Neither does Tom Enlund, but I’ll just chalk it up to their professionalism and effort.

Panther fan John K of New Berlin, who wrote this little ditty to JS Editor Bill Windler (a member of the UWM Athletics Hall of Fame) in his Friday chat:

How did it take the Journal Sentinel five days to report the Milwaukee Panthers’ commitment of the highest-rated high school recruit in school history? Even then it was just tacked onto the scrimmage story. If the recruit story wasn’t good enough to print on its own, isn’t that yet another case for a Panther blog on JSOnline? I’m sure Tom Enlund would be willing to continue his beat on the internet-only section of the JS. Other than those two things, and that awful Party’s Over article from June, I’ve been pleased with the Journal Sentinel coverage of my Panthers.

Excellent writeup from someone I’ve never met before.  I always assumed that the die hards of Milwaukee basketball would always find their way to our board, but I guess there’s always little surprises to be found.

I mean, isn’t a lot of our fan base the casual kind that comes because we’re a cheap basketball option?  Turns out that to be a fan at our games, you really gotta be a Panther fan.  We’ve got some true hard core fans, and though the JS coverage doesn’t show it, we may have more than we think.

For instance, since October 15th, the MJS has printed eight articles concerning Milwaukee and Marquette; three for the Panthers, five for the Golden Eagles.  On those five Marquette articles, there are 39 comments from fans about the content at JSOnline.  For the three Milwaukee articles? 66; if you consider the last five articles for each, the Panthers’ number jumps to 85.

Does that mean we have a larger fan base? Of course not.  What it means, if you dig deeper, is that our fan base is discussing a lot of things Panthers on the print articles because there is nowhere for Panther fans to talk about the program on JSOnline.

Marquette fans, on the other hand, get to voice their approval/disapproval at the shiny Golden Eagles Blog, run by beat reporter Todd Rosiak.  It’s not just a place for them to talk, but a place to digest straight up knowledge.  While Milwaukee basketball coverage is limited to what you find in print (1,000 word articles are very rare for the Panthers), Marquette’s print coverage is augmented big time by the amount of content Todd Rosiak drops on the basketball fan.  Not including the nine videos from Marquette’s media day, there are seven blog posts with 107 comments attached to them since that same October 15th date.  The real bonus, though, is the content, which is not restricted in length because there aren’t any inches to count or ads to take up column space.  The grand total of words? 9,827, just a Panther soccer game story or two away from 10,000 words.

Now you see why so many of us have been clamoring for the Panther blog.  If Milwaukee has a beat writer, and the JS claims that Tom Enlund is that person, then part of the job should be to cover the Milwaukee Panthers on a blog, which will allow for the fans to glean knowledge on the program that otherwise they’d only get from PantherU.com (and even then they may not know about us).

Shaq Boga’s commitment, a story Tom Enlund knew on Sunday (shortly after it was posted to PantherU), was not worthy of a print story on its own, according to the JS editors.  We can debate that from now until kingdom come, but the truth bomb is that if Shaq Boga’s commitment isn’t worthy of print, or Mitch Carter’s hand injury isn’t high on the priority list for print, Tom Enlund should be able to cover those stories on a Panther blog section of JSOnline.com.  It costs the paper nothing, it augments coverage for fans, it advances knowledge of the program for anyone who stumbles upon it, and it shows that the Journal Sentinel values the program that over 100,000 potential subscribers call “Alma Mater.”

But the sad truth is, I’m not sure the Journal Sentinel does value the program.  For major conference games at Valparaiso, Butler, Cleveland State, Wright State and Detroit, the Journal Sentinel either used the Associated Press or a stringer to cover the game.  There are negatives in both; the AP will call it down the middle, whereas a home reporter would focus on the Panthers’ side of the story (positive or not).  As for a stringer, they are often connected more with the opposing team, as they are based in the same area.  Unfortunately for Milwaukee, former UWM Post Sports Editor Nick Dettman is no longer based in northwest Indiana to string games at Valpo.

As far as the photographic coverage, when they often put stories on the front page, the Panthers home schedule is littered with games that don’t even get shot.  Now I’m going to read the story every time, but casual readers are caught by the pictures, and when Marquette has every home game shot by the camera, one begs the question: why can’t Milwaukee get the same treatment?

Even if Marquette or the Bucks are playing at the same time as the Panthers, how hard would it be for that photog to walk across the street to the U.S. Cellular Arena for 30-45 minutes and cover both games?  The fact is it wouldn’t cost anything except some effort from the photographer.  I mean, the Badgers get at least AP photos to accompany their stories, and that program is 80 miles west!

Even worse still is the state of the “beat” writer.  While Tom Enlund is an excellent writer and I’d be more than happy to have him be our beat reporter for the next decade, the fact of the matter is he’s not really on our beat.

Enlund’s first assignment is to be Charlie Gardner’s wingman on the Milwaukee Bucks beat, and the Panthers come second.  This restricts him from performing a lot of the jobs that a beat reporter such as Todd Rosiak does.  He isn’t able to attend a lot of practices, his time interviewing, writing and fact-checking is split, and because of that lack of time with his “beat,” he is unable to give it his full attention and it suffers.

Even when he does write, the stories have bad placement within the paper.  Marquette stories are almost always front page of the sports section (The Hank Raymonds story from the other day was front page of the entire newspaper), and their placement when they are not is in the front half of the section and above the fold.  Milwaukee is more often then not cast to the back half of the section, below the fold and without any pictures.  When we do grace the front page of the section, we should be thankful if it happens four or five times a year.

I’m sorry, but I’m not ready to accept that.  The Shaquille Boga commitment story should have had a blurb in the paper on Monday and a full-on story Tuesday.  The scrimmage should not have had to share space with the commitment story, and Friday’s media day should have had the same coverage that the Marquette media day got; on the contrary, it hasn’t been covered yet at all.

But it’s not all the Journal Sentinel’s problem.  A lot of people place the blame on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for the incorrect references of the program as UW-Milwaukee.  VictorPanther of the Milwaukee Panther Tracks blog said most of it when he wrote, “I just wish they could get over the dang ‘UW-Milwaukee Panthers’ misbranding… If ESPN, NCAA, the Horizon League, Wisconsin and Marquette can get it right, why can’t the [Journal Sentinel]?”

However, it’s only a half-truth.  When Windler or Garry Howard are peppered with questions about it in their chat transcripts (another thing Enlund would be able to do as beat writer), they deflect to the athletic department, which accepts both Milwaukee and UWM.

And they’re right.  Some of the biggest name-branding issues come directly from our Sports Information Department; Kevin O’Connor, Chris Zills and Kevin Conway all do an awesome job covering the Panthers’ 14 sports, but as a collective they have failed to advance the Milwaukee Panthers brand when it is the chosen brand of the program.  While some may not agree that it is their job, the fact of the matter is that every press release they put out with the full university name, UW-Milwaukee or UWM hurts the Milwaukee brand that the program is trying to foster.

Look at the program now: the logo says Milwaukee.  The floor says Milwaukee.  The uniforms have said Milwaukee for quite a long time now.  The point is, while the UWM name differentiates us from other sports teams in the city, that name begets UW-Milwaukee, that begets Wisconsin-Milwaukee, then opens the flood gates to everything from Wisc.-Mil. to Milwaukee-Green Bay (seriously, David Woods?).

The first reference should be Milwaukee Panthers; it pushes the brand while differentiating us from the others.  Every subsequent reference should be Milwaukee or Panthers.  It’s not hard; in fact, it’s the same thing that the Wisconsin Badgers have.  Their UW acronym isn’t the actual acronym of the school (they are UWM like us, UW-Madison).  However, it’s a shortened version for short consumption (like when you’re watching a telecast).  Milwaukee too can be shortened, to MIL or MKE (I’m preferential to the latter).

The fact that everything says Milwaukee and to get their you go to UWMPanthers.com is infuriating.  MilwaukeePanthers.com is taken, but several URL’s that could be used are not.  When Green Bay dropped the UW- from their reference, their website of uwgbathletics.com was redone as GreenBayPhoenix.com; you can still go to the original URL, it just redirects to the new website.  I mean, if Green Bay can get it, why can’t we?

If there is anything that our fans get on the MJS’ back for that isn’t their fault, this is it.  But that is an issue that fans need to turn and demand a resolution from the athletic department, and pronto.  The future of the brand depends on the entire athletic department’s commitment to it.

So while this isn’t really the Journal Sentinel’s fault, a lot of the other woes in coverage are.  They need to isolate Tom Enlund on the Panthers beat with only occasional stringing duties for the Bucks, give him a weekly chat and a blog that he can post to every chance he gets, and let the Panther readership be happy.

In response to John K. on his chat transcript, Bill Windler wrapped it up succinctly in one sentence. “We will will aim to keep improving our Panthers coverage.”

I do hope that he is honest with John K.  He always has been with me, so I’m hoping to see a Panthers Blog in the very near future.  Can’t wait to join John K. and our fellow Panther die hards in sending questions to Tom Enlund on his first Panther chat!

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One Response

  1. Who needs the JS when you have this website?

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