Thursday, October 13, 2016
How the Joplin Globe neutered its sports staff to protect O'Brian,city elite
It has not been that long ago that Joplin Globe sports featured nothing but straightforward game stories. The sports columns were dull, features were non-existent, and it was rare that anyone other than a coach was interviewed after a game.
Now the Globe has thoughtful, stimulating columns, features, and has offered strong coverage of a a wide variety of Joplin and area sports.
And the photography is excellent, one of the few qualities sports shares with the rest of the news product.
The sports department's quality was rewarded last week in the annual Missouri Press Foundation Better Newspaper Contest.
The Globe swept the top three spots in the sports feature category with Levi Payton finishing first and second and Jim Henry taking third. Jason Peake finished second in the sports columnist category with Henry taking fourth.
Laurie Sisk captured second place in the best sports photo category, and it should be noted that these awards were won in competition with the state's larger newspapers.
It took the Globe eight days to publish an article about its own accomplishments and fittingly, in the same Sunday edition that the MPA winners were announced, the Globe had another rock solid sports section with excellent photos by Sisk and Israel Perez, well-written coverage of MSSU football by Payton, and most interestingly, a lead sports column by Mark Schremmer featuring a post mortem on the Joplin Blasters.
Schremmer revealed that he and Henry had met with Blasters representatives before the team began its two-year Joplin adventure :
At one point, one of the team's representatives asked if we believed the community fans would support this level of baseball. Without hesitation, Henry looked him directly in the eyes and said, "No."
The answer wasn't a meant as a knock toward Joplin's fans, but rather a realistic view of what an independent pro team could draw in this area. When you consider that the Springfield Cardinals attract 4,700 a night in a city with more than three times the population of Joplin, it seemed illogical to think the Blasters could fill the stadium for 50 home games every year.
In the next paragraph, Schremmer notes that Michael Wray, an original partner in the Blasters (and a former business partner of master developer David Wallace) paid no mind to Henry's skepticism and that Wray and the other partners sloughed off the warning signals Henry and Schremmer provided.
It was strong, cogent commentary...and what a shame that it never appeared, at least by my recollection, in the pages of the Joplin Globe until taxpayers had already paid more than $4 million dollars to renovate Joe Becker Stadium. The Globe's sports pages offered comprehensive coverage of the Blasters' on-the-field activities and baseball-related stories, but the business end was only lightly touched on.
The blame for this should not be placed on the Globe sports department. The decision was made from the beginning that the coverage of the Blasters' dealings with the City of Joplin would be covered by the Globe's metro staff, which sacrificed hard-hitting coverage of this risky proposition in favor of Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce cheerleading.
That is not to say stories were not printed about the problems the Blasters had in their dealings with the city, but no real reporting was ever done on the concerns Schremmer and Henry mentioned in their conversation with the Blasters partners.
In his Sunday column, Schremmer cited the state audit, which was highly critical of the Blasters deal and especially the flawed Chamber of Commerce initiated study.that convinced the City Council to welcome the Blasters with open arms.
The fact that the city and the Blasters ownership group invested substantial amounts of money without conducting a quality feasibility study is beyond baffling.
However, the city was also determined to make this work.
And therein, lies the problem. What Schremmer cannot say, considering his forum, is that the city's unelected elite decided we were going to have a professional baseball team, commissioned a feasibility study that would guarantee it, promising success and even a ballpark village surrounding Joe Becker Stadium. It was going to happen no matter what common sense dictated.
The Blasters came as a result of the same forces that brought Wallace Bajjali to Joplin, the small group that commandeered the tornado recovery to create the Joplin it always wanted, including Chamber President Rob O'Brian, and obviously judging by the coverage in its hard news section, Globe Publisher Michael Beasley, (a Chamber Board member) and Editor Carol Stark.
It is almost impossible to believe that Henry and Schremmer did not share their well-considered opinions about the viability of the Blasters with their upper management. These veteran observers of the Joplin sporting scene were handcuffed from the beginning, never allowed to offer expert commentary on a failed venture that ended up costing millions, bringing yet another embarrassment to the city, and winding up in a face-saving lawsuit that will never bring anything back to the city's aggrieved taxpayers.
Tuesday's Globe brought the revelation that another pro baseball league is looking at Joplin and Joe Becker Stadium.
The Pecos League, whatever that is, had its commissioner meet, not with city officials, but with the Chamber's Rob O'Brian, Joplin's ambassador of lost causes, whose organization continues to receive a quarter of a million dollars a year from the taxpayers for economic development purposes.
And the Joplin Globe's page one coverage was provided by Debby Woodin, not exactly an expert when it comes to sports stories.
When it comes to the Blasters, the new baseball team, if that happens, and any other major sports stories that could have an impact on taxpayers, Carol Stark prefers to keep sending the same reporters who helped her spin the city audit and the Loraine Report in favor of O'Brian and the elite.
Meanwhile, the people who have the background and the knowledge to know what questions should be asked, the award-winning Joplin Globe sports staff, is told to stay on the sidelines and stick to writing about games.