MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Last week when I was on vacation I was informed the Telegraph is suspending my sports column as I and the other local columnists – like Mark Ballard, Erick Erickson and even A.C. Pup – are being re-evaluated.
Let me save them the trouble. Maybe it’s the Telegraph that needs to be evaluated. And while I will miss writing for the local paper, please believe that what I am going to say here has more to do with my frustration and disappointment at what the Telegraph has become.
This is bigger than me and my column. This is about the deterioration of local content in our daily local newspaper. I can talk about sports, because that’s what I do. But we all know it’s happening on the news side, as well. I knew when Daniel Shirley, who had been the sports editor for a decade, left last fall the sports page was in trouble.
I thought they would replace him, but when they didn’t. I knew it was only a matter of time before my column would be in jeopardy. Last fall, just a few weeks after Daniel left for SEC Country, the Telegraph’s executive editor, Sherrie Marshall, forgot to plan for my column for the Sunday paper after the Georgia-South Carolina game. Daniel had reminded her before he left that I had written columns on Wednesday and Sunday for eight-plus years at that point, but she forgot.
Then, after I was ticked off that no one in that building remembered that I wrote the Sunday columns, I was practically blamed for questioning them about it. Yes, it was ridiculous for Marshall to not even know – after she had been told – that I wrote a sports column each Sunday. Oh, and then a few months later, Marshall did forget to put one of my Wednesday columns in the paper. She forgot. She said, “That’s on me,” which is not an apology.
So, I knew I was in trouble. I knew they really didn’t care. However, I offered Marshall help. I told her I would help save the sports section if possible. I am on the radio and on TV. “Let me do video or audio to help the Telegraph,” That’s what I told her. I offered to do my radio show on Facebook live, and then Jennifer Burk, the content manager, made a snide remark that she didn’t believe the Telegraph’s Facebook followers would be interested in my radio show. I was trying to help them, but that’s what I got. Burk even admitted it did better than she expected, but after that behavior I didn’t offer my help again.
And how about this. I asked Marshall, “If you’re going to judge me on online clicks, how is it fair that the Telegraph no longer promotes my columns on Facebook or Twitter?” Daniel Shirley had always tried to do it, but after he left the content was not promoted. Marshall had no answer. Then when I asked Jennifer Burk if I could promote my own columns on the Telegraph Facebook page, she said no. She said if I thought I had a good column that would generate clicks, let the team know and the team would decide whether it should be promoted on Facebook and Twitter.
Meanwhile, that same day, I saw that Burk had put a clickbait story on the Telegraph Facebook page. It was a story about how teenagers are now sniffing condoms to get high. I asked her if that was more important than my local sports columns. Burk had no answer.
And then two Sundays ago, Burk didn’t see my column in the Telegraph’s system and it did not run in the print edition. She didn’t make sure it was in there because she didn’t care.
Here was the Sunday Sports Section that day:
At the top was a story on the Player’s Championship. Then on the right, a story about Tim Tebow’s minor league baseball career. At the bottom, a story about the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team. The only local content in the entire sports section was a picture of the FPD girls’ soccer team winning the state championship. No story – just a picture. Inside, there was a story about Dusty Baker, a former major league manager, and what the British know about major league baseball. They didn’t even have anything in there about the first-place Braves.
Last week, they had a column about Braves manager Brian Snitker on the front of the sports section. That’s great, but the problem was the piece by Jeff Schultz had been in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the day before. Wednesday morning in the Telegrah they had another story from the AJC about the Braves, but they did not even have one thing about the head coach of the Macon Mayhem resigning on Tuesday to take another job. They also did not cover the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame or Macon Sports Hall of Fame ceremonies and there’s been little coverage of the spring high school sports. They didn’t even cover the Cherry Blossom and Peach Blossom golf tournaments this spring.
Marshall “retired” a few weeks ago and was applauded in the paper with a big article. She said she’s now going to teach. Burk replaced her as the leader in Macon. These two never cared about sports and didn’t try to make it better.
A few weeks ago, the new interim Georgia editor – who by the way is in Columbus – wrote an article in the Telegraph trying to justify and prove that the Telegraph still focuses on local content. That article was embarrassing. Dimon Kendrick-Holmes said that Burk “knows what matters to readers in the Macon area.” I wrote Mr. Holmes last week about some of my concerns, but I have not heard back from him.
They care about online clicks – not local content, not local columnists and not local journalism. I was actually told last weekend the real reason the columns were killed… the Telegraph didn’t want to spend a few dollars to get someone to edit the copy. They may say local journalism is still important, but don’t let the Telegraph fool you. If print journalism is now about clicking on stories about teenagers sniffing condoms, instead of local content, I’m glad I’m no longer there.