When some 140 softball teams come to Anaconda for one of the best slow pitch softball tournaments in the US, I’ve found you can do a multitude of things. Some complain because of the increased traffic and congested stores and restaurants, some plan vacations on the same weekend and leave, but most participate either by playing or watching some of the action.
Unless you’re the local sports reporter.
Instead of hanging out in Anaconda for the women’s home run derby Friday night, men’s derby Saturday night where there was a chance, albeit small, someone could’ve won $10,000 (gladly sponsored by Montana Orthopedics and KANA 580 AM) or Sunday night when local teams were still in the running for trophies, our paper’s sports editor was in Butte covering a bull riding contest.
That’s the equivalent of Missoulian sports reporters going to Drummond to cover a mixed masters croquet tournament the night of NDSU-Montana opens the college football season this August.
The Anaconda Leader is a local paper that currently has no sales outlets, to my knowledge, in Butte. And you’re covering Butte events when something of this equivalent is in your backyard? By the math, no less than 1,500 players were in Anaconda over the weekend. Now multiply that by at least three with families, friends and fans who come just to be a part of such a festival. Yearly, gas stations and C-stores, grocery stores and restaurants in Anaconda depend on the influx of money to support their businesses, and our newspaper doesn’t report on that impact?
And honestly, if we had that event say at the Saddle Club, knock yourself out. I’m not against rodeo at all, those guys and gals are badasses. But when the biggest gathering of people for a softball spectacle — a tournament that proves it can and literally is played by all ages — from Montana, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and even Arizona, James Wisniewski, Leader Sports Editor, made the administrative decision to travel 24 miles to report on an event that has little to no impact — economically or otherwise — to Butte.
I personally have nothing against Wisniewski although I disagree with most of his beat reporting. He refuses to cover local youth athletics unless it has to do with skiing or boxing, or if there is absolutely nothing to write about. He spurns local athletics for outdoors stories on Lewis and Clark Caverns, Garnett Ghost Town and Wraith Hill.
I took pride in covering all levels of athletics while at the Leader from 2007 to December of 2012. I made it my duty to make the back section of the paper as visually appealing as the front page because our community loves its sports. But when you open up the paper to see headlines such as Wednesday’s “Outlaws crush A’s” describing Gallatin Valley’s win over our American Legion baseball team, that’s the last impression you get.
Headline writing is the most important part of a newspaper. It either grabs the readers’ eye or turns them off in a snap. And nobody wants to read about a local baseball team getting it’s teeth kicked in, even if that’s the way it happened. “Outlaws rob A’s” would’ve been enough to engage the reader without punching the team in the gut before even reading about the game.
Even during down weeks, I made sure the adult recreation had their names dropped as well. Every week bowling scores of all ages were recapped along with special recognition in terms of feature stories for honor scores and special achievements. Golf leagues and major tournaments important to the economic health of our local clubhouses were always reported in depth.
Why? Well simply put, you report on an array of athletics because people pay to see their name in the paper. They clip the articles, they scrapbook the moments and they enjoy them for years to come. And if you’re not covering the most economically relevant event of the year in Anaconda, do you really expect those businesses to advertise in the future? It’s a horrible business model.
As for Goosetown, Wisniewski didn’t even have to attend. He could have written a pertinent story by using the press release sent out to every local media outlet by tournament director Bill Hill on Monday filled with the top four teams in each division plus MVP and all tournament team selections for almost all of the teams listed. Every year I always think it’s intriguing to see where all the tournament-winning teams travel from just to play.
Since I left three reporters have held my job title. And with every one I offered never-ending help and information. With Sean Eamon, who first replaced me, that wasn’t necessary because he already knew the coaches and players from his time at the Montana Standard. Eamon was replaced by Kyle Houghtaling, who used me at first but soon built his own beat — one that was full of solid reporting. Wisniewski never took my offer seriously.
I get it, I’m a former employee that may or may not have been held in the best of light after leaving for a similar position with another company. But my offer to help was genuine because all I care about is Anaconda youths getting recognition for their sporting accomplishments.
I try to do as much local sports reporting I can with kana580.com, but my job and family responsibilities only allow so much. I know there are many things that fall through the cracks, but I do what I can.
And that’s why picking up the paper on Wednesdays and Fridays has become all the more frustrating. I used to put my heart and soul into those pages, and to see it now is disheartening.
It could still be great, but listening to what readers want is a must. I still believe an online presence is needed there, but that’s another story. But I’ll tell you what, printing stories about Butte bull riders isn’t doing right by our community or by the papers bottom line.
I’ve held my tongue for long enough, it had to be said. Covering a Butte Bull riding event and a rodeo in Drummond just doesn’t make sense, and I can’t believe our local businesses haven’t put a foot down. We live in Deer Lodge County — it has to be the main focus. Sadly, that no longer the case.