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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz Commentary

The Milwaukee media has its pluses and minuses. (PHOTO: Jim Owczarski )

Top-flight journalism in short supply for Milwaukee sports fans


Think of this as a sports fan's guide to following his or her favorite teams.

This is about the local people who bring all of us news about the Bucks, Brewers, Packers and other assorted sports teams, including the Badgers, Panthers and Golden Eagles.

This is my personal opinion, but it's born out of almost 45 years of journalism. I think I know something about this, so here we go.

What we are looking for here is impartiality, courage, some level of expertise and the ability to impart facts, and even opinions, to an anxious audience.

We are also looking for some aggressiveness. Tell us something that we don't know. The operative word is "scoop." Find stuff out and tell us. Don't just wait for the press release or the team news conference.

Let me add one thing about why all of this is important. Part of the excitement, or lack of excitement, that fans feel is the kind of coverage they see or read. Coverage is not a make or break thing, but it has a bearing on fan response to a team.

We are not talking about sports talk radio here. That is a landscape largely populated with idiots, with the exception of Drew Olson and Jason Wilde, and a little bit of Steve "The Homer" True. What this is about is journalism.

Let us start with local television.

We can just about write off all the sportscasts that get less time on the air than the weather for heaven's sake. I know and like some of the TV guys, like Dan Needles, Lance Allan, Tom Pipines and Tim Van Vooren. These guys may know stuff, but they are trapped by a system that restricts them to reporting scores, doing a brief stand up interview or running tape from either something far away or something funny/unusual.

Now let's move to the written word. There are really only two places that have real journalists working for them, the Journal Sentinel and OnMilwaukee.com (and I am not counting myself).

Jim Owczarski, the sports editor on OnMilwaukee, is consistently creative, honest and enlightening. He's not perfect, nobody is. But he writes an incredible amount and invariably gives readers something interesting and usually important.

He doesn't write game stories, but his work is about things that have a major bearing on the outcome of games.

Now let's move to the daily paper, where the results are very, very uneven.

Packers coverage is virtually overwhelming both in quality and quantity.

With Bob McGinn wearing the crown of the best NFL writer in the league, the paper has amazing expertise. Added to McGinn are Tom Silverstein, a real pro; Tyler Dunne, who has a real sense of place and importance; and Lori Nickel, who proves that the paper doesn't regard women seriously because she gets assigned all those fluff feature stories.

The four of them add up to an amazingly thorough breadth of coverage.

I can't express enough admiration for McGinn who sets the tone and is a wonderful example for all journalists who aspire to cover sports and write for a living.

Brewers coverage is big on quantity but comes up a little short on insight. I think Tom Haudricourt seems like he's a little worn out. He's very good at telling his readers what happened, but not all that great in telling readers why things happen.

I think he's an example of how some people stay on a particular beat for too long a time. Haudricourt gets some help from Todd Rosiak, but it's too infrequent and irregular to make much of a difference.

Then there's the Bucks, where Charles Gardner has held forth for a number of years. Gardner is a pedestrian reporter and a pedestrian writer. He doesn't find out stuff and there are no scoops coming from him. He's a news conference kind of guy, part of the pack that goes into the locker room or goes to the coach's news conference after a game.

There are others at the paper who do fair to pretty good jobs. The Journal Sentinel has to be the only major paper in the country that doesn't have at least one full time sports columnist. Michael Hunt used to be, but in the continuing budget-driven slashing of the staff, they yanked it away from him.

There are two writers and reporters in this area who are outstanding. One is Gary D'Amato of the Journal Sentinel and Wilde, who works for ESPNWisconsin.com and is also one of its morning talk hosts.

D'Amato is smart and prescient, and he covers a wide range of sports, including the Olympics. When you read his work, you can trust that you're going to read from start to finish.

Wilde is an interesting case. He's a print guy but has made the transition to online, radio (and a little television), smoothly. He works hard at his Packers beat and it shows. He's got very good sense and can be a very entertaining writer.

Milwaukee is a unique city when it comes to sports journalism. In many other cities there is a lot of competition and the men and women who cover sports are always looking for an edge and a scoop. That includes television sports people.

In Milwaukee, nobody has to work hard. They have nice and friendly relationships with the teams they cover, with the exception of the Packers beat reporters.

Without good coverage, sports fans in this city are being cheated out of the best possible experience possible.

Talkbacks

Photodavie | May 28, 2014 at 7:42 a.m. (report)

Am I the only one that sees the irony in Dave Begel writing this article? Anyone? I mean COME ON!

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mikeb | May 28, 2014 at 5:43 a.m. (report)

While I agree with the premise that too much reporting has simply become a rehashing of press releases I can't see how you can praise the reporting of Jim Owczarski. His columns basically always come across like press releases from the team that he's covering. They almost all go out of their way to ensure that OnMilwaukee will keep their press passes and be able to go to games for free. And we get it already. Drew Olson is your buddy. Nothing he's doing on the radio is any better than what people like Greg Matzek and Jeff Falconio are doing.

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