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In Sports Commentary

The future looks empty for local TV sports anchors


Let me make it clear, right from the start, that Dennis Krause, who was fired a couple of years ago by Channel 4, is the best local television sports guy in this market.

He's smart and very credible. He's patched together a career at Time Warner's fledgling sports effort, some Bucks broadcasts and hosting Packers pre-game shows on WTMJ radio. He might be the best sports anchor this market has ever seen, even though the popularity research on him left something to be desired.

Although I wish he was still on the air, it might be a good thing for him that he's out of the business of being a local television sports anchor. The times have changed, and local sports anchors are treated like superfluous members of the "news team."

First of all, let's understand that the time allocated to local sportscasts has shrunk significantly over the years. The importance of sportscasters also has diminished.

Promotional materials for local television stations always focus on the anchors and the weather person and sometimes, but rarely, include the sports guy. When was the last time you saw a billboard or a television commercial about the sports guy? These people must feel like the Lost Tribe of Broadcast School Graduates.

In fact, these local sports anchors are victims of the times.

It used to be that the local sportscast was the place we all turned for sports scores, pictures and interviews. The guys who did the sports -- and there never were any women in this field -- were big deals. Some of the local broadcast guys were also play-by-play people, further enhancing their fame.

But that kind of sportscast is now obsolete. When we want scores, there's dozens of places we can look to get them right away. We don't have to wait until the 10 p.m. news anymore.

You want interviews? Sports talk radio. Post-game and pre-game shows. The Internet. ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3 and ESPN 700. By the time the newscast rolls around, there's nothing left for them to do.

So, where does that leave all the local sports guys and girls? Well, first of all, we've got the separate the wheat from the chaff. At the top of our pyramid, right behind Krause, are Lance Allan at Channel 4, Tom Pipines, Tim Van Vooren and Jen Lada at Channel 6, Dan Needles at 12 and nobody at Channel 58. Those people bring credibility and a sense of humor without being ridiculous. Sometimes, I'm amazed at how far the bad sportscasters will go.

About a week ago, Rod Burks, from Channel 4, and an African-American, was doing a piece from Green Bay. The close of the piece was him in the stands, using an exaggerated, phony African-American accent. It was like Porgy meets David Duke.

Almost every sportscaster in this town just shouts or sleepwalks through broadcasts, trying to create excitement over old news and unimportant junk. They all seemed to go to college to become broadcasters. Nothing prepares you less for the news business than broadcast courses in college. Those schools take your money tell you about being objective, show you how to use outdated equipment and then cut you loose on an unsuspecting public.

I talked to a news director of a major-market station who is very familiar with the Milwaukee market. He said that the key to success with sports is both what you do and what you don't do.

"More and more fans don't need to wait until your newscast for the score or highlights," he said. "If you have a good sports personality, you can create sports with an edge, not being afraid to call out the 'how's' and 'why's' of a game.

"I know ESPN can do that too, but they aren't local. More than ever before stations are returning to 'local' because it really is the only true difference. I think a local audience is looking for perspective and context and local stations should be offering that on sports. The key is you need good talent to pull that off."

What this means, of course, is that the day isn't far away when the sports anchor, as we know him or her, ought to just disappear. We don't need them.

What we need in local television sports is probably a former jock who played the game and brings some inside knowledge to us. It's OK to have non-jocks working for the print media. In fact, it's preferable. But in television, with 90 seconds to give us something, somebody who has been there is probably preferable to the zombies who give us the sports now.

Anybody who starts their sports broadcast with "The Bucks (or Brewers or Packers) won tonight..." Should be banished to a television station in Rhinelander for life.

Talkbacks

highland86 | Aug. 22, 2007 at 12:57 p.m. (report)

I don't watch a ton of local TV sports but I do know about the time being cut. From what I do see, my impression is still that the local sportscasts are too superficial and not "local" enough. It's hard to let go of the idea that Michael Vick's conviction, for instance, or Cubs highlights might not belong anywhere on a local newscast. But if local TV sports is going to force programming directors to give it more time (and resources; they go hand in hand), they will have to blow up the model. That means, fewer Brewers highlights and more Brewers features. Ditto for the Bucks. Far better high school sports coverage. More consistent and especially inventive ways to cover the Wave, Admirals and minor sports at UWM and Marquette, especially when we're talking about athletes with strong local connections (what about loaning them a quality "handycam" and letting them film a weekend road trip from the players' perspective?). Or make sports features part of the regular newscast and utilize people with an ear for the offbeat, like Vince Vitrano. Most television newscasts are generally dreary and uninspired, much like the majority of daily newspaper work is dreary and uninspired. That's not a complete criticism -- putting out a quality daily product is really, really hard to do in the news business. And with corporate pressure that's usually terrified of something that they haven't seen before in lots of other places, it's even harder. So while I understand Dave's take, I lament the second-class status given to sports coverage and would love for Brandon Cruz or anyone else to be able choke the life out of that dying model and birth something fresh.

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ChateauDweller | Aug. 20, 2007 at 1:52 p.m. (report)

Wow, it looks like Mr. Cruz enlisted the support of the CBS 58 sports interns to support his talkback. A "better writer" would not ramble on within one paragraph.

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Gomez | Aug. 20, 2007 at 9:46 a.m. (report)

Fox 6 should shave lada from their broadcast.

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martymac459 | Aug. 20, 2007 at 4:28 a.m. (report)

I have to echo many of Brandon Cruz's comments... Most notable is the fact that local sports will always deliver better local coverage of local teams. You can 'internet' until Al Gore turns blue in the face... you can 'sports talk radio' until Tony Bruno implodes... The bottom line is people watch TV, and until television doesn't exist anymore, they probably always will watch TV. That means local news will get watched, granted not by as many viewers as it used to, but it will get watched and local sports will be a part of it, especially in a television market like Milwaukee. Sure, the time that local sports gets has been shrinking for years, but there's a reason it's still there... enough people still watch, and the will continue to. Try pulling the plug on sports at any station in that city and see how fast it takes to get bad feedback. I got into television 10 years ago and I was told that in 10 years there wouldn't be local sports anymore. Now here we all are getting the speech about how it will be gone in another decade. Did the last decade not count? Did I miss something? I've worked in TV sports in Wisconsin before, in fact I worked with Lance Allan many times during my years at a station in another Wisconsin city. If there's one thing I learned it's that print writers don't like television reporters very much and the only TV people that are liked are the ones who are from the area or have been there 5-10 years... ie Needles, Allan, the crew from WITI. To further point out the skewed opinion of the original article... remember that we in the media don't think the same as our average reader or viewer. We're just wired differently when we get into TV or print. So what you may think is fact about the internet taking over television and newspapers is not the same as average Joe who still likes to pick up a newspaper when it's convienent, or turn on the TV at 10pm to see the local news, sports, and weather.

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broadbat | Aug. 18, 2007 at 8:16 a.m. (report)

Kudos to Brandon Cruz. How ironic that a rookie TV sportscaster is a better writer than Dave Begel ! I say give Cruz a column, and send Begel to the minors.

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