This is the fourth column in a series designed to explain what journalists do and how we do it.
Back in the summer of 2007 on my first day at the Missoulian, we had nine sports writers contributing to the cause with byline stories.
Today we have three trying to maintain the same standard of excellence. It's an uphill climb and our ears burn at times, but we've been honored as one of the best in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors and have no intention of losing our status.
My reason for pointing out staff reductions is not to garner pity. The goal is to illuminate the cold, hard truth:
Now more than ever we need to have laser focus on delivering the kind of stories our readers want. Not the stories one small group craves but stories that appeal to our mass audience in western Montana.
This is tough for some parents and coaches to accept.
Gone are the days when we covered middle-of-the-week games in Missoula just because they're on the schedule and someone would gripe if we didn't cover the event. We're looking for the human element in everything we do and we write from the heart because that's what readers want.
The goal is more feature stories and compelling columns. More traveling down the road less traveled to find stories that transcend sports.
We'll continue to put a lot of effort into Montana Grizzly athletics because it's what we do best and it's what our readers want. Plus we still try our hardest to make it to every crosstown city school sporting event, which is a challenge in itself when one of our writers is committed to covering the football Grizzlies as if they're the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Here are a few facts and misnomers about the Missoulian sports department:
• Fact: The Missoulian is a business dedicated to serving its customers. We're not a newsletter for any university or area high school.
• Fact: While we enjoy building rapport with coaches, athletes and administrators, we're still the watchdog of this community. We must hold adults accountable for their actions.
• Misnomer: The Missoulian sports department is going to cover club sports the same way it covers high school sports. Let's remember, folks, it takes a good deal of money to play most club sports, meaning not every kid has the opportunity. Baseball, softball, hockey, volleyball, swimming, lacrosse, soccer, karate — there's a ton of club sports in this area. We'll still continue to celebrate the successes when we see fit, but in most cases club sports are not as high on our priority list as high school and college sports.
• Fact: There is no sports website in the state that rivals 406mtsports.com. It is the website where Missoulian sports stories appear first. It is the website where all sports stories from Billings, Helena and Butte appear first. Plus you're getting stuff from other media outlets through a sharing agreement. No other sports sites can compete because they don't have the same wealth of writers and photographers. Interestingly, some sports fans, especially in western Montana, are still not aware of this site.
• Fact: For almost every feature story we write celebrating an individual or team feat, we get nasty emails from coaches or parents criticizing us for not doing something on their team or individual. Envy is alive and well in western Montana.
• Misnomer: The Missoulian sports department automatically knows how to spell your child's name. We have 30 high schools to cover and there's a seemingly endless way to spell your child's name (Ex.: Meghan, Megan, Meagan). If we don't spell your child's name correctly, please let us know immediately and we'll correct it for next time. And remember, sometimes we're not the ones at fault. Sometimes a coach or manager taking stats doesn't know how to spell a name correctly and it is misspelled in the newspaper all season until someone tells us.
• Fact: We've never needed your help more than now. Please let us know when something amazing is going on by dropping us a message at email@example.com. We simply do not have the tentacles we once had. Additionally, we need the help of coaches/managers more than ever in getting us game results through a new computerized system coming in late August. Parents, if you're not seeing your team's results in the paper, we urge you to encourage high school coaches to make the effort to submit results.
• Fact: The three Missoulian sports writers — myself, Frank Gogola and Amie Just — all love what we do. We take pride in what we do and do our best to deliver what our readers want en masse.