It’s always been interesting to me to see how two reporters covering the same event can come up with such different accounts — how one reporter can completely miss the mark while another takes deadly aim.
Such was the case with two newspapers’ coverage of Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive’s appearance Tuesday at the Kansas City Tiger Club meeting at the Westport Flea Market.
Fortuitously, I am in a position to compare The Star’s account against that of the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune. I say fortuitously because, while driving around on Tuesday, I happened to hear, on the radio, either a lengthy excerpt of the event or a portion of live coverage.
When I tuned into the event, already in progress, I thought I was listening to a news conference, but the crowd was so boisterous and there was so much laughing and joking that I was thrown off balance. Only later, when I heard or read news coverage online, did I realize that it was an appearance before a large group of Missouri fans.
It was apparent from what I was hearing that Slive, who has been the SEC commissioner for almost 10 years, had the crowd in the palm of his hand.
He was answering questions confidently, and he was often droll and funny. It seemed like every other answer he gave drew a big, embracing laugh. It was clear that the crowd was enthralled.
So, when I saw a story about the event in The Star on Wednesday, I was eager to see if the reporter, Terez A. Paylor, would be able to re-create the energetic and enthusiastic atmosphere that permeated the Flea Market’s back room a day earlier.
I have to say, I was terribly disappointed. Here’s how Paylor, who recently succeeded Mike DeArmond as Missouri athletics reporter, started his story:
It didn’t take Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive long to realize the passion of Missouri Tigers supporters in Kansas City.
Slive was greeted warmly by a crowd of a couple of hundred fans Tuesday, as he served as the guest speaker at the Kansas City Tiger Club’s weekly meeting at the Westport Flea Market.
“If this is the energy from the University of Missouri that’s going to come to every one of our events, I’m gonna have to go home and warn our guys to be careful,” said Slive, shortly after he was greeted with a standing ovation. “The energy in this room is phenomenal.”
And it remained that way over the course of an hour, as Slive, who came to Kansas City from the SEC’s offices in Birmingham, Ala., took questions and spoke about a number of pertinent issues, including the possibility of Kansas City playing host to the SEC men’s basketball tournament, the status of his conference’s television deals and the status of cross-division rivalries in football.
It was a lame start, and Paylor went on to report, blandly, what Slive had to say about some of those issues that arose in the wake of Missouri’s decision to switch from the Big XII to the SEC.
Exactly where and how did the reporter fall on his face?
:: He talked about the passion of the fan club and the energy in the room, but other than noting the standing ovation, Taylor failed to show the reader how the interaction between the fans and the commissioner established the energy in the room.
:: He did not relate a single question that the fans posed to Slive, and he made no attempt to establish the humorous and convivial tone, which is what distinguished the event and spawned a strong bond between crowd and speaker.
Now, let’s set The Star aside and pick up the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Covering the event for the Tribune was a sportswriter named Dave Matter. I don’t know him, hadn’t read a thing he had written until I saw his story online this morning.
Here’s how Matter began his story:
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive couldn’t have expected his biggest applause line yesterday to be a one-word answer.
A Missouri booster in the middle of a jam-packed crowd at the Westport Flea Market Bar & Grill asked Slive a perfectly reasonable question at the Tiger Club of Kansas City luncheon that sounded like this: Could you explain how the decisions were made to put Texas A&M in the SEC West and Missouri in the SEC East?
Slive’s reply came without hesitation.
“No,” he said.
The crowd, and Slive, erupted in laughter.
The 71-year-old Slive had the boosters rolling, but do not mistake the man for a court jester. Yesterday, he was feted like a king.
With several university and civic dignitaries in attendance, the SEC commissioner made his first public appearance in Missouri since November’s announcement that MU was joining Texas A&M as a 2012 addition to the SEC. For the 250-plus fans crammed into the booster club’s weekly watering hole, the buzz was still raging.
Look at some of the words and phrases that Matter uses to show, tangibly, how the bond developed and the energy burst forth.
— “…a jam-packed crowd”
— “The crowd, and Slive, erupted in laughter.” Note, it was a shared laughter.
— “…had the boosters rolling.”
— “…feted like a king.”
— “…the buzz was still raging.”
And about that standing ovation…Paylor simply had it happening spontaneously, without explanation. But Matter…well, he framed the greeting by reporting that Missouri athletic director Mike Alden introduced Slive, calling him “the finest commissioner in all of college athletics and one of the most respected folks in all of sport.”
Now the reader can understand how a biased crowd could be catapulted into a near frenzy, can’t he?
Slive, as Paylor reported, later returned the favor to Alden, saying in answer to a question about the SEC’s $3 billion TV contract, “I am optimistic that we can make Mike Alden very happy.”
Another burst of laughter.
Everybody left happy…except those who weren’t there and had to rely on Terez Paylor’s reporting.