April 9, 2009

Carcass fracas: The full story

"But the day we all got back together for some baseball ... was the day I got us into the biggest pickle of all time, and it all started with an omen." - The Sandlot

In this case, the pickle followed a sports story, Lost in left field, and a staff editorial criticizing the baseball program and its players.

A Facebook group formed in defense of the team and more than 75 130 comments landed on the Collegian site. The editors apologized online. Then an editor found carcasses on his porch, seemingly after everything had blown over. The baseball team, which had waltzed its way to the moral high ground, was back in the gutter. (Latest Collegian coverage here and editorial here.)

Perhaps surprisingly (no offense), The Hillsdale Daily News came through with a ton of context (this link shows the full version at the reporter's personal blog). His story provided insight into why the Collegian published its initial scathing editorial. He also grabbed a baseball player's Facebook wall post, which got closer than most news sources to a baseball statement. Something about the structure and pace of Walter's story made sense -- even more than the final Collegian story, which felt extremely old to me.

Instead of pushing the story forward and clarifying the timeline and causation, it stayed with the 3-day-old narrative lede, which evoked a mystery long since solved. Also, unfortunately, the Collegian pulled all of its comments (although the "C" word "F" word and others were not initially enough to provoke much moderation).

National Attention
We know Romenesko had the scandal scoop first. By the time some of us got to work in the morning, Fark was also running a link on its main page.

By afternoon, Collegian editors were getting calls, the Detroit Free Press had their version in the hopper, and The Detroit News and Associated Press weren't far behind. (The Freep article, at times, included an ad alongside featuring a cartoon deer).

Among the newspapers that bit at the carcass bait: USA Today, Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune, Newsday, The Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star, Editor and Publisher, The Seattle Times, The Charlotte Observer, Forbes, The Baltimore Sun, The Sun-Sentinel, and the list goes on.

Michigan papers took note too, including the Battle Creek Enquirer (not the first time they reported on Hillsdale), the Livingston Daily, and MLive, which had a different photo, featuring Rob Ogden, of Juny fame, in his skivvies. Good choice, Collegian, in supplying that one to the AP.

Even papers who seemingly shouldn't care ran the story. Like the Anchorage Daily News, the Honolulu Advertiser, and KSL-TV in Salt Lake City. A full list of AP pickups can be found at this Google News link.

The blogosphere was not to be left out. In addition to Romenesko and Fark, the story also got interesting play at the Boston Globe, Deadspin, and Sporting News.

Despite all the attention, questions still remain about: 1) discipline of the team 2) whether all the animals were roadkill 3) if other editors were going to get similar treatment.

Regardless, Hillsdale College probably hasn't had this much attention since the Romney commencement, or possibly Katie Cezat.

I remember reporters and editors wondering how the college's administrators would handle national (negative) media attention -- especially when they got so heavy handed about preventing (what we thought were) piddily things from being printed. A passing grade, in this case, and no doubt alumni glee nationwide as we thought about how this news was spreading across campus, then state, then county, as administrator phones rang off the hook.

Imagine: Administrators looking out their windows to see police and security gathered around a bunch of carcasses (that house is visible from campus buildings). At the very least, our campus newspaper controversy was exciting, unlike UCLA's famed "Hagen-Dazs ad wrap fracas."

The media blitz also came with a set of ridiculous commentators who couldn't resist taking shots at the baseball team. Choice comments culled by the Sadbear include:

:: "...we’re doing our best to recover, apologize and move on.” Nancy-boy. Grow a testicle.
Det News:
:: Journalism - 10, Hillsdale baseball - 0
:: Screw the political stuff, why is the best picture they could use is with a kid standing in bright blue underwear??
:: Anyone interested in a Republican rally to protest the blue skivvies being shown in the paper?
:: Hillsdale has always been know for its beastiality.
:: Gary Busey must be a walk-on.
:: Looks like a job for the 21-year-old mayor of Hillsdale. Dude's totally gonna unfriend the Collegian.
:: Ted Nugent is a little old to be playing college baseball.
:: If this keeps up, they're not going their picture on the cover of Imprimis like they were promised. 1.5 million free copies a month, goin' strong.
:: Same thing happened to Mitch Albom, except it was dead hookers, and he put put them there.
:: Another famous alum is the guy who runs Blackwater. That writer was lucky dead animals were all he got.
Boston Globe:
:: ... Mr. Krudy has handled the situation with swagger.
Sporting News:
:: None of the baseball team has made any public comments yet, but we'll sum up what they're thinking: "TAKE THAT, NEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRDS!!!"
Chicago Tribune:
:: No comments, but two story tags: "Colleges and Universities, Animals."
Battle Creek:
:: Is he sure it isn't stemming from the bad review he gave Ted Nugent's latest album?
:: Hillsdale College...Hillsdale College...why does that ring a bell? Oh, yeah. "Hillsdale gained national attention in 1999, when Lissa Jackson Roche, the daughter-in-law of college president ... "
:: I guess you could say, "they thought the article was baaaaaad"
Another shellacking
Unfortunately, this was not the biggest tangle of of the week for the Collegian. Much like they kicked the baseball team while players were down, an audacious fourth-grader named Augustine Siegel (not "Seigel") took the editors to school on a few inaccuracies in a previous article.

A fourth-grader? For shame, Collegian, for shame.

Disclosure: A majority of Sadbear authors have worked in some way for The Collegian.

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Blogger SC said...


Thanks for this, Tony. Somehow I didn't find out until I read your post that any of this had happened, even with all the national attention, and it's almost a week after the incident.

Nice collection and condensing of facts, too. I think your research and perspective is worthy of the same praise you gave the HDN writer. Kudos.

April 10, 2009 at 11:36 AM 
Anonymous Dave said...

That Hillsdale Daily News article was done amazingly well.
That's also one of the best looking site for a paper of that size I've ever seen.

The paper is hiring, too. As always, they are looking not just for a reporter, but a "newshound."


April 11, 2009 at 3:07 AM 
Blogger Chase said...

I'd like to point out the cultural significance of baseball players messing around with goats, dead or alive.


April 11, 2009 at 1:59 PM 
Blogger Tony said...

My name is on the post, but Jack helped tremendously, fyi. The HDN has since followed up again, if you check RJ's blog.

April 12, 2009 at 2:40 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the Collegian should have apologized for that article. A real newspaper would have been just as scathing. And if I were a sports writer covering that team, I'd be pissed every time I'd have to get out my thesaurus and look for a new synonym for "lost."

And if these baseball hooligans think they've got it so bad, I'd like to see the budget contrast between the baseball team and the Collegian, or better yet, the fucking library.

April 12, 2009 at 5:12 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I'm sorry. "Real newspaper" sounds patronizing, but I don't know how else to say it. You know what I mean.

April 12, 2009 at 5:13 PM 

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