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Friday, Aug. 8, 2008

Is there a reporter in the house?

Jim Cryns on Sports

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  If you heard a loud crinkling noise during the Packers intra-squad scrimmage recently, that was probably me crawling out of my skin. I first read about the tracking of Brett Favre's flight from Mississippi to Green Bay on the Journal Sentinel's Web site. Clicking the icon I viewed a radar image with a mini-plane somewhere over Illinois on its way to Wisconsin, a dotted trail following the plane to make sure even the dimmest viewer knew exactly where the flight originated and its destination. I then turned to Fox Six television and watched Tim Van Vooren and Tom Pipines talking about the same flight with a frame in the shot dedicated to the trip. Van Vooren is without a doubt the finest sports broadcaster in the state, perhaps beyond. He looked rather chagrined regarding the coverage of the flight, understanding it was an evil perpetuated upon him. All the while Pipines smiled his Joker grin, shoving his mug awkwardly close to Van Vooren's, positively glowing with the knowledge ol' number 4' was on his way to Lambeau.

  Pipines is probably one of the nicest guys in Milwaukee sports media and works the sports beat regularly, but that only goes so far. Yeah, he'll probably go to heaven, but at the gate St. Peter will undoubtedly ask "Pip" what possessed this "journalist" to wear a CC Sabathia jersey at the pitcher's debut in Milwaukee. Now that Favre is a Jet, I'm sure Pipines is looking for the next Wisconsin sports rump into which he might impale his face.

  What I'm concerned about is whether there is any vestige of sports journalism remaining in broadcasting. While news reporting has definitely taken up residence in septic tanks, at least sports had a degree of straight forward reporting as it was sports, not an "in-depth investigation on mothballs" espoused by local television.

  David Allen is an associate professor of mass communications at UW-Milwaukee and says get used to it. "There's this trend, especially with celebrities," Allen said. "We don't see any kind of privacy any longer. We've moved into celebrity gossip and that's what they're doing on local stations."

  Allen says the Favre flight plan is an easy story to cover, like tracking Santa Claus traversing over North America at Christmas. "A reporter doesn't have to sort through documents to report this story, doesn't have to stake out the airport, it's self- fulfilling."

  Most in the business will admit the need to go live with little or no investment in the story. In what could be a positive trend, Allen says his students don't watch much local sports coverage. "They're not paying any attention to it," Allen says, "local television is losing viewers as much or faster as newspapers. They don't see the point in all the Favre coverage."

Show him the money.

  Pitcher Teddy Higuera's contract in the '90s looks like small potatoes compared to what an accomplished starter can demand today. In 1991 the franchise gave Higuera 13-million dollars for four years convinced he would be the future star of the roster. Higuera tore his rotator cuff in 1991, missed the 1992 season and eventually retired in 1995 after the Brewers refused to offer him a contract in 1995. Higuera got the cash while Paul Molitor was shown the door after more than a decade of productive service.

  Molitor was seeking a relatively benign financial deal back in 1993. The future Hall of Famer who'd spent his entire career with the Brewers was ostensibly spurned by Bud Selig and his accountants. This year the team doled-out 10 million for reliever Eric Gagne, who hasn't been able to close the barn door much less ball games. Molitor eventually was rewarded with a 13 million dollar contract for three years with the Toronto Blue Jays-oh, and a World Series Ring for an ace-kicker.

  If only we were able to track Higuera's plane out of town. Now that would have been newsworthy.