Let's start with Suzanne Haliburton's "Ask The Beat Writers" column in today's Statesman. I'm not one to rail on beat reporters in general, or Suzanne Haliburton in particular. She does a good job of getting us factual stuff that us fans can talk about.
The problem, though, is that as a journalist for the Austin paper Suzanne is basically being asked to answer questions in the manner that the coaches want her to. Take this, for example:
A: The main reason the coaches believe the running game will be better: Jamaal Charles reportedly has been hot in practice. He?s not rotating carries with another back this year. He gave up half his track season in the spring. He added some weight. And he?s made a conscious effort to hold onto to the football. I?m told that in nearly four weeks of workouts, he?s fumbled one time.
Even though you just read it - try, for a moment - to forget Suzanne's answer and look just at the question.
We could reword it thusly: Why do the Texas coaches think the running will improve with no change in scheme?
Now look at the answer. Do you see anything about scheme? Shotgun versus under center? The experience of the offensive line and their ability to run block?
No, you see an answer which essentially doesn't deal with what's being asked.
You see coach speak.
Suzanne's just doing her job, so this isn't a dig at her, but as a fan? You should make careful note that the Statesman's "Ask The Beat Writer" is really a euphemism for "What line are the coaches towing about Issue X?"
(With that said, let me note that this feature is useful for questions relating to news. E.g. "What's the latest on Kindle in practice?" Just remember that the forum has proven itself ill-suited for analysis.)
For an illustration in contrast, take Chip Brown's most recent Q&A with fans. Though Chip handles his beat reporter duties well, he does a great job with analysis, too. I don't always agree with Chip, but I respect his opinions and like that he shoots from the hip.
Take, for example, this exchange:
Chip Brown: Jake, I don't know that I see five losses and a late-season collapse at this point, although I'm not ruling it out. We just need to see how this team adapts to a new offense, how Colt McCoy adjusts to the enormous expectations he has put on himself and how Duane Akina gets this defense to perform. Let's face it, Texas has had two good quarters so far this season, so we don't have much to go on at this point. But I like the offensive philosophy. I think the pass-first mentality suits UT's personnel. I had Texas losing to Oklahoma State and Texas A&M before the season. I'll stick with that for now because UT has three games to improve before playing Oklahoma, and UT will need to improve massively to make it three in a row against the Sooners.
The difference here is obvious. Chip's asserting an editorial voice into his answer, as opposed to reading from the Mack Brown press transcripts and media guides. Whether you agree with his answer or not, it's a real answer to the question.
One of the biggest problems that the Statesman faces is that Texas is the only game in town. The paper is practically forced to stick to the coach's talking points, lest it alienate the news source which feeds its relevancy.
Unfortunately, that compliance is precisely what makes it increasingly irrelevant. As fans become more and more news savvy, and as the university improves its direct communication with fans (online transcripts, videos, etc), the need for straight beat reporting continues to decrease. If I were the sports editor at the AAS, I'd start recrafting the image of the paper's Longhorn coverage. We get the softy stuff right from the source these days. Fans demand more from their secondary sources these days.
Down in Orlando, Chris Simms is expecting a strong burnt orange showing. Simms tells the Orlando Sentinel he expects the fans to travel well and the team to play great football.
Chris Simms isn't anyone's All Time Favorite Longhorn, but I do still root for the guy. Here's to hoping he gets things going in Tampa as he recovers from the spleen rupture.
UCF cornerback Johnell Neal - the team's leading tackler in 2006 - says he's fully recovered from the hamstring injury which kept him out of the season opener. The Knights continue to prepare for the game behind closed doors, but the buzz in the Orlando media is palpable. If it's not quite hit you yet how big this game is for that school, I urge you to start taking it seriously. This game means a lot to them. Texas will need to play good football.
As busy as I've been, I've not done a good job of late linking to all the outstanding work being produced by my colleagues in the college football blogosphere. While I'm working on getting a better system set up to take care of that, I have to take a moment today to note the Animanted BlogPoll race as presented by Rocky Top Talk. Simply outstanding.
Werewolves! And chainsaws!
For Friday: I'll announce the winner of our caption contest from earlier this week, as well as get a prediction thread up and running. Look for updates mid-morning.