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Matt Von Pinnon, Published March 13 2011

Von Pinnon: Covering regional sports continues to be priority

There’s a saying in the newspaper business that every night is election night in the sports department.

See, news departments plan for weeks and even months for big election nights, evenings usually marked by lots of late-breaking results and tighter-than-normal deadlines for everyone.

The sports department, on the other hand, works in similar conditions more often than not, which leads to the saying.

But even for busy sports departments, nothing compares in their world to the maddening pace of March, when most college and high school winter sports are consumed by playoff games and championship tournaments.

In our neck of the woods, high school playoffs for a few sports start in February and even conclude in that month. North Dakota championship tournaments in most sports are at least a week earlier than their respective sport in Minnesota, meaning March Madness for The Forum is really a two-month period.

During March Madness, and during the other very busy times of the fall sports season, it’s especially challenging for sports departments to cover every game of interest, especially in a market that straddles two states and several high school sections or districts within those states. There simply are not enough reporters and photographers to go around, and we have the biggest sports department in a 250-mile radius of Fargo-Moorhead. So, we have to set priorities.

Since I often get asked about these sports coverage priorities, and since we just concluded arguably the busiest sports week of the year in our area, I thought I’d spell them out for everyone.

First and foremost, we try to determine reader interest. This is not easy. The most common tool for measuring interest is regular attendance at games, matches or meets. Some argue this is not a good tool, citing the “chicken-or-the-egg rule” (certain teams/games are well attended because we tend to cover them; if we covered other teams/games, they, too, would be well attended). Still, attendance is usually a pretty good reflection of reader interest.

Second, we try to appeal to the most readers possible. This is a little like the first priority but with a slightly different consideration. For instance, it’s true that some games in small towns draw larger crowds than some big-school games in the metro area. But we know that there are still far more alumni from those larger schools in our readership area who keep an eye on their alma maters but don’t necessarily attend the games. We have to consider that in conjunction with game attendance numbers.

Third, we give more weight to games that are farther along in the playoff process. In other words, we are more likely to cover a state tournament game than a section or district tournament game. This aspect is what most aggravates our Minnesota readers, as their section games are just ramping up when North Dakota is hosting state tournaments in their respective sport. We try to account for this and still cover as many Minnesota section games as we can, but it’s in these weeks when we’re most challenged.

Fourth, Minnesota and North Dakota handle championship tournaments differently. Most Minnesota state tournaments occur in the Twin Cities. North Dakota moves its tournaments around the state. When Fargo hosts a state tournament, The Forum covers those tournaments big for all the participants, parents and fans who are in the metro area for the weekend.

Many news outlets across the country no longer cover high school sports, instead choosing to focus entirely on college and pro sports. We have no intention of doing that. There are many sources of information on pro and big-time college sports. We are uniquely positioned to bring our readers sports news from our communities and region, and we continue to make that our priority.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.