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August 22, 2010

Iowa football: A frustrating duty

Retiring from full-time work has been incredibly liberating. I don't have to show up at an office. When I do work, I can pretty much set my own hours. I have more flexibility for just about everything I want to do, whether it's spending time with Pam, planning trips and long weekend getaways or just working in the yard.

If it's too wet to mow Wednesday, I'll do it Thursday. If we decide at the last minute to leave for a trip on Thursday instead of Friday, we do. If Pam and I decide we've worked enough by 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon, we quit and go sit on the porch. We might have a cocktail then or we might not. Depends on how we feel at the moment.

There's also another bonus to being on my own: I don't have to cover Iowa football on a daily basis. Now that would be frustrating. Sure, you get to cover a winner when you follow the Hawkeyes. You visit big-time stadiums and watch some of the brightest stars in college football. The season usually ends with a nice bowl trip. But all that comes with a price because your access to coach Kirk Ferentz and the players, especially at this time of year during preseason camp, is severely limited.

If you're one of the local reporters, that is. If you're with the Big Ten Network or have a national radio network talk show, well, that's entirely  different.

Look what's happened in just the last few days.

The local media had to confirm the fact that linebacker Jeff Tarpinian injured a hand by talking to Howard Griffith and Gerry DiNardo of the Big Ten Network. They were allowed to watch practice last Thursday. Local reporters weren't.

When Ferentz confirmed for the first time that running back Brandon Wegher had left camp, he did so on ESPN radio's Scott Van Pelt Show, not in a session with local reporters. To get an update on Wegher's situation, reporters had to listen to Ferentz on Fox Sports Radio.

If someone wants to be secretive, fine. But don't be secretive on a selective basis and freeze out the people who cover you day in and day out, the ones who keep the vast majority of your fans informed, not only through breaking news but with interesting features and analysis.

Reporters around here will cover the bad news when it happens, but it's been my experience that most would rather write stories with a positive bent. And it seems to me they've been incredibly fair with Ferentz. No one gripes too much when the Hawkeyes struggle. When something does go wrong, offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe usually gets blamed. No one harps on the fact that while he's one of the highest paid coaches in the country and gets around $3 million a year, Ferentz has taken Iowa to only two BCS bowls -- and has a losing record against Iowa State.

The thing is, interview sessions with Ferentz are almost always pleasant. He doesn't toss out one-liners or homilies the way Hayden Fry did, but he gives reporters something they can use. And after his "formal" press conferences, he willingly steps to the side and answers more questions from print reporters. That's when those reporters get in the questions they really want to ask.

So c'mon, Kirk. It wouldn't hurt to give the local media a little more time. They might not dress as well as the network types or comb their hair as neatly, but they're a hard-working bunch who are fair and just want to do a good job. And they'll be there regardless of whether you're in the Top 10 of the nation or the bottom half of the Big Ten.

In the meantime, to all of you covering the Hawkeyes, I sympathize and feel your pain.


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Well put, Chuck. Well put.

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