Go Big Blue! Who is a UK Cheerleader?

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BY KEVIN FARIS

Photo by Alex Orlov

If you follow UK sports on the Internet, then you are no doubt familiar with Kentucky Sports Radio, a UK blog started by Matt Jones which has grown in popularity and importance over the last few years. Jones has parlayed the website into a top rated iTunes podcast, a local radio show in Louisville, and a future TV show on cnI2 that will be available here in Lexington. The blog describes itself as offering “University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible.” I read the blog, my high school students read the blog, and my dad reads the blog; it is, needless to say, very popular.

John Clay is one of two local sports columnists for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He has been a columnist since 2000 and his blog, which provides links/videos, etc, was a finalist for best blog by Editor and Publisher. I have not always agreed with Clay’s opinions, but he has always struck me as an intelligent and open-minded man. I have commented on his blog and sent him emails, and his responses reflect my opinion of him.

Recently, these two have been engaged in a little spat. KSR has mocked and made fun of newspapers, the LHL in general and specific LHL writers (most specifically Jerry Tipton the UK Basketball beat writer). The LHL in return has eliminated KSR from their UK Blog Roll and prohibited their writers from appearing on the KSR radio show with Jones or on his podcasts. Chip Cosby, the UK Football beat writer, is the only one I can remember appearing on any KSR platform, but I could be mistaken. The main reason given for the ban is because of improper use of LHL photographs by the KSR blog.

This spat is probably of little concern for most, but a comment on John Clay’s blog made me think. In response to some actual journalistic work done by Jones on his blog, Clay referred to KSR as a “…UK cheerleader site that tries to pass itself off as a news site.” I am not here to dive into the feud between these two parties, but rather to comment on Clay’s choice of words. The word that struck me was “cheerleader.”

Now, I believe that Jones and his crew at KSR would have zero problems stating that their site is from the perspective of a UK fan. They have also been critical of UK in the past, such as with Billy Gillispie, but for the most part the site is pretty obviously a pro-UK site. If being pro-UK means being a “cheerleader,” what about the rest of the local media? Are they simply UK cheerleaders as well?

Let’s start with the local TV stations. WLEX-TV 18 is the home of the True Blue Fan, which brings you True Blue News, and offers t-shirts and buttons so you can also show that you are True Blue. Not to be outdone, WTVQ-36 offers Solid Blue coverage and Solid Blue news, and yes, Solid Blue gear. WKYT-27 is simply “The Official Home of UK Sports” and offers the most UK access, via blogs from UK Basketball/Football play by play man Tom Leach and the coaches’ shows, but no gear that I noticed. Is such overt behavior being a “UK Cheerleader”? If your coverage is True/Solid Blue or from the Official Home, how objective is it going to be? Does the financial interest these media outlets gain from UK success outweigh their reporting responsibilities?

The radio stations in Lexington also benefit greatly from supporting UK sports. Post game shows exists on three different AM stations (1300, 590, 630). WLAP 630 is “The Official Home of the UK Wildcats” and offers the official game coverage, pre/post game shows, and coaches’ call in shows. WVLK 590 makes it clear, with a giant “UK” at the top, that Larry Glover Live is a UK centered show, but beyond that seems clear of any other connection (perhaps due to their losing the official rights several years ago). WLXG 1300 has a pre and post game UK show and a partnership with WTVQ 36, so I think it is fair to put them in the Solid Blue family and criticism leveled against UK by main host Chris Cross is rare. As with the TV stations, UK sports drives the bus for a lot of what these radio stations do, although 630 is the only one who comes close to fitting the cheerleader label.

That leaves the Lexington Herald-Leader. Although I would never label any of their writers (Clay, Tipton, Cosby, Mark Story) as being cheerleaders, it is hard to avoid seeing the cheerleading role taken by the paper itself. For only $49.95, the LHL will sell you “Rebirth of the Blue” which offers the stories, headlines, and photos from Coach Cal’s first season. Also, if there is a big game for UK sports, be sure to look for a special glossy insert, such as “Cal’s a Cat” after Coach Cal was hired, or “39 years, 1,253 games, 54 points in the making” for Jodie Meeks’ big game against Tennessee. Also, there was the four part DeMarcus Cousins growth chart that was also reprinted for a second time in case you missed it. While the headlines, stories, and photos were obviously newsworthy the first time, repackaging them a second time seems to be leading the cheers for UK success. I don’t remember any of these special promotions following losses or Billy G.’s firings. And the Cousins poster, which I have in my classroom, is pretty cool; I also don’t see the journalistic value in it.

Being a UK Cheerleader is very, very profitable in the Bluegrass. The crazy UK fans the national media like to mock are the driving economic force for a lot of media enterprises. To end with where I began, if Kentucky Sports Radio is simply a UK Cheerleader, they have a lot of company, including the employer of their main critic.

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  • Calvin

    Nice work.

  • Anonymous

    Kevin, That is a great write up.
    The negative tone LHL takes toward
    its home town university and those that "cheer lead" is something i just dont understand? Again, Great report, JC3

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic article. Have always been a huge fan of KSR and John Clay, but am confused as to his recent comments and angst towards KSR. All of these organizations feed off each other… you don't want to be the lone outsider.

  • J

    It seems fair to me. The problems with Clay and Tipton go much deeper. They can't tolerate the evolution of news and reporting. Formerly, they could write what they wanted with little competition. Above all, no one questioned them. Now, bloggers such as Jones and his boys are infringing upon their domain. Adapt or die. Tipton and Clay have chosen the latter, albeit slowly. The irony is that every time LHL writers and editors knock KSR, it is giving Jones a larger platform. It is a no win situation for the LHL.

  • Anonymous

    Nice read! It seems as if LHL is afraid of an upstart organization (KSR) that they have spent an awful lot of time looking down their collective Elitist-Condescending nose. Yes, it does seem strange that they go after the home town University with such venomous zeal. Something smells concerning LHL small minded tactics utilized in attacking UK's Basketball program and KSR for attempting to give another side or view of any story. What would LHL and their "writers" have to gain with their policy?

  • Anonymous

    Well written! They should get you to pen some pieces for the LHL. KSR knows it is a UK fan site and has never intimated otherwise. John Clay, I am going to publish your address and home phone number on KSR.

  • Anonymous

    I personally dont read the LHL anymore for UK basketball and football info anymore or anything else for that matter. The guys at KSR have done, in my opinion, a great job of keeping the rest of us "cheerleaders" up to date with the latest and greatest info. Great report on your part. Sums it all up rather nicely I think

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this. I get all my UK news from UK directly (via Twitter) and through KSR. Period. John Clay can't rant all he wants. He's not EVEN UK a cheerleader to me. He's NO ONE. Same with the Herald-Leader. Because of their stance about KSR and their recent comments, I'm not reading Kentucky.com or The Herald-Leader either.
    The decomposed media dinosaurs will be used as fuel for the new era of sports. They'll either realize the monopoly is over and play nice, or they will be summarily forgotten.

  • lula

    Nice article.

    I will always read the LHL– almost out of habit– but I check KSR several times a day and generally love the content. It is obvious that KSR likes to give peole a hard time, but itnis mostly in good fun.

    Relax Mr Clay. The seemingly more stodgy criticism of KSR smells stale– it actually reinforces the notion the the LHL is old and in the way.

  • Jack Fitzpatrick

    Good article. I think that even though Clay may be a little hypocritical, the cheerleading issue is troubling.

    I haven't kept up with UK sports coverage much lately but I think media companies in general try to separate sports journalism from the rest of journalism. It's just more profitable to be a cheerleader than a reporter.

    When these news outlets sell products that basically advertise UK sports teams, they have an invested interest in the teams' perceived success. If the team has a bad reputation, revenues drop. So what happens if a player gets arrested? Can we trust these people to accurately report what's happening, or is sports journalism not important enough for ethics?

    This is a lot different than other forms of journalism. You wouldn't see many reputable news sources selling posters for politicians.

  • lisa

    i think John Blay will be kissing Matt Jones's behind for a job when the LHL inevitably goes belly up

  • Anonymous

    When I was growing up, I delivered LHL newspapers and was proud to be associated with our local news outlet as a fine part of Lexington culture. Now I view LHL with disdain.

    Even my 70 year old mother has been saying for years, "That Jerry Tipton is such a snot! Why does he hate UK? Why does the LHL let him keep writing such a negative perspective on anything about the Cats?" My family has always been big UK fans, and we have known for many years that Tipton was anti-Wildcats.

    You have written a great article because it points out that being a cheerleader for local sports is good for business. Being known for spinning everything to put UK in a bad light is biting the hand that feeds you.

    So now John Clay is claiming to be a "journalist rather than a cheerleader"? Oh my. The LHL has really gone astray. I'm not just judging their Wildcat affiliation and coverage – they are simply being stupid business people. They can take a self-righteous position of some condescending academic that knows better than the common people, but the fact is that they are failing. Failing to sell papers, failing to appeal to their audience, failing to be honest, failing to be a respected part of the community, and failing to understand proven business practices.

    Jerry Tipton is an abomination. John Clay apparently wants to join him. No matter, I canceled my subscription many years ago. There are about 10 sites I will check for UK news, but Kentucky.com is not one of them. Please join me in protesting all aspects of their business because they obviously somehow think they can treat us Wildcat fanatics with disrespect.

    LHL, you bring shame to the thousands of former paperboys in Lexington. You disgrace our whole city.

    And Tipton, please move to Gainesville.

  • Monster Mash

    Kevin, since you're obviously a UK cheerleader too, I feel safe to say that your kids have a great teacher on their hands :)

  • Anonymous

    Very good, factual post. I think it is pretty obvious that Clay is just using the popularity of KSR to increase hits for his blog. Although it eliminates any journalistic credibility he ever had, I think it has been successful. I never read his blog before (although I've read KSR for years), but now I do check out his posts from time to time.

  • Dave

    Great article! Clay has indeed been one of the more open-minded UK writers (and don't forget he is a UK grad) but he is becoming more like Tipton all the time.

    I think part of it is envy of KSR's popularity. He contends they use copyrighted content without giving due credit, but if that's the case it is rare. Their daily links usually redirect traffic to many other sites including the LHL.

  • Kevin Faris

    I think Jack touched on the most important aspect. Profits. That is the driving force for a lot of the reason the local media embraces UK sports.

  • Anonymous

    Refreshingly astute look at a tired rivalry. By making a meaningful argument ACE (and Mr. Faris) has gained a new reader. Take note LHL, that is how it is done using the journalism paradigm of today.

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