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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