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THE NANCY CLARK INTERVIEW

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Preface: about a week ago, Nancy Clark of the Des Moines Register wrote a column slagging college football bloggers in general. A mini-brouhaha ensued, and we thought the sensible thing to do was call her up and ask her a bit about herself, football, and her experience and knowledge of college football blogs. According to her, we were the only ones who made the effort to call her. (Kevin from Fanblogs left a message, but he may not have been as pesky and stalkerish as we were.) After a bit of phone tag, we got a hold of her Thursday night and had a 45-minute conversation with Ms. Clark. No Barbara Walters tears or O'Reilly-esque shutupafests ensued. The transcript of the interview follows.)

Orson Swindle: How long have you been a football fan?

Nancy Clark: When I’m on the job, I really don’t consider myself a fan.

OS: In your free time are you a fan?

NC: I’ve watched football since my dad took me to games as a kid. I don’t have one particular team, but I do enjoy watching football.

OS: Which coaches and/or systems do you have coaches you maintain a great amount of respect for?

NC: Oh, wow…you know, that’s a tough question because there’s been so many. I’ve been in this business for 31 years, so there’s been a lot. One coach is Ken Hatfield, who coaches at Rice now, who I covered when he used to coach at Arkansas. He cared a great deal about treating the players right and about academics, so that’s one person I would choose.

OS: Where’d you go to school?

NC: I went to the University of Missouri and got a degree in Journalism, and I went to grad school at the University of Arkansas/Little Rock.

OS: How long have you worked for the Des Moines Register?

NC: 14 years.

OS: How long have you been covering football?

NC: I started out covering high school football in 1974. Most of the time since has been spent in sports, though I spent some time covering news and features when I was raising a family. Probably about 20-25 years covering football.

OS: Tell me about the Iowa Hawkeyes this year.

NC: I was just at their media day on Monday. They’re feeling really good about their running back situation after having five running backs going down last year. Not only do they have five guys coming back, they’ve added a few new guys. Coach Ferentz said he’s not concerned about the position now that they have nine guys at running back. Plus they’ve got Drew Tate back, which is a good thing.

OS: Iowa State. Anything shaking there?

NC: Just the overall depth, that they’re gonna have with experienced players. They’ve only got a few new starters, and they’re excited about all the guys having a season together and jelling as a team. Wide receiver Todd Black is back after a knee injury, and he’s someone they’re real excited about. That’s one good thing they’re pointing to.

OS: Tell me something good about Northern Iowa.

NC: I was there yesterday! They have two tremendous tailbacks. They have one guy Tarrance Freeney, who’s back after a thousand yard season, plus they also have a fella named David Horn from Nebraska. They’re always real excited about D-1 tranfers at D-1AA schools. They’re real excited about having the two of them in the same backfield.

OS: Do you read any football blogs daily?

NC: No.

OS: Do you ever read them?

NC: Oh yeah. Occasionally I look at the ones that pertain to Iowa and Iowa state.

OS: Which ones?

NC: No, I can’t name them off the top of my head.

OS: Your column generated a wide array of responses. (We then read her an excerpt from Westerdawg’s response to her column.) What threat do his examples pose to a paper like the Register?

NC: Well, I’m not aware that they do pose a threat. I guess I have to explain. Everything in Iowa is about Iowa or Iowa State. There are no professional sports in Iowa, and everyone is for Iowa or Iowa State. I guess some people read the blogs, but I know a heck of a lot of people who read the newspaper.

OS: How about this one? (We then read Boi From Troy’s response.) Is this true?

NC: Well I have a thought on the issue of access. I think access is one niche where bloggers can find a niche. It may be that the MSM has an advantage in terms of getting passes and access. But once we’re in, we have to play by their rules. Once in a while, we write something offensive and we get in trouble for it. Bloggers may have an advantage there.

For example, journalists basically have one hour a week when they can access players. But nothing stops a blogger from walking up to a player and asking them questions. There’s no rule against that. I think it’s a great niche to find someone on campus who does have access at other times.

OS: Was there a particular incident or pattern of incidents that formed your opinion of blogs?

NC: There have been four that really stand out, not only in my mind but in the mind of readers across Iowa. The 2 most serious were the Jennie Lillis and the Steve Alford episodes. Jennie Lillis was an all-Big 10 forward on the Iowa women’s basketball team. A couple of years ago when Iowa men’s player Pierre Pierce was accused of sexual assault, it became known that a member of the basketball team was the victim. Bloggers and message boards thought they put two and two together and named her as the victim. She endured terrible harassment from basketball fans for what happened to Pierre Pierce. Everyone across Iowa accepted it as fact, and how do you fight that? There was eventually a Register article where here family came out and cleared it up, but it ruined her senior season. The point to is that people still didn’t believe it after the mainstream media wrote about it. The damage was done.

OS: Do you fault blogs/message boards for the rumor or the degree of rumormongering?

NC: I think both, since it was extreme in both cases.

OS: What blogs in particular were to blame?

NC: I don’t know that I could name them. There seemed to be several going back them. It was on all of them, though.

OS: In the pre-internet era, would it have been as severe?

NC: Not to the extent to the degree that it was. Remember that I come from the pre-internet era, and back before the internet, people dismissed things like this as rumor. Now people take it as fact.

The Steve Alford episode, well, a year ago it got spread on the internet in the same way as the Jennie Lillis thing. It’s interesting that it was so detailed… Message boards said that Alford had been caught with another woman by his wife in a hot tub and a ruckus ensued and law enforcement was called and all of Iowa accepted it as fact. All anyone had to do was call Steve Alford, call his wife, or check his whereabouts that day and they would have known that it wasn’t true. And his family had to just sit there and endure it.

OS: Do you differentiate between bloggers and message boards?

NC: I differentiate between good, responsible bloggers and those who spew junk. Some of my friends are bloggers.

OS: You care to name them?

NC: No, I’d rather not.

OS: You stated that some bloggers are “losers”. Do you think most bloggers are “losers?”

NC: I couldn’t give you a percentage. I certainly think some of them are.

OS: Any in particular?

NC: No.

OS: How about us?

NC: Well I told you, you were the only one who bothered to call me. I think you must have a responsible bone in your body.

OS: Do you think there’s anything blogs do that the MSM doesn’t do as well?

NC: Well, yeah, I think that’s something that bloggers can do that we don’t do as well. I think there’s ample opportunity to get greater access outside of our one hour with the coaches and players a week.

OS: What about readers of blogs?

NC: Well, I don’t know exactly. I don’t see anything wrong with people getting on the web 24 hours a day if that’s what they want to do. They need to be questioning: Who is this blogger? Who are his sources? If you want your best bet by reading papers, watching television news, wherever else you get your news? Can blogs do the same? Some do.

OS: Are you aware that Fanblogs, mentioned prominently in the Wall Street Journal, has invited you to guest blog with them?

NC: Who? Just kidding! I have had I don’t know how many emails wanting some sort of comment on that kind of thing.

OS: If so, do you intend to take them up on the offer?

NC: Well, I don’t know but I’ll look into it.

OS: What steps do you believe bloggers should take to redeem themselves in your eyes?

NC: When you’re reporting something that’s fact, say how you got the information. How did you verify it? Where did it come from? That’s all.

OS: Now for the James Lipton portion of the program. In a fight to the finish, who wins, you or a bobcat?

NC: Well, a bobcat. I don’t know how to fight a bobcat, and I’ve seen a bobcat—they’re mean.

OS: You’re singing Karaoke. What song do you pick?

NC: I don’t sing. Ever. I won’t pick a song.

OS: What is your favorite television channel that does not predominantly show sports?

NC: The Travel channel, including the poker shows. That doesn’t count as a sport, does it?

OS: What actor would you cast to play you in a movie of your life? Verisimilitude and similarity are not issues.

NC: I have no idea why anyone would want to make a movie of my life. Honestly, I’ve never thought about that in my life. I don’t have a quick, witty answer for you.