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Sooner scoop

Fueled by more media choices, covering OU football has become a cottage industry.

Andrew Gilman October 10th, 2012

Used to be, getting Sooner football news was a matter of waiting to pick up the newspaper or turn on the local TV news.

Jake Trotter
Credit: Mark Hancock

Now, you can just hit “Refresh” on your browser.

News these days includes far more than the paper, TV, radio and magazines. There are dedicated Internet sites, chat rooms and blogs making University of Oklahoma Sooners coverage a near-saturated market. And with the popularity of Oklahoma football, the industry of covering it has grown from quirky to cottage.

“One thing I’ve found, there’s no limit to the information people want on OU football,” said Jake Trotter, who covered the Sooners for four years as a beat writer for The Oklahoman before being hired by ESPN to lead a four-person staff at its Sooner Nation website. “There’s all sorts of stories you can write.”

Want cursory stats? Easy enough to find. Want scheduling information? That’s out there, too. Want an extended breakdown of the potential recruiting class of 2015? You may need therapy, but enjoy.

However, with the massive amount of possibilities, sources and news available, the story behind the story is knowing who’s inputting the information, spouting it over the air or committing to a prolific blog.

“Covering it burns people out,” said Al Eschbach, longtime radio personality of WWLS The Sports Animal 98.1 FM. “Some people can’t take it. I’ve never thought of it as a grind, but some people, for one reason or another, they ask [to be taken] off it.”

That hasn’t been an issue for Eschbach, who has been covering football in Norman since 1973 and has been to every OU-Universiy of Texas game during that time.

“I can get information others don’t,” he said. “I work the beat pretty hard. Lots of phone calls and information from assistant coaches. I get in where they can trust me.”

Breaking through

“Getting in” with players or coaches is the hardest part. Practices are closed not just to the public, but to all media. Security officers guard Sooner practice fields. Access to coaches is limited and monitored, and can be altered with no explanation.

One-on-one time with players or coaches is a rarity and near-impossibility for local reporters, as all information is disseminated by email or in a group situation. Unique information is at a premium.

“There’s a lot of people covering OU,” said James Hale, who’s been around the program since 1975. He currently hosts a show on KREF 1400 AM radio as well as running OUinsider.com, a website that charges fans for OU information on recruiting, news and access to post and participate in Sooner chat.

“You have to develop your own niche and hold on to it,” Hale said. “I have contacts others don’t. I’ve been around a little bit and understand it.”

Hale works the beat consistently.

credit: Stacey West

He doesn’t call himself a fan, but he says he’s a “glass-half-full kind of guy” when it comes to covering the Sooners. His reasoning: Well, if your job was to go to a bowl game, wouldn’t you rather go to Pasadena, Calif., than Shreveport, La.

“You’re just trying to do your job the right way and not worry about what the fans or coaches think,” said Carey Murdock, who runs SoonerScoop.com, a pay website featuring recruiting information, message boards and more. “If you have to write something the fans don’t like, that’s your job, or [if you have to] write something the coaches don’t like, you do it.”

Murdock said SoonerScoop, started in 1996, was the first Oklahoma football site to be more than just a fan message board. He said he has thousands of subscribers.

“The Internet has found a niche as the hard-core information source,” he said. “TV is limited. Radio is entertainment. There’s only so much you can write in a newspaper or magazine. People went to the Internet to get a more robust and more comprehensive view. Our challenge is how to make it easily digestible.”

Sites like Murdock’s and Hale’s were the bellwethers that led to ESPN increasing its coverage. And while there is free material on all of them, a lot of the content is behind a pay wall, creating a sense there’s insider information to be had.

“When you’re around the team every day for six years, you develop an area of expertise,” Trotter said. “That’s why people value what you have to say.”

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