Dealing with the big boys
Most community newspapers don’t afford its writers the opportunities that this paper does. It seems that this “little” town has been in the national headlines more than ever before. With a pending Presidential visit, water craft dealings, creating new counties, a heavyweight title fight, pro beach volleyball and locals in professional sports, the smiles and sweat from this desk and the chairs around it are at a news-induced peak.
But often these national-caliber stories deliver a glimpse of how the big boys in the media business work. The light was turned on for me during the recent Isuzu Celebrity Golf Championship.
A couple of weeks before the star-studded event, we went fishing at Sports Illustrated to see if it was interested in using any of our coverage. You know, local guys in tune with what’s up.
And the magazine bit.
I was given the chance to write for the “My Shot” portion of Golf Plus. Of course, I immediately said yes, but then realized I didn’t know what the heck Golf Plus was. Not wanting to sound completely clueless, I accepted the task and agreed to get back with SI in a few days for the details.
Besides, the chance to introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Mike Traum from the Tahoe Tribune and Sports Illustrated,” had a pretty nice ring to it.
Knowing the basic idea of the story – tell a golf tale of one of the celebs at the tournament – I was determined to better understand the style before again talking to SI.
So, first things first – find a copy of Golf Plus. I subscribe to SI but paid little attention to last year’s flyer introducing the golf supplement, let alone thinking about ordering it.
Figuring the local golf courses could provide me with a copy, I called my contacts, but to no avail. Seems as if those guys paid little attention as well.
So it was off to the Internet. Bingo. Golf Plus.
Turns out that “My Shot” is a short story written first person, that is, a personal account described from the writer’s point of view. The example I saw was about 400 words and, frankly, not that well done.
I figured no problem. Well, except for the fact that I’d have to write it as though I were the celebrity. But, no problem.
Talking to SI just before the tournament, the magazine confirmed the style and a fee for services was determined. All I had to do was pick a celebrity and convince them to let me write “their” tale. The deal was sweetened when SI offered to pay my subject one-third more than I was getting and would put their name on the story. I wouldn’t get any credit for writing it. It seemed a bit strange, but cash is cash, and I’d know who wrote it.
So it was off to Edgewood, taking some free time to decide which celebrity to select.
I practiced my introduction, while fighting the holiday traffic, all the way to the course. I figured it would be easier to convince some of the stars to talk if I spit out the name of a major publication.
But the lesson quickly learned was if those guys want to talk, they’re all lips. If not, you can still try. But it would take a major genetic breakthrough to get the back of somebody’s head to start spouting quotes.
What was I going to do? An extra paycheck and a spot in SI were hanging in the balance.
Then it came to me. 1996 winner Billy Joe Tolliver was easily the coolest guy to talk with last year. And with his all-world caddie, Jeff “Cheeseburger” Fortunato,” it was a “My Shot” screaming to be told.
It wasn’t hard to spot Cheese. He was banging balls on the driving range while Billy Joe was playing a practice round. And even if you can’t find him, somebody always knows Cheese’s whereabouts. Billy Joe likes to say he’s bigger than U.S. Steel and Elvis combined. It’s an accurate description.
Cheese remembered me right away, the guy who wrote that great story last year, he said. I told him the plan and he was all lips. We soon found Billy Joe and our shot for “My Shot” was rolling.
Billy Joe and Cheese were the ultimate in cooperation. Defending his title and thinking about trying to make the Atlanta Falcons as a backup quarterback could’ve easily put my interests in the cheap seats for Billy Joe. But he was cool. And Cheese is such a media hound, the big guy’s chance to get into SI spread around the hospitality tent even before we sat down to do the interview.
The plan was simple. Turn on the tape recorder, ask Billy Joe about his friendship with Cheese, and hold on for the ride.
And what a ride it was. These two guys are complete opposites – Billy Joe from a small town in Texas and Cheese the son of a former New Jersey state senator. But somehow they’ve formed a bond through golf that has developed into a full-on friendship.
They took me in, told me things, fit or else, for print. The fact I was with SI didn’t seem to matter. These guys were just normal guys, with a ton of tales to tell, who didn’t mind having a bit of fun. In the end, I can say that I’ve acquired two new friends.
All this mushy stuff leads back to the point – dealing with the big boys.
After putting a real good story together from Billy Joe’s point of view and double-checking it with him and Cheese, it was deadline time for SI. They wanted it in New York that Sunday, the final day of the tournament, by 6:30 a.m. our time. I nailed it.
But I get a call at home about 10 a.m. from New York. They wanted some more details – a standard request from editors. So I rushed back out to the course to find my guys and quickly made a return call to SI.
With updates in hand, I was ready to put the finishing touches on my first national work for the big boys. But all of a sudden, SI didn’t need any of the extra notes. Everything was fine, they said, we’ll go with what we’ve got.
Again, a bit strange, and I wondered what was up. But cash is cash. I was happy. Tribune Night News Editor Tim Parsons snapped a photo to go with the story. He also was happy.
We were running in the next edition. The waiting game began.
Later that week, Cheese called me from New Jersey. He had the issue. The story was in there.
Well, kind of. As he read it to me, I didn’t recognize a word. SI had completely changed the tale, cutting key parts and skewing the facts to fit some ideal that they thought would work.
The story was nothing like the one we three submitted. Nothing like it.
Cheese was mad. Billy Joe was bothered. I felt betrayed.
But after a few days, the reality of it all became clear – it’s their magazine – and I was no longer bummed out.
I’ve got a clip that I can forever herald as my first SI story, with many more hopefully to follow. I’ll probably even frame the stub when the check arrives. When you really think about it, it’s pretty cool.
So what if my story was hacked like a chunked nine-iron. So what if my name isn’t on something I don’t recognize anyway. That’s the way the game is played.
Besides, cash is cash.
Dealing with the big boys.
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