July 12, 2023

Micco recalls the Albom column controversy

Lanie De La Milera

As APSE celebrates its 50th anniversary, we asked former presidents to discuss the past and the future. In today’s spotlight is Jerry Micco, who was president from 2004-05.

What did you do as president of APSE?

“Many times what you actually ‘do’ as president of the organization is speak for it when national sports journalism issues arise.

“It was during my year when the Mitch Albom column controversy occurred. You should look this up for details, but the crux of it was Mitch had written a column about two former Michigan State players going to the Final Four to root the Spartans on during the game.

“The column ran in early Saturday editions and in early Sunday editions of the Sunday paper (The Detroit News put the edition out, but Mitch worked for the Free Press). But those two  former players never attended the game. Mitch's column read like they were there, even to the point of what they were wearing. Obviously, the top of that column, which contained that information, was written as if it happened because the players told Mitch they'd be there. But they changed their minds

“My take was it certainly was not good journalism, but there were calls to fire Albom, who was one of the top columnists in the country, a Red Smith Award winner and author of two best-selling books. National magazines quoted me ... I referred to the situation as a "bruise, not a break." 

“At the Orlando conference, several members wanted to add a session to discuss the issue of the column. As conference chair, I didn't OK it.  My reason was simple: No one was there from the Free Press to represent their side of things. Panels to discuss important issues are a huge part of APSE, but we always try to have all sides represented. I know many of my colleagues were angered, but to this day, I stand by that decision. Others can judge whether they thought it was right or wrong.

“So what did I do? I said I wanted to help grow the organization, especially in the area of our lower-circulation papers. I believe during my time, 37 new members were added. Not all by me. I had a lot of help from many members.”

What advice would you give to APSE and its presidents for the next 10 years? 50 years?

“Don't be afraid to use the team. The entire team. The president of APSE should lead, but he/she has a lot of smart, dedicated and talented people in the organization. If the president is doing the right thing, he's using the group.

“APSE has always been collaborative. Our contest is an idea fest. For four years, I did a session at conferences entitled "Best Ideas." That all came from papers submitted at the contest judging conference in February. The president should not only seek out guidance from his/her fellow officers but widen it out to sports editors of all circulation groups across the country.

“APSE is a family. I know that's cliche, but it's true. There are people I've met there that have been my friends for years. And I learned how to be better from each and every one of them

\“Glen Crevier, Bill Eichenberger, Jim Jenks and the late Celeste Williams were officers who I served with. All brilliant editors who not only worked hard to make APSE better but who gave me advice and guidance when I needed it most.

“There is mentorship here. I worked for Steve Doyle in Orlando. As a past president himself, Steve taught me how to plan and produce a great sports section. I don't know that I ever achieved it, but he was my first teacher. The late Roy Hewitt, who ran the Cleveland Plain Dealer sports department for many years, was a mentor that took time every time we were together to lend advice and a good word. I had the pleasure of coming up through APSE with Bill Dwyre from the Los Angeles Times.

“He was someone who didn't always say much at our meetings, but when he did, the entire room listened. I mean really listened. Bill was always available when I needed his advice and wise counsel. 

“There are many, many more men and women who I could mention, but I really didn't answer your question very well, so I'll sum it up. What I did as president of APSE was do my best to lead a group of about 500 leaders as best I could. In the end, you talk to some of the best sports journalists in the country that comprise APSE, and then you do what you think is right for the organization.

“And you should be doing that now, 10 years from now and 50 years from now. The strength of the organization has always been the dedicated people who are in it.’’

Should APSE meet twice or once a year?

“It should stay as twice a year. They are two very different conferences. Judging is a place where you learn so much and you get to meet people that often become friends for life. And it's all about journalism and ideas. It's a lot of work, but worth every second.

“The summer conference is about learning, too. But it's a bit less grinding and you get to listen to a lot of really smart people discuss everything from national sports journalism issues to how to have a better web presence for high school sports. You can learn a lot if you go.”

Should the contest judge writing only or continue as is— writing and sections?

“Yes, both should continue. Writing awards are individual awards that reward great journalism and highlight our best reporters and columnists. The section contest, to me, is the sports department "team" award. All that great journalism needs great presentation (digital and print) to get busy readers to take time to be informed.

“Takes a village for the latter. Sometimes, it takes an army, but we always seem to get it done.”  

“Kinda like APSE.”

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