The fishbowl that is the state of Nebraska can turn those that cover the Husker athletic programs into household names with heavy influence over not only the fans, but those within the athletic department as well.
The perpetual jonesing for the “only game in town” means the performance of media members is just as scrutinized as any call Tim Miles or Mike Riley would make. Well, not quite as intense as our Monday morning quarterbacking, but you get the point.
With this in mind and after reading The Big Lead‘s “The 25 Most Powerful People in Sports Media” article, I decided to conduct some research regarding who fans and media members alike thought were the most influential and “powerful” media people that cover Huskers athletics.
How do we define “power”? Power can be interpreted in many ways, but I’ll allow the staff at The Big Lead to provide the definition we’re applying to this article:
How does one define power in sports media? It isn’t the size of your Twitter following, the amount of money you make, the number of awards you’ve won or the ratings for your TV show. It isn’t a popularity contest nor a matter of journalistic heft. It’s not simply having opinions – it’s the ability to shape opinion while stimulating and driving discussion. (A deeper discussion can be found here.) We left network executives off this list, as other outlets regularly rank them.
In short, power in this exercise is more or less the ability to drive narratives across the majority of Husker fans. You have to be instantly recognizable and you have to have access to a large audience.
To gain quality insight regarding media influence I reached out to a large amount of fans, former/current players, bloggers, and media members and asked for who they thought were the top five most powerful media people in Huskers athletics. I also requested an explanation for each selection in the anonymous survey I conducted. After compiling all responses into one document, I analyzed the 20+ pages of feedback, a sizable amount of answers from members of the major media outlets in Lincoln and Omaha, to produce the top seven most powerful media people you will see below. I made a conscious effort to reach out to fans and media members from across the state that had interests in not only the football program, but all other Huskers athletics teams.
Although the majority of the 50+ media members I reached out to for this survey were more than willing to provide their feedback on this topic, those that declined a response did so to avoid “judging their peers” or because of their lack of familiarity with myself or No Coast Bias. The media members that did respond included members of print, radio and online publications.
Now that I’ve explained the guidelines of this exercise and the means by which I gathered feedback for this article, let’s take a look at the seven most powerful media people that cover Huskers athletics according to those that both cover the programs and follow them so closely:
1A & 1B: Dirk Chatelain (Writer, Omaha World-Herald) & Steve Sipple (Writer, Lincoln Journal Star)
It appears the demise of print media has been greatly exaggerated, at least when it comes to consuming news about the Huskers.
The bellwethers of the two newspapers with the most access to North Stadium came out on top in this survey. Although Chatelain and Sipple received the same number of votes, they couldn’t be perceived more differently.
Chatelain, who a good portion of Husker football fans believe played a major part in the dismissal of former head coach Bo Pelini, is seen to have rose to prominence due to his role as a detractor to the latter years of the Pelini regime. When you’re such a pivotal figure in perhaps the biggest story in Huskers athletics over the past decade, you’re going to have some major influence over the masses.
Sipple, on the other hand, is often seen as the counterbalance to Chatelain. Sipple is perceived to be the one prominent local media member still actively trying to defend Pelini as much as he did when the former head man was still employed at Nebraska. No matter what stance you take on the Boliever vs. Boleaver issue, the “casual” fan’s affinity for his work and longevity in the market make him a major player in Husker media coverage.
Regarding Chatelain –
No one rouses more vociferous responses than that of Dirk Chatelain. He’s been in the middle of seemingly every controversy, often by his doing, over the past several years. He’s very good at his job and is unafraid to ask the tough questions in the biggest, most tense moments.
“He called Bo to the table for many of his ills, and while it came off petulant, it was also necessary for having a discussion on where things are/were going. He’s also extremely responsible for bringing the OWH into an internet-level consumption world.”
“For those that think Dirk tried to get Bo Pelini fired by himself, or just told the story about what Nebraska had as a HC, they’re both wrong and right. Dirk was the one man in this state who had the guts (balls?) to ask Bo tough questions, questions that no paper locally in Lincoln had the cajones to do, student ran or not. Detractors want to tell you he has an agenda, but if he’s lied about anything he’s put out there, please point it out. Granted, he’s more of a storyteller now than a reporter, but he constantly wins ‘Nebraska Sportswriter of the Year’ for a reason.”
“Dirk is the reason a lot of fans hate the Omaha World-Herald, and that is power to me. People are obviously reading his stuff and having a natural reaction. Most of what he writes is dead on, so I think he hits people with the truth that sometimes they have been hiding from.”
Regarding Sipple –
Media “power” can be measured in a lot of ways. Even though Sipple has a horde of detractors, he’ll be on multiple radio shows in a single day and has 36,000-plus Twitter followers. Even if a fair number of them are along just to throw a rotten tomato, they’re reading and listening.
“Insight for days, which he may have to start relying more on because of turnover in the athletic department causing him to lose some connections. Always an enlightening discussion to be had with Sip.”
“I take Sipple first because when I talk to the most casual of fans, his are the articles that are cited. His work are the articles I see passed around on Facebook. Plus, he does tons of radio, so he reaches lots of people. And he’s liked by the casual fan, so his word is taken without much discernment.”
The Rest of the Major Players
3: Tom Shatel (Writer, Omaha World-Herald)
Barely missing out on the top tier of influence, Shatel received the least criticism from those surveyed. In fact, not a single negative word was said about the veteran writer. Due to the reach of the World-Herald, his standing among writers across the state cannot be overstated.
He’s the elder voice at the most powerful news/media outlet in the state. His good ol’ boy voice and his awareness of history makes him an incredibly important figure to win over.
4: Sam McKewon (Writer, Omaha World-Herald)
If it wasn’t evident to you that the World-Herald is the most important media outlet in Nebraska before reading this article, now it’s perfectly clear.
McKewon played a major role in the process of getting Husker fans to digest news online as opposed to print and is viewed as one of the most intellectual writers by his peers.
McKewon is the guy I prefer for in-depth X’s & O’s analysis. His knowledge is great, perhaps unmatched in this discussion. But his appeal isn’t as mass as those above him. Too smart for his own good?
5: Damon Benning (Radio Personality, 1620 The Zone)
Due to his show’s reach across the state I was a little surprised by Benning’s ranking, but many of his peers and fans felt that if he hangs on to his radio gig for a few more years that his influence may rival those above him on this list.
The fact he is a former player with a major platform holds a ton of weight with most Husker fans.
He’s connected. He’s got a big audience at 1620. I think most people like him. Personal opinions and preferences aside, he probably has the most power on the radio dial.
6: Sean Callahan (Publisher, HuskerOnline.com of Rivals)
When you think of Husker recruiting you think of Sean Callahan. Many feel that if his service was free he may have the most influence over Husker fans.
A prominent figure not only online but on TV and radio, Callahan’s ranking on this list should come as no surprise.
While saddled with perhaps not the most popular of last names in the state of Nebraska, Sean does it all. He writes, does radio broadcasts and is featured on television. With 44,500-plus followers on Twitter, it’s obvious that people know his name. Anyone who’s been on a Nebraska message board very long will read it at least once. He also does car ads, so there’s that.
7: Lee Barfknecht (Writer, Omaha World-Herald)
Barfknecht appears on this list mostly due to respect from his peers more so than his appeal to the fans and players surveyed.
As the current President of the Football Writers Association of America, the World-Herald writer has cachet due to more than his written work.
Barfy would be a HUGE influence if he focused more on Husker football. You have to give mad respect to a man that let’s loose in his writing.
There you have it. Those seven media members were deemed most powerful, but it’s worth mentioning some of the other media people that were brought up most often.
Keith Mann (Media Relations Director, NU Athletic Department)
Mann is not a member of the media, but the fact he plays a major role in who is granted access to the athletic department did not go unmentioned. He has the power to control the message coming out of North Stadium as much as any media member.
Mann hands down has the most “power.” Just ask several prominent media members and former players who were threatened last year with losing access if their public tone of the program wasn’t changed.
Mike’l Severe (Radio Personality, World-Herald Live)
If this list was about the most influential media people regarding sports beyond Huskers athletics, Severe may have cracked the top of the rankings.
I think he’s the most talented sports radio guy in the area and his broad knowledge base works well for his show. If his show were over the air in Omaha and/or Lincoln, he might have cracked the list. His pre/post game shows are the most insightful and entertaining. He knows so damn much about football and that really helps him break stuff down during the season.
Kevin Kugler (Broadcaster, BTN & Others)
If we would have conducted this survey years ago, Kugler would have been a shoe-in for the top five. However, the former eight-time Nebraska Sportscaster of the Year award-winner took his talents beyond Husker Nation in 2012 to great success nationally. He is now the lead voice for Westwood One’s college basketball coverage and is a play-by-play announcer for the Big Ten Network. Still, he received a sizable amount of votes during this survey.
Kent Pavelka (Announcer, Husker Sports Network)
Being the “Voice of the Huskers” meant a lot to some surveyed. He’s synonymous with Huskers broadcasts, but in terms of influence he didn’t quite make the cut.
Aaron Babcock (Owner/Founder, Hail Varsity Magazine)
Probably the biggest surprise to be out of the top seven, Babcock’s fingerprints are all over Huskers sports coverage.
Hail Varsity is the most widely read magazine in the state and he has a radio show that is on six days a week and is state wide. It is amazing how much of the Huskers news he personally controls statewide.
Others receiving votes: Jon Nyatawa (Omaha World-Herald), Matt Davison (Husker Sports Network), Faux Pelini (Social Media), Greg Sharpe (Husker Sports Network), Nate Clouse (HuskerOnline.com), Brian Christopherson (Lincoln Journal Star), Josh Harvey (BigRedReport.com), the late Adrian Fiala (Multiple), Mitch Sherman (ESPN), Brian Rosenthal (Lincoln Journal Star), Robin Washut (HuskerOnline.com)
In addition to launching nocoastbias.com, Derek co-hosted the cornnation.com flagship show titled the “Vine St. Hooligans Podcast” as well as contributed written work to the same SB Nation site. In regards to media coverage, Derek produced the recurring “Media Microscope” feature on Corn Nation.