Monday, March 25, 2013

Heartwarming Article Highlights What Dirk Chatelain Does Best

I've long been a critic of some of Dirk Chatelain's "analysis" work in the World-Herald, but his Sunday profile of Howell's Matthew Gooch shows that he's a talented writer. Something that I've long been guilty of forgetting at times. It's easy to do when Chatelain goes off the deep end with his "bench Taylor Martinez even though Nebraska doesn't really have a backup" or "Creighton vs. Wichita State is the biggest basketball game ever at the CenturyLink Center" opinions.  Or "Nebraska football's biggest problem in 2012 was turnovers on offense."

But I was reminded of what Chatelain does well a few weeks ago when he reminisced about the 1989 Nebraska state high school basketball tournament, when Wahoo beat Lincoln Pius X and Millard South beat Columbus in back-to-back classic games.  I thought back and remembered Chatelain's great 2011 feature on Ameer Abdullah and Ron Brown, and how they coexist despite their differences in religion.

Some people like Chatelain's statistical analysis, but I still struggle to understand why. Take Chatelain's look at Nebraska's recruiting of football players within a 500 mile radius. A lot of people loved the article, but I didn't understand the point of it.  I asked several times for those people who loved Chatelain's analysis what we should have learned from it, and nobody could actually tell me what that would be.  Nobody wanted to actually come out and say it, but it seemed to come down to Chatelain's ongoing vendetta with Bo Pelini.  Pelini's not getting the talent regionally, so this must be yet another thing that Pelini is screwing up.

Except the data actually shows that the issue is more about the relative lack of talent within 500 miles of Lincoln. But you didn't read THAT in the World-Herald.

It really makes me wonder why the World-Herald keeps pushing Chatelain to write statistical analysis pieces. Maybe it's because that's what Chatelain likes to do.  Maybe because it's because it gets people talking and draws eyeballs to the World-Herald and it's web site.

It's not because he's very good at the actual analysis.

There's nothing wrong with saying Chatelain is a fine feature writer. There's room in the World-Herald, and in journalism in general, for a good story to be told.  And this week, he showed that he can find a great story to tell.  He should be doing that more. 

Most news organizations, especially the ones that cover sports, assign people to roles that match their strengths. Some people do a great job with X's and O's.  Some people do a great job with analysis.  Some people are strong with statistics.  And some people are great interviewers.  ESPN doesn't assign Jeremy Schaap to game coverage, because that's not his strength.  ESPN doesn't ask Shelley Smith to analyze the zone read or to discuss the difference between the Big Ten and the SEC.

So why doesn't someone at the World-Herald ask Chatelain to focus on what he does best, and to stop doing things he's just not very good at?  Are they that addicted to the page-hits that Chatelain's misanalysis creates that they are willing to put an inferior product out?  It was pretty eye-opening in October when Sam McKewon had no recollection of Chatelain's comments from the UCLA game a few weeks earlier.

That speaks volumes to me about what the rest of the World-Herald's staff REALLY thinks about Dirk Chatelain's analytical work.  If they don't think it's worth reading, it's probably not fit for publication.

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