By Justin Maskus
Special to The Globe
The Missouri Southern State University athletic department has always enjoyed a good relationship with the media of Joplin.
Moreover, the department enjoys something that not many other athletic departments at the Division II or even the Division I level enjoy.
The Lions have the outstanding situation of having a daily newspaper as well as all four major network TV stations housed locally, and Southern rarely has to fight to get coverage in any of the mediums.
It is rare to see any athletic event at the school not covered by someone from The Globe or any one of the television stations. It is something that coaches profess to incoming recruits that they’ll be covered well; in fact, they may get more coverage than if they went to a Division I school. Most of the student-athletes are even surprised when some of the media come out to cover practices.
The athletic department at Southern has seen four, full-time sports information/media relation directors since Dennis Slusher was hired in 1984 as the first full-time person in the office.
“In my 12 years as sports information director at Southern, I thought we had an excellent relationship with the local media and I felt extremely fortunate to work with some outstanding sports writers and broadcasters,” Slusher said. “As the school's first full-time SID, my goal was to build on the relationships that were created by my predecessors and deliver an honest and consistent message to all of the media outlets in the Joplin area that covered Southern athletics.”
The process of getting the word out to the media and then how they cover Southern has changed greatly throughout the years. Now something as simple as writing a release and putting it on the website is made even simpler by the website allowing the media relations department to maintain a list of email addresses in a data base for post-game releases. The department then just has to click one button and the release is sent to the entire list.
Slusher said technology has tremendously improved in the profession and makes it more reliable to get information out to media outlets.
“Although it has not been that many years ago, it's difficult to believe that we accomplished our job without the internet and social media,” Slusher said. “We had to use ‘old-fashioned’ resources such as the U.S. Postal Service to send out weekly press releases and the fax machine to distribute information and event results, but many times we just picked up the telephone and called each outlet with news or results.”
Since the mainstreaming of the internet in the mid 1990s, the job of a sports information director has broadened as schools ventured into the world of web sites. Statistics, game recaps, photos and anything that needed to be distributed could be seen in an instant on a computer at home.
Nowadays athletics websites are much more than a portal to get out results and show player bios to the masses. Many of them employ videos, live stats, live audio and video as well as serving as an avenue to market the athletic department and the university.
Although technology has made disseminating information easier, the emergence of new technology now means a media relations person may have more on his plate than before. It is with all that said that a healthy relationship with the media can make everyone’s job much, much easier.
Joe Moore, now an assistant professor in communication at Central Missouri, was the sports information director at Southern from 1996-2002, succeeding Slusher (1984-1996).
“I always had a wonderful relationship with the Joplin media,” Moore recalled. “Jim Henry is still a treasured friend. I played basketball with Mike Olmstead and Bruce Vonder Haar. I always trusted that our local media were going to treat us fairly. I couldn't always give them all the information they wanted or in a time that they liked, but I believe they knew I was going to be as open and honest as I could and that I was going to do everything I could to help them meet deadline.”
J.R. Belew was the school’s SID from 2002-2006, and Justin Maskus has been at Missouri Southern since the summer of 2006.
Each person who has served in that office has their share of stories. Slusher talked about sharing cars with Don Gross and Wendell Redden on road trips, but moreover, he relied on them for their knowledge of Southern athletics.
Moore spoke of a time when he and Henry and Harry Greninger were traveling to a postseason game at Truman and they hit some ice on the road.
“We hit a patch of black ice, did a 360, slid into the median, hit a bump and went airborne,” Moore said. “We landed in the southbound lane, did another 360 and skidded off the road. Jim’s only response was ‘Where are my glasses?’ We got a ride back to Joplin from Steve Oldfield of the Adrian Journal, and we laugh about it to this day.”
Justin Maskus is sports information director at Missouri Southern.