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Why is the Clarion Ledger having so many missteps in 2016 covering Mississippi State?

The Clarion Ledger can’t seem to do anything right when it comes to covering the Bulldogs, but it has more to do with incompetence than it does bias.

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Sunday morning, the Clarion Ledger found another way to tick off Mississippi State fans. After an impressive debut by Dak Prescott in the Dallas Cowboys first preseason game, there was no mention of it by the Clarion Ledger.

This comes on the heels of the Clarion Ledger making a disaster of the headline when the Mississippi State baseball team clinched the SEC by thanking the Rebels. One would think the newspaper would be a little more concerned with not making a critical error when it comes to coverage of things that Bulldog fans are interested in from that point forward.

So why is this happening? The first thing any State fan will typically yell is “BIAS! THEY LOVE THE CHEATERS!!” While I understand people would naturally assume that, there is a better explanation.

I’ve never run a newspaper, nor a sports department at a newspaper, but I know someone who does. Brandon Walker, the former Bulldog beat writer for the Columbus Dispatch and current host of Keep it 100 on Bulldogs Sports Radio, is the editor of a newspaper in Cartersville, GA. I had him on my radio show/podcast the Bully Barkline for the final episode of the 2015-16 academic year right after the headline debacle happened. You can listen to it here.

One of the things Walker does a really good job of explaining is the role Hugh Kellenberger plays as the sports editor at the Clarion Ledger. If you’ll remember, Kellenberger was originally hired to be the Ole Miss beat writer after Kyle Veazey left to take a position at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, TN.

During the summer leading up to the 2014 season, Kellenberger wrote this gem on Dak Prescott’s Heisman chances while serving as the beat writer assigned to cover Ole Miss. Up until this point, most Mississippi State fans had believed Kellenberger to be more of a nuisance and just annoying because many thought he was too much of a homer for the Rebels. After publishing this piece, he was viewed as a Mississippi State detractor.

Walker told me he didn’t believe, for lack of a better way to summarize it, that Kellenberger was being biased toward Ole Miss intentionally. At one time when the Clarion Ledger had more money and more resources, they would periodically rotate beat writers to keep one from becoming to attached to the schools and the program they were covering.

Well times have changed. The newspaper industry is spiraling down the toilet because it is in an archaic format. No one is waiting until tomorrow to read about the events of today in a paper. So newpapers like the Clarion Ledger simply don’t have the resources to relocate their beat writers like they used to. If they did, Mike Bonner, the reporter assigned to the Mississippi State beat since 2013, would have likely been sent to Oxford when Riley Blevins “resigned”. But he’s still in Starkville, and will likely stay there as long as he is working for the Clarion Ledger.

This is an important point when trying to figure out what is causing these missteps. Hugh Kellenberger has only spent an extensive amount of time around one side of the Egg Bowl Rivalry. When Kellenberger replaced Rick Cleveland as the lead sports columnist, he was bringing all of his thoughts from his interaction with Ole Miss players, coaches, and fans.

Now he is in charge of the entire sports department. He knows what is important to Ole Miss readers because he has experience doing that. He likely became somewhat fond of the players and coaches because he interacted with them on a regular basis. The most he likely ever interacted with Mississippi State readers was after the piece he wrote on Dak Prescott’s Heisman chances, and those probably aren’t really fond memories for him.

Further complicating the matter which Brandon Walker talked about is Kellenberger simply is not equipped to be the sports editor of the largest paper in the state of Mississippi. Previously, the Clarion Ledger would have found an editor or sports editor from a smaller paper and hired them. They would have had the experience to know how to properly run and make sure mistakes like these never happened. Instead, the Clarion Ledger had to opt to hire someone with no experience as a sports editor so they could pay that person less money.

The Clarion Ledger is not out to tick off Mississippi State fans. They want to make money and Mississippi State fans make up a significant portion of their target audience. It doesn’t make good business sense to go out of their way to make a large portion of their readers mad, especially in an industry that is struggling to survive.

But it also doesn’t excuse some of the things the paper has done in regards to their coverage of the Bulldogs. I’m not calling for them to report on just positive stories surrounding the athletic programs at the school, but they need to educate Kellenberger on the things that will keep what is left of their Mississippi State readers around. The Clarion Ledger can’t afford to keep running large swaths of potential readers away.