Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Who's On The Beat?

Interesting story in today's WSJ on what the decline of newspapers means for sportswriters (particularly baseball writers) and the teams they cover. It includes this classic picture of the Yankee Stadium press box in 1962.

The problem for those who make their living scribbling about sports is obvious:

For some papers looking to eliminate redundancies and cut costs, baseball, with its 162-game regular season, is low-hanging fruit. Tom Jolly, sports editor of the New York Times, says it costs the Times about $6,500 a month during the regular season to have a reporter follow the team on the road. Adding spring training and a trip to the playoffs, one baseball reporter costs the paper more than $50,000 per season on top of his or her salary.

Beginning this season, the Washington Post will rely on the Baltimore Sun to cover the Orioles, while the Sun will leave its Nationals coverage to the Post, part of a broader content-sharing deal being replicated at papers around the country. The Hartford Courant quit sending a reporter on the road with the Red Sox, and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette has cut its Red Sox road presence to between 35-40 games from 70 last year. And the New York Times now sends only one person on certain road trips that in the past would have called for two, Mr. Jolly said.

You won't find me shedding many tears if newspapers pare back the coverage they get from both beat and feature sports reporters. Over the years, far too many sports writers have become spoiled, coddled, and over-indulged. They've become far more interested in the sound of their own voice or the supposed importance of their written word than they are in simply performing their job. Which essentially is to tell me what happened in the game. Instead we've been forced to wade through piles of sanctimonious politicizing, self-aggrandizing philosophizing, and endless nostalgic waxing to try to figure out who won and who lost and why.

More concerning is how teams and fans will connect without the conduit of the daily newspaper:

Some teams and organizations say the decrease in newspaper coverage may hamper their ability to promote themselves. Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, wrote recently on his blog that to let newspapers die is a "recipe for disaster" for professional sports leagues because newspapers, however weakened, remain the leagues' best and only link to a mass audience. He said he has spoken to other sports executives about creating a league-backed "beat writer cooperative" to guarantee a minimum number of daily stories on each local team.

In Detroit, where the city's two largest newspapers recently cut home delivery to three days a week, research conducted by the local professional hockey team, the Red Wings, shows 65% of season-ticket holders get their Red Wings coverage from the printed newspaper.

We cancelled our subscription to the Minneapolis Star Tribune almost five years ago. And while I have never regretted the decision or seriously considered "taking" the paper again, the one thing that I have missed the most is the daily sports coverage. For football, it hasn't made much difference. When you're playing one game a week, it's pretty easy to keep up with the team with radio, television, and internet coverage. But for hockey, not having local coverage from the paper has had a noticeable impact in my ability to follow the Wild.

For baseball, it's even worse. When your team is playing 162 games over the course of a season and is in action most days of the week, the daily paper has always been the way that fans kept up with their local nine. The box scores, the standings, the league leaders, that day's pitching matchups, etc. There has always been something comforting about opening up the morning paper and reconnecting with the baseball world. Yes, you can get everything you do in the paper on the internet, but it's not the same.

As newspaper shrink or fold up entirely, it will be a challenge for teams to figure out news ways to keep that connection alive.

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