Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What the Newspaper Crisis Means for Sports Coverage

I am both a sports fan and a trained journalist. I worked in the business as a reporter and a copy editor for more than 10 years. I spent much of that time working on sports desks for the old Arkansas Gazette and the still breathing Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle.

If you've been following the news in recent months, you've no doubt heard of the problems many daily newspapers are facing these days. If they were patients in a hospital, the condition for most of them would be critical.

The Rocky Mountain News already has shut down completely, and more appear likely to follow. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has stopped publishing a daily paper and is now an online-only publication, perhaps foreshadowing a trend.

Still others have reduced their staffs and cut the pay of those who remain on the payroll or they've cut the number of days they publish or both — anything to tighten the belt without entirely cutting off (pardon the pun) circulation.

And when a newspaper goes out of business or cuts the number of days it publishes or even cuts its staff, sports fans suffer.

Jim Caple writes about this for ESPN.

He talks about the human toll, also, acknowledging that "the only difference between these employees and the millions of others thrown out of work in the past year is that the newspaper pink slips strike much closer to home for me."

But he makes a good point when he and others ask, "Who will report the news?"

"That's the key," writes Caple. "I'm not comparing newspapers to blogs. I'm comparing the information fans receive from newspapers plus the blogs and Web sites to the information they would receive strictly from the Internet without any newspapers."

And what does Caple say would be sacrificed?
  • Game stories with analysis and quotes.

  • Statistics.

  • News.
Now, before you protest that the internet can give you all these things, read what Caple has to say. There definitely will be things that will be lost when local coverage disappears. And, as Caple observes, there is no revenue model in existence that online-only organizations can follow to pay someone to travel with teams and spend the kind of time around the players and coaches and organization that is necessary to learn about things like clubhouse issues or injuries or coaching changes. Is such a thing possible in the future? Absolutely. But it doesn't exist right now.

Baseball — a sport that will be played daily from the beginning of April to the end of September — will be the first to experience the change, and it is the focus of Caple's article. Clearly, as Caple writes, it is expensive to pay the salary of a writer along with his travel, lodging and meal expenses for 81 games a year.

But, even though football and basketball teams play fewer games, this change will affect fans of all sports.

Do you follow football? Or basketball? If you're a college sports fan, where will you get reliable news about your favorite school if the newspaper that covers it goes out of business? Some schools have athletic reputations and will always get attention from whatever media exist, but what if your school, be it large or small, isn't an Oklahoma or a Notre Dame or a North Carolina?

The same is true of professional sports. It's true that every professional sports team has a presence on the internet, but do you really believe the information you will find there is free of bias? Who will honestly report about coaching changes and player acquisitions?

For a few years, I worked with undergraduate journalism students. The internet was really just emerging in my last year of teaching, and one of my students asked me what now seems, in hindsight, to be a prescient question. The student asked me what would become of newspapers in the digital age. I replied that I believed the internet and newspapers would find a way to coexist.

In an odd way, I still believe that. But I think it may take the deaths of many of the traditional newspapers to bring about the re–birth of the medium.

It may take that for people to realize what they've lost.

1 comment:

Associated Content said...

I am also a writer for Associated Content. I have developed over 3,000 pieces of content and have well over 3 million pageviews. I agree that the old medium newspapers are quickly becoming extinct. In a great book, "What Would Google Do?", Jeff Jarvis, this same topic is also discussed. It's all about making money online with advertising and print newspapers are a wave of the past I'm afraid.