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.
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.