Sunday, March 26, 2006

Newspaper sports pages: Old and busted. Bloggers: The new hotness

According to Sports Illustrated, the sports writing paradigm is changing from a newspaper/magazine monopoly to an internet based style, and the MSM journalists aren't happy. It's almost Darwinian in scope. But to truly see why sports coverage is changing so rapidly, just take a look at the Sunday paper.

I have two Sunday newspapers sitting here, the News/Freep and Oakland Press, and I gave their sports pages a cursory view at best. Considering they went to press last night around 8-9 pm, at the latest, how much news are the papers going to have that I don't already know? Other than what the latest rebates are on a new car, or find out who's headlining at strip clubs.

For that matter, what can your standard issue sportswriter give you that can't be easily found on the web? I rarely read actual beat writer game coverage anymore, as you can find the AP story and boxscore on the web within 15 minutes after the end of any game. About the only thing the beat writers can add in the next day's (Or in the case of The Sporting News and SI, next week's) article are locker room and press confrence quotes, and we all know how informative those can be...

I want opinion, I want rumors, I want analysis, I want to know what's going on all over the league. I don't want it once a week, like your typical newspaper "Notes" column, or a week later, such as what you'd get in your print copy of SI or TSN. Print beat writers rarely give that sort of coverage, as they are, obviously, afraid to lose locker room access. We're all aware that writers know much more than they are allowed to actually print. Sure, they get close to the athletes, closer than bloggers ever could, but what good is having that access if they are deathly afraid of offending players and the team?

Web writing may not always be more informative, or as literate (That can be debated, as Wobb Parker has a job), but it's usually much more entertaining, often more in depth, and always immeadiate. Why should I wait 24 hours to get the 800 word opinion of a columnist or a beat writer in regard to the Lions signing free agent QB's, when the local bloggers (With no length constraints), web sites, message boards, and sports talk radio have already dissected it to no end? And dissected those moves about as well, if not better, as a 5'5" columnist who would rather be a screenwriter, and never played the game, could.

Print journalists, and their corporate powers that be, need to change how they do things or they will be well on their way to becoming irrelevant. Booth Newspapers, with their Mlive site, get it. You want breaking news and opinion? They leave the Freep and News in the dust. Their beat writers, espcially Danny Knobler and Killer Kowalski, use the web to break news, talk about rumors and their legitimatcy, and to just plain keep their readers informed. Their blogs have become must reads. On the other hand, the News has pseudo blogs, but they are updated sporadically at best, and are not all that informative. A typical News "Blog" post is a short 2-3 sentence paragraph. The Freep doesn't even bother, showing their total cluelessness.

For example, where did you see first the Jim Leyland endorsed "Official" Tiger starting linup? On the web. Knobler's blog had it Saturday morning. Tom Gage has it in his so-called blog, early Saturday afternoon, but it's literally a 2 sentence blurb. Knobler adds his thoughts and brings a few other comments to the table in regard to the day's events in Lakeland. And if you didn't see it on the web, it's in today's News, buried deep inside, pretty much an afterthought.

The web also shows the newspaper journalists what people actually want to read and talk about. Check out what the local bloggers are obsessing over. Currently it's the Lions (Hell, always the Lions), the Tigers, men's college hoop, and the Pistons, pretty much in that order. As the NCAA tournament ends, and the playoffs loom closer, look for the Pistons and Red Wings, in that order, to move to the fore.

But if you read today's sports section, the News has one full page devoted to tonight's MSU NCAA woman's tournament game. I didn't know the game was even being played. How many readers actually care, save for crazed alumns and family members? The majority of the front page is about the high school boy's basketball finals, which does deserve coverage. But again, high school sports would be low on most people's radar. The papers feel they have to be politically correct, as the women's and high school coverage show.

Today's paper also full of AP stories on the men's NCAA tournament. So subscribers and newsstand buyers are paying a buck fitty for content they can find for free anywhere on the web? That's another sign of the fall of the newspaper, due to cost cutting, they don't send their own writers to cover events unless a local team is involved, or it's so huge, it can't be ignored. As for the coverage you do get, it's pretty much the same that a blogger could give from watching it on the tube. Save for those illumninating locker room quotes...

Am I givng bloggers too much credit? Possibly. But the fact that this is being discussed, and the MSM is finally acknowledging web sports coverage, shows that things are changing. For the better.


  1. Well said, and so true. Its even evident that newspapers are spotting the same trends. Check out any newspaper website and many of their columnists are writing "blogs" or at least columns that they're calling blogs.

    I kind of miss the days of when I woke up, opened the newspaper and studied the box scores, but on the same note its also nice not to have to wait two days to see the west coast scores!

  2. Full disclosure -- my career is pretty much based around the newspaper industry, so theoretically the extinction of the newspaper as we know it would have some pretty profound effects on the ability for me to continue putting food in my face and making mortgage payments.

    That said -- newspapers are dying. It won't be quick and it won't be obvious and it won't be pretty, but newspapers will start to atrophy and wither. They'll never go away. Anyone who tells you that newspapers won't continue to have a niche in the mass media is smoking crack or trying to sell you something. People said TV would kill radio and that obviously didn't happen. Radio had to adapt. No longer would serial shows and variety shows cut it in a medium where people could actually see the same thing.

    I predict newspapers will basically become an aggregator for local news (much like the wire services are for national news), but will be driven moreso by web content and the actual paper will largely be a vehicle to wrap special content around advertisements for people who are nostalgic.

    Personally, I actually cancelled my subscription to the Sunday Freep/News today. The only reason I was getting it was for the travel/real estate ads and the coupons. I almost considered continuing the subscription because I probably save more money in coupons by getting the paper, but it struck me as a retarded way to save $50 a year.

  3. Good point I am still waiting to get my Press Pass. I think some bloggers deserve them and work just as hard or harder than most reporters, considering not only do they report and write but they usually run a whole website by themselves.

  4. I just read the SI article yesterday, and thought it was a pretty savvy - and selfless - feature to run in the magazine. The way we digest - and create - sports coverage is truly changing, and I think SI looks smart for acknowledging that.

    Case in point: I don't have much desire to read about Carlos Pena being released by the Tigers today, because I already read at least a half dozen wire reports and blogs on the subject yesterday.

    But I definitely agree that newspapers won't go away. They're still the feed bag for the blogosphere. The form in which we read them will surely change, and writers, staffers, and editors will likely have to adjust how their material is presented as they try to become part of the alternative.

    And there's still definitely a place for reporting. To me, it's not a question of who works harder or writes better, so much as access. Having been fortunate enough to sit on press row, it's much clearer to me that beat and game reporting is a much different - and still necessary - job.

    You see things that aren't shown on TV. You get a feel for situations and dynamics that don't play out in front of the cameras. You have a better idea of how things go, how they're run.

    I don't think it's about replacement; it's about adjustment. It's about change and evolution. And it's becoming very clear as to which MSM outlets get it (the Washington Post is a great example, I think) and which don't (the Free Press is a sad, sad demonstration of this).

  5. I would love to someday be part of an in-the-know network of bloggers. You want an update? Come to us. You want an interview with XXXXX? Come to us? You want to know anything - you come to us.

    I think the day where a network of bloggers can provide that is fast approaching. If I'm good enough to ever be a part of it is something different altogether.