General, Journalism, MFW

Now the Wall St Journal ponders the same kind of thoughts as Mr Cuban and his Mavericks, that the time might be nigh for a ‘beat writers co-operative’…

This piece is fascinating. And, yes, I know I say that all the time.

But it is.

Particularly for anyone who spent a few quid the other year on Along with and Just in case…

Anyway, here we go…

Basically, for those of you tired of linking, the two authors are starting to chart the decline and fall of the sports ‘beat’ reporter… the US basketball writing fraternity in this case.

Those charged with following the city’s basketball team ‘on the road’ for a season. Just as I’ve been ‘on the road’ for 16 years with Norwich City; first on behalf of the Evening News and, for the last three years, of course, as part of my own ‘day job’

There are one or two paths here that we have already trod; not least Mr Mark Cuban’s plan for a ‘beat writer co-operative’…

‘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…’

Which was this…

And in amidst the sorry saga of Fred The Shred, Philly Media Holdings and that Irish charmer Brian P Tierney, we’ve also pondered out loud about where next for the Flyers, Phillies and 76ers fans out there…

So, to find the same questions being posed by the WSJ is, like I say, fascinating.

Take this line: ‘Press boxes at major league ballparks are becoming increasingly lonely places, signaling a future when some games may be chronicled only by wire services, house organs and Web writers watching the games on television….

Because you could put the same argument together for any Championship Press Box in this country; there ain’t no Guardian writer there; nor a man from The Telegraph. Unless, of course, someone’s decided to do it for nothing….

Back across the Pond, the same reality is playing out; one that is increasingly coming down to cost. And it’s a reality that I’ve been down before – particularly when we had our Mark and Nick staffing MFW/ipswichtown and MFW/colchesterunited on a full-time basis.

As a business, the costs of keeping two ‘beat’ reporters on the road cripples you.

‘At a March 22 game between the Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds two writers from Pittsburgh papers were in attendance, along with two reporters from Major League Baseball’s Web site. The Pittsburgh chapter of the BBWAA is down to nine members, an all time low, from 20 in 1988.

‘The Beaver County Times, outside Pittsburgh, has stopped covering spring training and won’t cover every Pirates road game — primarily due to finances…’

And the cost is?

‘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…’

Money that the NYT, the Boston Globe, etc… just haven’t got.

The answer, for some, is to starting ‘out-sourcing’ their coverage to other ‘home’ newspapers; the equivalent of the Archant-owned Evening News taking a match report off the Northcliffe-run Bristol Evening Post…

Or, in US terms, ‘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…’

But, to my simple mind, the answer remains stuck on the back of the same fag-packet upon which was born… that you build a network model and swap content… free from having to worry about eachother’s deadlines…

So just as we could swap content between and , so by the same token, you could swap content with that of your old ‘beat’ colleague at … and save yourself a $50,000 fortune in ‘beat’ travel expenses every year…

Sure, you would have the issue about the ‘brand’ reporter not seeing each and every game; but if he or she did home games only – and the closer, more affordable away games – you could still offer enough of an ‘over-sight’ to win the punters round.

The report is easy; it’s the opinion pieces, the colour and the comment that follow that earns the sports reporter their spurs; that’s the reality.

And can you give great ‘colour’ from the comfort of your sofa? Yes – provided, of course, that you’re keeping that colour informed by regular chats with the head coach every time he returns from a trip on the road.

And then, of course, with a reporter in every port, you can syndicate your content upwards and sidewards; you have the elegance to bolt national advertising onto local; and you have the efficiency that comes with scale to not have to flush fortunes down the toilet of travel.

And what you do for basketball, you can do for baseball, for hockey, etc…

Simple, efficient and networked.

And, you know what, as Cuban rightly points out, faced with the prospect of no independent coverage apart from that provided by their own ‘official’ sites, I strongly suspect that any right-minded sports authority would look very favourably on a new, networked editorial partner coming to the rescue of their ‘brand’ as the old promoters of a by-gone era – the provincial newspapers and their famed ‘beat’ reporters – steadily fall by the wayside.

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