Imagine There's No Sports Page

It's easy if you try. With the future of Philly's dailies in doubt, who will feed the insatiable appetite of the city's sports junkies?

By Larry Atkins
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Mar. 26, 2009

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Picture this. It’s 2014 and Philly’s sports teams are on a roll. The Eagles win their first Super Bowl, the Phillies win a third straight World Series, the 76ers and Flyers make the Finals,  and Temple football wins the Orange Bowl.

Sounds great, right? But who will be covering these sports stories, since the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News stopped publishing in 2012?

While Philly’s rise to America’s pre-eminent sports city might sound farfetched, the Inquirer and Daily News closures are not. In light of Philadelphia Newspapers’ bankruptcy, the closing of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post Intelligencer’s downsizing to an online-only operation, the future of newspapers is uncertain.

And that makes a difference. While there’s a growing number of blogs and other online outlets devoted to covering Philly sports, many of them rely on the reporting provided by the Inquirer and Daily News as a key foundation of their own work.
    
 “I think one thing some people don’t understand is that if the  paper goes out, so does the online. I think some people don’t always associate the two,” said Mike Kern, Daily News sports reporter. “Times are  changing, but I’d like to think that what we and the Inquirer do is pretty indispensable, despite the other outlets that are now available.”

One of Philly’s top sports bloggers agrees. Matt Pesotski, one of the writers at The700Level.com, says his site relies heavily on news generated by the papers.

“As fans and bloggers alike, we rely on beat reporters and columnists to bring us a close look at the day-to-day happenings of the various teams and their players,” Pesotski said by e-mail.

He said The700Level draws from a variety of sources in building its coverage of the city’s sports scene. The writers often go to games or watch them on TV, like other fans. Beyond that, though, they generate much of their coverage from newspapers, other websites and what Pesotski said were “occasional” contacts with the press, players and team representatives. “As such,” he said, “we'd have a lot less material to discuss without the work the local newspaper staffs do every day.”

One major coverage gap would be when local teams play out of town. Normally, both papers’ beat reporters travel with the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, and Flyers. Without financial backing of a major newspaper, it’s unlikely that a website could afford this. Therefore, readers might see articles from stringers in other cities who don’t have expertise about Philadelphia teams. Readers might also see short, generic Associated Press articles.

And the papers’ beat reporters, who frequently contact team sources, officials, and players, and are usually the ones who break  stories like trades and injuries. That’s news that often shows up in other outlets.

Jim Salisbury, beat reporter for the Inquirer who covers the Phillies, laments, “I often put  on WIP or KYW or Comcast SportsNet and hear the words ‘The Inquirer reports’ or ‘The Daily News reports’. Who picks up those at-bats if this happens?”

One result: The teams might be left to essentially cover themselves. They might increase coverage on their own websites, similar to Eagles Digest. But it’s unlikely that a team website would call its own team to task. The Eagles recently fired a security guard for a Facebook post criticizing their failure to sign Brian Dawkins; they’re unlikely to tolerate criticism on their website.

“The way things are today, media entities more and more are financially entangled with the teams they are supposed to be covering,” Salisbury said. “Comcast, ESPN, MLB.com, NFL.com, etc. Daily newspapers are practically the only remaining outlet for independent, informed, critical analysis. Therefore, it’ll be a sad day in  Mudville if this happens.”
   
Brian Monahan,General Manager of Comcast SportsNet, disagreed, saying his outlet can provide broad, balanced coverage of the city’s teams.

“Comcast SportsNet is an established brand in Philadelphia,” Monahan said. “Our success is built on the trust our viewers have in our network providing comprehensive and balanced coverage of all our Philadelphia teams. Our viewers would expect and support nothing less.”

Television stations and talk radio might beef up sports coverage, but most can’t provide the  depth and detail provided by newspapers. It’s unlikely that local TV news would expand the five minutes given to sports.

There would be decentralization of sports news sources. It’s possible that many specialized sports websites will arise, meaning that instead of covering all sports, certain websites will just focus on one sport or team, such as the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, soccer, and college basketball.

That’s what happened when the Rocky Mountain News shut down. Steve Foster, former assistant sports editor for the paper, started insidetherockies.com, which hosts articles by the paper’s former baseball reporters. The site provides daily coverage of the Colorado Rockies, including game reports,  roster reports, injury updates, features, and farm team reports.

While Foster touts websites’ ability to dictate coverage and freedom to write, he’s  concerned about credentialing and game access. “Professional teams are having a debate as to  what is a legitimate blog, website, or news organization, as opposed to just a fan website. In our case, we’re hopeful that our writers’ long history and credibility covering Major League baseball should be enough, but it’s still debatable.”

Already, Philly’s sports bloggers spy an opportunity. Chris Goldberg, creator  of Phillylacrosse.com, says, “Already, many sports fans in Philadelphia and beyond have gravitated to getting much of their sports news online...If the two major newspapers in  Philadelphia were to go out of business, it would serve as an open invitation for online news agencies to try and pick up the advertising slack and demand for sports news.”

“Regardless of what happens in the newspaper business, it is clear that daily sports coverage online will increase dramatically in the near future. The overhead is low and the potential advertising dollars are there,” he said. “There will be a blog for every sport and the chance for  readers and fans of all ages to participate in forums and watch videos all day long, in the hallways of school (unfortunately) or while attending a game.

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1. grm1 said... on Mar 26, 2009 at 08:09AM

“Good post... very thought provoking not just about sports but news in general. I believe there will be gap or lapse in coverage at first but the advertising dollars will always follow the flow of eyeballs.
And if the newspapers go out of business that doesn't mean the professionals that have the relationships and know how to develop a story are going to disappear. They will most likely find a new home on some of these blogs/websites, and their knowledge base will simply be communicated in a new forum, and for all the 20 somethings out there this will be the desired format anyway, it will just take time.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Mar 26, 2009 at 06:57PM

“With Steven Wells here to tell us about the juggernaut known as the Guatemalan national baseball team, why do we even need the Inquirer or DN? We truly have the best, most knowledgeable writer right here in our midst. Don't you see that?”

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3. grm1 said... on Mar 31, 2009 at 08:12PM

“with Zolecki (sp) moving from the Inq to MLB.com it just further supports my previous comment. He is now the Philly beat writer for MLB.com (his description on 950 am today) he doesn't have to move or change his life-style (his comments) in anyway he just now takes his knowledge base to the new medium. And by doing it first he will be the senior man on staff in a few years when all the younger journalist look to the .com's as the first choice for employment. Smart move Todd!”

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