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?
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.
They’re not McDonald’s. They’re not “businesses.” Oh, sure, they’ve got to make payroll. But they are not and cannot be run as out-and-out cash cows for the greedy and the idle.
Add San Francisco to the list. And let me preface my following remark with this statement: I make my living from the web, but I’m no web triumphalist. Until news organizations start generating enough money from web operations to support a reasonably sized newsroom, I don’t see how I could be. Yes, the audience is [...]
The news is here. Jim MacMillan does a roundup here. And it’s probably worth re-reading Steve Volk’s Phillymag article about how we got to this point. There’s going to be a great deal of temptation, today and in coming days, to mock the hubris of Brian Tierney in all of this. And that’s not entirely unwarranted. [...]
Like other young people, Temple University student Grace Dickinson lives much of her life online: Facebook, YouTube and other multimedia sites figure prominently into her daily media consumption. But when she walks into her journalism classes, those popular applications fade to the margins. Are Philly's journalism schools really preparing students for the future?
In an era where the media appear to be falling apart, WalterFootball.com's Walter Cherepinsky just might be the future -- one of a number of Philadelphia-area entrepreneurs who are carving out a significant niche in cyberspace.
Letters to the Editor