Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Make the Shot: Local Sports Coverage Needs to Adapt to the Modern Newsroom

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Make the Shot: Local Sports Coverage Needs to Adapt to the Modern Newsroom

Article excerpt

The importance of high school sports coverage is local newspaper gospel. For decades, circulation directors and publishers have talked about how much parents and grandparents want to see those names in the paper, and how communities rally around the local football team.

We never knew exactly how much the sports department contributed to overall readership, but if canceling the bridge column or Funky Winkerbean generates 100 angry phone calls, it was assumed that cutting back on local sports would be nuclear war.

Three things are changing that: the decline of print, the need for extreme newsroom expense cuts across the industry, and access to detailed, story-by-story online readership metrics.

Maybe the cachet of youth sports for newspapers was rooted in the medium of print. Just as the photo reprint business has declined with the popularity of photo albums that reside on phones and Facebook, maybe clipping out the box score of your daughter's basketball game is a thing of the past.

But anecdotally, anyway, it seems like sports has been less severely impacted by staff cuts than other newsroom departments. That's going to change in 2016, if it hasn't already, because there's not much else left to cut.

Which brings us to number three. If publishers are cutting sports reporters at a lesser rate than news, why? Is it a sacred cow based on that old conventional wisdom? Are we looking at easily available metrics on what kind of stories generate how much audience, the staff time that goes into those stories, and how that's being monetized?

What would local newspaper sports coverage look like on its very own profit and loss statement?

In this light, the idea of having a reporter spend four hours covering a high school lacrosse game that is of potential interest to about 200 people max seems ludicrous.

Game stories, at all, seem impossibly inefficient, especially considering the biggest fans are at the game anyway, or following along with some other parent's livestream or in-game tweets.

And even at peak staffing, what local sports department whose coverage area included 10 local high schools, with both boys' and girls' teams for three or four major sports in a season, was ever able to provide anything but cherry picking game coverage anyway?

The same issues apply to coverage of college sports, with the exception of bigtime Division 1 football and basketball programs that have regional, statewide or even national audiences. In fact, there's probably less local interest in a Division 3 college baseball team than the local high school football team, because parents and grandparents aren't as likely to live in the market. …

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