Decline of golf coverage: Dallas Morning News wasn’t at Augusta to cover local boy Spieth

I couldn’t help but notice that the Dallas Morning News wasn’t at the Masters this year. That means they wouldn’t have had a staff byline piece from Augusta if Dallas’ very own Jordan Spieth had won the tournament.

As it is, his second-place finish at the age of 20 was a big story in its own right. Yet the Morning News ran a Spieth story from Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Augusta.

I am not trying to knock the Morning News. There are plenty of big-city papers that no longer staff the majors. Budgets are tight, and it is expensive to send writers on the road.

However, the Morning News situation is different.

The Morning News used to be big time into golf. They sent their golf writers (Jeff Rude, Phil Rogers, Brad Townsend, Bill Nichols) to 10-15 tournaments per year, maybe more. No newspaper in the country matched the Morning News’ coverage on the pro tours.

And with good reason, considering Dallas and the state of Texas produce so many champions, starting with Hogan and Nelson and now with the up-and-coming Spieth.

Again, I bring this up because during my 12 years of covering the Masters, the Chicago Tribune only was granted two seats in the media center. A few times we tried to send a third person, but were turned down. Other papers received the same treatment.

This irked me because the Morning News, sitting in the row in front of us, always had three seats. When I asked why, I was told the paper had been “grandfathered” in for its seating.

Last week, other outlets sat in the Morning News’ seats. It should be noted that the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram also wasn’t at Augusta.

I’m not trying to single out the Morning News. However, it is a striking statement about the current state of newspapers and their coverage of golf. It isn’t a priority anymore.

Given what Spieth did at the Masters, it will be interesting to see if the Morning News staffs future majors. He is going to win a major sooner and later, and when he does, it will be a big story, especially in Dallas.



News flash (or not): Sports journalism students don’t read actual newspapers

George Solomon, the sports editor who built the great staffs of the Washington Post, now is helping to shape future journalists as director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at Maryland.

At some point, it will be a future without newspapers. In fact, many of his students know about newspapers only by reputation and not actual experience.

Solomon writes on the Povich Center site:

A requirement for 17 bright students in my Merrill College sportswriting class last  fall  included reading two sports sections a day. How many of the students read an actual paper over an online version? None, I’m sad to report, for about the fifth consecutive year.

I am teaching a sports media class this quarter at De Paul. We are examining all platforms of sports media. Wednesday, we focused on newspapers.

Citing Solomon’s column, I asked the nine graduate students how many read an actual newspaper on a somewhat regular basis. Optimistically, I put the over-under at two.

One student raised his hand.

It hardly is a surprise. The students all talked about the convenience of getting their news online. No walking out in the snow to get the paper. In fact, no paying for the paper.

They lamented the paywalls that now exist at many papers. They say they merely go elsewhere for free content.

However, at least for one week, my students had to read and evaluate actual newspaper sports sections for an assignment. I was heartened by some of the reaction: They enjoyed paper in their hands.

One student wrote: “Most websites tend to be more user-friendly and interactive but I found that the actual newspaper was more appealing.”

Another student liked a huge graphic portraying Carolina coach Ron Rivera as a riverboat gambler in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. It pulled him into the story.

The student wrote: “I was pleasantly surprised how happy I was with the Tribune’s creativity. Since the main focus was Ron Rivera’s gambling coaching style, I got a chuckle out of the picture of the former Bears linebacker at poker table wearing a cowboy hat.”

I used the Rivera story as an example of how pictures and graphics have a much more dramatic presence in a newspaper. Also in Sunday’s paper, the Tribune did a marvelous two-page spread on new Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas. It featured compelling graphics showing their Cooperstown-worthy statistics. The online version didn’t have the same impact, simply because the scale is so much smaller.

Yet online definitely is where everything is going. Tribune sports editor Mike Kellams was a guest in the class Wednesday. His parting words were about the tremendous opportunities that exist for current and future journalists to be the bridge from newspapers to online. The template still is a work in process with all the various entities trying to figure out how to make it work from both the financial and journalistic standpoints.

As for me, while I start my morning cruising various websites, I still get the Tribune delivered to the door every day. I usually read it over lunch. Old habits die hard, I guess.

In his piece, Solomon writes of other old friends who still read actual newspapers.

For this, Plotkin, Jacobs and I deserve to have our pictures in a trophy case in the Newseum under the heading:  “Last Men Reading.”  Or, at least in the lobby housing the newspaper circulation dealers of America, if such a trade association still exists.

Hey George, I’d like to get my picture in there too.






Flashback: Recalling last year’s New York Times’ blank sports front for Hall of Fame results

It won’t happen this year, with two, three, maybe even four players getting elected to the Hall of Fame today.

However, last year, the New York Times served up a memorable sports front when no players earned a trip to Cooperstown. A not so subtle commentary on the steroid era by the Times.

Said then sports editor Joseph Sexton: “(We) felt like history had spoken. How to convey that to our readers? I think we did it — a striking, profound emptiness.”



San Francisco Chronicle won’t use Redskins: ‘An offensive term’

Managing editor Audrey Cooper makes the case for the San Francisco Chronicle:

Words – and the ones we choose to use – are powerful. It’s not a responsibility we take lightly.

Our newsroom is the latest to avoid using “Redskins” when referring to the NFL franchise from Washington.

We will use the word only when avoiding it would be confusing to readers – for example, in stories about the controversy surrounding the team name. In most cases, we will refer to the team as “Washington,” avoiding use of an offensive term.

The Chronicle and have a long-standing policy against using racial slurs. Not everyone has to be personally offended by a word to make it a slur. And make no mistake, “redskin” is a patently racist term.

Who’s next.

Front page: Joy in Boston; Rest of U.S. celebrates end of long-suffering Red Sox fan theme

Can we finally put it to bed? The long-suffering Red Sox fan theme was so 20th Century. Their fans now are celebrating their third title since 2004. They aren’t suffering anymore.

I’m a fan of baseball history, but Fox beat us over the head with the 1918 thing again last night. Enough.

It all is especially hard to digest in Chicago. Do you know the last time the Cubs or White Sox celebrated a title in their ballpark? It was in 1906, when the Sox beat the Cubs in the World Series. Babe Ruth was 11.

And do I really have to get into the Cubs’ issues?

So congratulations, Boston. And for Fox, ESPN, and everyone else: Time to move on.

Time to change old expression: It’s about page views, not selling newspapers

Want to give some props to my old pal, Paul Sullivan, who is killing it in his new assignment as a baseball feature writer for the Chicago Tribune.

Thursday, he had a terrific piece on former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who is spending 2013 in baseball exile.

One line, though, caught my attention. While talking about his stormy relationship with former Sox GM Kenny Williams, he brought up the media’s role.

Guillen said:  “We had a meeting with Jerry (Reinsdorf) and we were OK. And all of a sudden a couple of days later, it (wasn’t OK). I don’t need stuff like that. I think the media did what they were supposed to do — sell papers.”

How antiquated is that last line? For generations, dating back to the glory days of Hearst, reporters have been accused of going for the flashy headline in the effort “to sell papers.”

There was a paperboy on every corner, yelling, “Extra, extra, read all about it.”

However, it hasn’t been that way since the last typewriter was manufactured. People aren’t running out to buy newspapers.

No, it’s all about page views. That’s the currency that sells for newspapers and their websites, and for people like me with their blogs. Stir up things in the hopes of getting people to click on your site. Perhaps even several times.

All those clicks add up to more page views, which hopefully translates into more advertising.

So in 2013, it is time to retire the old expression of “selling newspapers.” Next time Ozzie, or anyone else for that matter, should say:

“I think the media did what it was supposed to do–get page views.”




New York Times special report: ESPN at a crossroads; Skipper says “complicated” environment

This is either a case of burying the lede or saving the best for the last.

The New York Times completed its massive three-part series on ESPN today. Written and reported by Richard Sandomir, James Andrew Miller and Steve Eder, the first two parts provided interesting insights into how the network runs college football and how Louisville used ESPN to become a sports powerhouse. Both pieces are highly recommended.

However, part 3 gets to the heart of the matter: The battleground for ESPN’s future.

For all of the network’s success and power, it is possible that the money machine in Bristol could be put on a much slower speed.

The opponents/obstacles are considerable: legislators who want to do away with bundling for cable networks; new network competitors such as Fox Sports 1; and a changing media landscape.

From the story:

So it may be hard to imagine that the sports media conglomerate has arrived at one of the most precarious moments in its nearly 34-year life.

The more than $6 billion in cable fees flowing annually to ESPN from almost 100 million homes is threatened as growing numbers of consumers cut ties with cable providers to avoid rising bills for pay TV, turning instead to video streaming services. In Washington, a renewed push to undo the bundling of channels into cable packages and allow viewers to simply pay for those they want has even drawn the support of Senator Richard Blumenthal, who represents ESPN’s home state.

ESPN’s viewership numbers plunged earlier this year, and that was before the debut this month of Fox Sports 1, a 24-hour network funded lavishly by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. Fox Sports 1 is likely to shape up as ESPN’s most formidable head-to-head rival.

All of this, particularly consumers’ move away from pay TV, is reverberating in Bristol. “This is the most complicated environment we’ve faced in a long time,” said John Skipper, the president of ESPN.

It turns out ESPN also is good at lobbying:

One focus of ESPN and Disney’s largess was Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which had purview over television legislation.

In 2004, Mr. Barton had helped derail a legislative move aimed at breaking up bundles. On Super Bowl weekend in February 2005, with the cable controversy bubbling, Disney paid to bring Mr. Barton and his wife to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., records show. ESPN did not carry the game, which was played in Jacksonville, Fla. But in Orlando, Disney was busy entertaining advertisers.

ESPN gathered some of its executives to talk to Mr. Barton about the absence of a college football playoff, an issue that the congressman would eventually explore in hearings.

“It was Preston Padden’s show and Joe Barton’s agenda,” one participant in the meeting said. Mr. Barton’s travel disclosure form for Feb. 5 to 7, 2005, shows that Disney spent $3,354 on the Bartons’ lodging, $1,616 for airfare and $1,200 for meals. He recorded the purpose of the trip as “Speak to executives and fact finding.”

A spokesman for Mr. Barton declined to comment beyond saying that the report “speaks for itself.”

Yep, sure does.

And the unknown looms in the future:

Meanwhile, companies like Google, Sony and Intel are planning virtual cable services that would be delivered on the Internet. They could lure consumers from traditional pay television as low-cost alternatives to traditional pay TV while also competing for major sports properties when ESPN’s contracts eventually expire. Mr. Skipper said he would make deals with these upstarts, but only on ESPN’s terms: they must take all of ESPN’s offerings, not just the ones they want.

With the rise of new competition come questions about the fate of existing customers.

Consumers are fleeing pay TV at a quickening pace: 898,000 in the past year, nearly twice the number in the previous year, the analyst Craig Moffett said. And in the past two years, ESPN has lost more than one million subscribers.

What’s more, ESPN ratings plunged 32 percent in the quarter that ended in June.

Mr. Skipper’s task — very different from that of predecessors who built ESPN into a powerhouse — is to negotiate a deeply uncertain future.

“It’s a high-class problem,” he said.

The stories aren’t as long as Miller’s ESPN book, but they are hefty. So set aside some time to read them. Well worth it.


What is unusual about today’s New York Daily News front page?

Answer: Three headlines, all on sports.

Did I miss something? Has the New York Daily News become a sports daily?

Of the three headlines, probably only one deserved banner treatment: Matt Harvey’s devastating injury.

But hey, this is the NY Daily News, so let’s run crazy with a fat governor sounding off on the paper’s beat reporter. And since it is U.S. Open time in the Big A, the mob and tennis always makes a good combination.

Interesting to note that Manish Metha, the Jets beat writer who first was roasted by Gov. Christie and then by Keith Olbermann last night, has not mentioned a thing about it on his Twitter feed. If you go to his link, you’ll see he’s a big Don Mattingly fan.

Also, no mention on his Jets blog for the News.

If I missed something, please let me know.





Montville: Buying the Boston Globe for less than John Lackey

Leigh Montville in Sports on Earth writes a column putting the John Henry-Boston Globe deal in perspective. And it isn’t pretty from the newspaper side.

The price that he paid for this addition was the great surprise.

“I can’t believe he bought our newspaper for $70 million,” I, a one-time sportswriter at The Globe, said to another one-time sportswriter at The Globe. “He gets all that real estate. He gets all of those trucks. He gets the rights to all of the stories, all of the pictures, the 22 Pulitzers, all of the past, plus the computer present and future of the pre-eminent voice in all of New England. The Times paid $1.1 billion for The Globe 20 years ago. He gets it for $70 million? The stories say that’s about four percent of what The Times paid.”

“He just gave Dustin Pedroia a $110 million contract extension for eight years,” the other one-time sportswriter said. “So he’s paying $50 million more for the starting Red Sox second baseman than he is for the pre-eminent voice in New England…”

This fact made the two of us feel very old.

And then there was this stunning revelation:

The Red Sox player whose mega-contract to play baseball best approximates the price the Red Sox owner paid for the newspaper, the buildings, the trucks — did I mention that the Worcester Telegram and some smaller newspapers that also were included? — is 34-year-old starting pitcher John Lackey. Right-hander, 6-feet-6, 235 pounds, born in Abilene, Texas, October 23, 1978. He is in the fourth year of a five-year contract he signed for $82.5 million to join the Red Sox in 2010.

His other numbers do not crunch very well. He has won 33 games during his time in Boston. He has lost 32. He has been a controversial character, all grimaces and snarls on the mound, outspoken at times, a contributing member of the fried chicken and beer collective that was singled out after the Sox’ late collapse in 2011. He missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery. He has returned this year, thinner and stronger, more positive, but still has a 7-9 record despite a 3.21 ERA. He is — basically — a .500 pitcher. He will earn $15.25 million this year. His five-year contract is worth $12.5 million more than the price of The Globe.

“Wow,” the other sportswriter said.

“Wow,” I agreed.

Wow, cubed.