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.






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