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Sports Travel. Seriously.

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Joe Williams, Jul 7, 2007.

  1. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    Aren't newspapers at the point, fiscally and in size of staff, where they ought to seriously think twice or three times about sending beat people all over the country to cover games?

    They pay for flights, hotels, rental cars, meals, incidentals, in order to cover events that the wires handle just fine, in most cases. They also have the cost of the reporter's salary, and even if they don't compensate him or her for travel time and down time on the road, you know that it is a factor eventually (a reporter who has finished a three-game NHL or NBA trip comes home and someone else on staff covers that first practice or game because the beat person is dragging).

    It isn't like sending your own person gets you all that much special coverage of your team on most game nights. If that was the real issue, the paper could hire a freelancer for $200 to "cover" your team in its road games, and then that person would be handling the beat stuff anyway, hitting the proper deadlines, covering the visitors locker room and so on. There are enough hungry writers in every market that finding the freelancers would be no big problem. The beat person could be told (or maybe wouldn't even have to be told, if he is conscientious) to watch the game on TV to alert the desk to any news or tidbits.

    The newspapers could even put together a partnership where they send two writers to each home game -- one to cover its own team and one to cover the visiting club. So when the Tigers or Lions or Bears go on the road, a paper in that town does the same thing. All the cooperating papers save travel money, none of them has to even pay the freelancing fees and they cover each others' butts by assigning staff -- which suddenly has lots of time freed up by not traveling much.

    Columnists? Few travel regularly now. And many virtually write off TV already.

    This might not be appealing on NFL games, since the travel is relatively limited and many papers send multiple writers to those events. But hiring a freelancer or swapping out staff coverage for single NBA or NHL games, or even a three-day MLB series, would seem to be attractive, compared to funding the airfares, hotel rates and everything else.

    Since so few papers nowadays use their time in a different city to generate features or enterprise stories, and since basic advances or off-day pieces could be done either by the partner-paper's writer on site or even the beat person via phone from back in the original city, it doesn't seem like a game or three is reason enough to spend the money involved.

    If I were a managing editor, before I axed another 10 local reporters or copy editors in a layoff or buyout situation, I would seriously cut back on the sports travel. All of these newspapers bleeding money and they're still jetting sportswriters from coast to coast to cover games that are already being covered, are available on television or could be handled by writers-for-hire in the other cities.

    I'll bet some managing editor could get himself or herself a nice bonus pushing this idea to the publisher.
  2. DGRollins

    DGRollins Member

    This is a new one. Someone on SportsJournalists.com advocating for less editorial content.
  3. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    Just trying to be realistic. If someone has another 25-35 years to go in this business, he might as well see where it's headed.

    Besides, some of us like sleeping in our own beds and would happily cover the Flyers when they come to our town if it meant skipping another trip to Philadelphia (just an example, nothing against brotherly love).
  4. Some Guy

    Some Guy Active Member

    Here's the thing: Skipping too many road trips with your beat person begins to affect your coverage at home.

    If a beat guy is essentially only covering half the games personally, he really has no idea what the hell is going on with his team. Watching on TV -- assuming that's an option for every game, sometimes it's not -- can only tell you so much.

    I can't tell you how many times I've come out of a post-game locker room with a kernel for a story idea down the road. Also, in this era of limited access (game day is one of only two times I'm allowed to talk to my coach each week), I can't afford to give any access up.

    Quite frankly, I think if you are a beat guy producing the same stuff as a freelancer hired to parachute in on the road, then you are probably a terrible beat guy. Your stuff should be better, more thorough.

    I can understand how this might look like a good idea for some bean-counting ME with no knowledge of what it takes to properly cover a beat. But the editorial content will suffer -- and not just the road gamers. All of it.
  5. Ghost Rider

    Ghost Rider Member

    It's not just about road gamers. It shouldn't be about gamers at all. Yes, you could hire any schlub freelancer to produce game content. It's not that hard. But say, as a hypothetical, that the Cubs Zambrano-Barrett incident had happened in Denver and not in Chicago, and the Sun-Times wasn't staffing the team on the road. Do you really want your beat writer to miss what was the story of the season at that point with the team? No way. Your reporting loses credibility when you're not there. We say all the time that we're better than the average couch potato blogger because we have access that they don't.

    They watch it on TV. We watch it from the venue and then have access to the parties involved to ask smart questions afterward. And the people you cover tend to trust you more when you're there every day, whether it's college basketball, baseball, football, whatever. The coverage is more thorough, and yes, you may have an opportunity to generate enterprise ideas and work on them from the road.

    And these companies aren't bleeding money. They're not getting their usual 27 percent profit margins, so they're crying.
  6. steveu

    steveu Well-Known Member

    Sports travel is a MUST when you're dealing with a pro beat. Don't give the bean-counters any ideas.
  7. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member


    It makes a difference to you, your reporting, the team and management, sources and the reader.
  8. Eagleboy

    Eagleboy Guest

    I do this on a small scale for several teams that come in the area, and I must say, while it's not necessarily the most difficult thing to do, trying to adopt a team for a couple weekends a summer greatly hurts the amount of coverage you can do, and I can tell it also hampers the beat writer's ability to do his job just as well.

    Sure, I'll call back to let him know about what's going on, and he'll call me to let me know some of the storylines, but those conversations and studying the stats are no substitution for being around the team all year. It just doesn't work that well. Granted, I do my best to watch and observe and read about the team, given the assignment, but I'm much more unable to pick up on things such as defensive alignments, pitching styles, etc. than the regular guy. You just can't get that outside the park.
  9. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    Allowed? Christ. When's the other one?
    You need a new coach.
  10. Angola!

    Angola! Guest

    I'd go so far to say sports travel is a must when dealing with any beat. Even at the high school level, it is important to drive the couple of hours for road games if you are covering one of the main city schools.

    Also, it has been my experience that most young freelance writers aren't really that good.
  11. boots

    boots New Member

    True it's needed but last take a team like the Nationals or the Devil Rays or the Orioles or the Royals. Their season is over. We know it. They know it. If I needed to save some pennies, there would be some trips those beat writers wouldn't make. I'd rather do that, then tell a guy to hit the bricks.
  12. Some Guy

    Some Guy Active Member

    Actually, we need a new SID staff, I think.

    I kind of fudged it a little, in that my coach is actually available three times a week. One, however, is on a Wednesday post-practice when he convienently has a radio show to do at 8 o'clock. So three questions in it's SID flak going, "Last question for Coach Jockstrap. He's got a radio show to do."

    The other two times we can talk to him a week are Monday during the weekly press luncheon and after a game.

    Also, each player is only available once a week outside of postgame. So if I'm not traveling, I'm missing half my time with the starting quarterback and whatnot.
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