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What's the outlook for sports journalists?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Scott Carter, May 15, 2009.

  1. Scott Carter

    Scott Carter New Member

    Hey folks, hope everyone is well. It’s been a while since I’ve stopped by to post, but I’ve got a question that is somewhat of a spinoff to the interesting thread about Texas Monthly’s piece on the death of sports writing.

    I just read the piece and then browsed through the comments on the message board. I agree with most of you that the story missed its mark and added little to the ongoing conversation about the evolution of our business.

    My question: What exactly is the future of sports writing for traditional sports journalists? There are more sports writers than ever before, but fewer and fewer sports journalists.

    After getting let go unexpectedly by The Tampa Tribune last July, I felt very fortunate to get a call out of the blue a few weeks later from an investor set to launch an ESPN-affiliated website devoted to covering Florida State University sports – the same exact job I was doing for the Tribune when I got cut from the roster. I negotiated a decent salary but one that came with a lot more work than the job of a typical newspaper beat writer, even with today’s expectations to blog multiple times daily, video reports, podcasts, Internet radio spots, etc.

    The launch of the website took longer than expected, but in mid-October we were finally alive on the Web with me playing the role of senior writer/editor/photo editor/copy editor – basically doing it all while also being asked to do marketing, promotion and managing the message boards. It was a start-up operation and I knew the workload was going to be tremendous, so I was prepared mentally for the challenge.

    Thankfully, I was able to convince the owners to hire a recent FSU graduate to concentrate on mostly football recruiting and basketball, and for five months, we built a solid foundation for future success. We didn’t have much of an audience, but my hope was that with a whole summer and fall to hype football and with some marketing help from ESPN, by the end of 2009 we could be an established player on the FSU beat.

    However, I quickly realized that many of the readers didn’t seem that interested in the quality of the content or even if the information was mostly rumors and innuendo, especially when it came to football recruiting and any coaching moves. Most of them simply wanted a stream of information that promoted the recruits and FSU’s chances at those recruits and to be able to add their voice to the conversation. Actual news pegs and strong news angles mattered little.

    Basically, you could have spent your entire day texting back and forth with a hot recruit on report what he had for breakfast, lunch and dinner and whether Jimbo Fisher called him that day, and people took that as “breaking news.’’
    Not exactly the sports journalism I envision doing, and I’m no longer with the website.

    So, do you think there is any hope that more legitimate sports news websites will pop up in the future or that sites like ESPN.com, SI.com, and Yahoo! Sports will continue to grow as newspapers fade deeper into oblivion, or do you think those sites are close to maxing out and most of the future jobs will include mostly stalking 17-year-olds all week in the growing recruiting-websites market?

    Sorry to be a little long-winded here, but I’m curious to see what you folks think.
  2. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    My personal view is that pro and major D-I coverage is hitting a saturation point because a lot of fans really don't care about the in-depth stuff, or at least they think they don't.

    A lot of niche sports have good Web sites that serve the needs of fans. I think the glaring hole in the decline of sports journalism is prep coverage. A ton of Web sites will just have box scores, but features and enterprise on high school programs may go away in some areas of the country until a different news model takes off.
  3. Scott Carter

    Scott Carter New Member

    Stitch, I agree totally that a huge void will exist in the future of quality high school coverage, especially in the larger markets that will devote all their resources to the Pro and D-I teams in town. I'm sure it already exists in most major markets with all the cuts in resources.

    As for D-I coverage being saturated, I'm sure that's true in some places, but not everywhere. Heck, in the last 10 months four of the major Florida dailies have cut their FSU writers. That's just an example I'm familiar with. I'm sure there are other pro and college beats to suffer the same fate in the past year.

    I just hope that as more and more traditional journalistic coverage disappears, fans will start to notice the different type of approach a lot of the fan websites take when covering a team and might realize that not all of that is really quality coverage. A lot of it is advertising and teasing. Or, maybe I'm nuts and that's all they want.
  4. Andy _ Kent

    Andy _ Kent Member


    Wish I knew the answer bro. It's the million dollar question out there right now.

    BTW, I just sent you a PM.
  5. Scott Carter

    Scott Carter New Member

    Andy, you mean the "future is uncertain.'' That's always been one of my pet-peeves in headlines or stories ... you're right, it definitely is the million dollar question.

    I'm just starting to believe that the only way to make out a living these days doing real sports journalism other than the few gigs available at the major websites is to 1) write books, 2) freelance for magazines, and 3) work at Circle K part-time :).

    Hopefully it won't get that bad.
  6. jfs1000

    jfs1000 Member

    Scott, people aren't interested in good stories. I don't know what to think anymore. They want opinion on the DI stuff and they want minutia and drivel. From my own experience, they love blogs that get you inside the locker room and are non-newspaper stuff. At least the online element that comments on it.

    They love the stuff that doesn't appear in the newspaper. The hard stuff like actual reporting or working for an in-depth story? They take that for granted. They like it, but they think that quality is the minimum part of your job. I don't think they understand the effort it takes to do good work.

    I have found readers of teams like it to be more conversational and bar room than literate. I hope you are right and I am wrong.

    I saw someone recap a bowl game and their highlight was meeting me and some other writers. That's ridiculous.

    They just want to feel a part of the team. That's what they are drawn to and that's why they love these locker room nonsense blogs.
  7. Scott Carter

    Scott Carter New Member

    jfs1000, I actually enjoy reading and writing a lot of the conversational and insider stuff the fans like. It's also fun to have more freedom to write with a more personal touch for the web.

    Still, I always feel like I'm sort of cheating if I don't do some old-school reporting and take the time to try and write the most literate story I can on whatever the subject. But I think you're right, less and less people seem interested in that.

    Strange times for sure. I still think we're at the middle of the bridge from where the biz has been to wherever it is that it's going. I just hope that once everything sorts itself out -- at this point I'm assuming that means about 90 percent of our work will be online with the rest in books/magazines -- that maybe some jobs that have been lost in the newspaper industry will pop back up online.

    If not, I guess we'll all be writing our own blogs for free and hope our moms at least read them.

    I don't think we'll ever see the mass audience general-interest online publication being the industry leader, but why not regionalized sports-only web sites with advertising and subscription revenues paying the bills.

    Let's say a FloridaSports.com for example. You have beat writers covering all the pro and D-I college teams around the state. Have a columnist in each major city to bounce around to the hot topic in that town. Aim advertising to the city- and team-specific areas of the site. All the Maimi advertising pops up when folks click on covergage for UM, Marlins, Dolphins, etc. Same for Tampa, Orlando, etc.

    Seems like it could work w/out nearly the investment of publishing a newspaper or large magazine. But of course, as long as there is so much free stuff on the web, you'd have to start small and build over time w/out a big-time investor at the start.

    Anyway, just thinking off top of my head, but maybe there will be a day when sites like that can exist and support themselves.
  8. Fredrick

    Fredrick Well-Known Member

    I think you discovered what the readers want during your time at the Website. There is an infatuation with recruiting as you know better than anybody. From what I've seen on websites, the fans of college teams at least only care about the unknown -- and that is everything and anything about prospects they've never seen play.
    I'm sure it had to be frustrating. I bet you also experienced the craziness of you updating a recruit's situation and a day or two later the crazy fans asking you for ANOTHER update on the same prospect when nothing had changed.
    I assume your Website was a TON of work with nothing but misery from your audience, them asking you for more, more more.
  9. jemaz

    jemaz Member

    This is an important thread with some important factors to keep in mind.

    The biggest change is that information can be assembled and disseminated without any kind of significant investment. Newspapers are no longer required, and gatekeepers have become mostly irrelevant.

    What is needed is an audience.

    I am a graduate of Virginia Tech and avidly follow all Virginia Tech sports. I want to know what is going on, but I am not interested -- as a fan of Virginia Tech -- in reporting that damages the program. I get all the information I want and need from a website called TechSideline.com. It has made the Roanoke, Richmond and Norfolk newspapers secondary at best and unneeded at worst. They are a distant second in their reporting and offer very little insight that I don't get mainly from the TSL message boards from people close to the program or close to people close to the program.

    I also am very interested in high school sports -- much moreso than I am interested in the Arizona Diamondbacks (I live in Phoenix). The Arizona Republic has virtually abandoned its coverage of high school sports. Instead, there are niche websites that offer far more information and insight that the Republic ever did, even in its best days. Once of these is the azdiamondreport.com, which gains in readership, credibility and popularity every day.

    It is true that most of it is positive (although not all of it) and that much of the information is poorly presented. But some of it is very good, and the volume is even better. Newspapers have too much lost touch with their readers and too many reporters are too interested in covering what they like rather than what people want to read. Information gathering will always have an important place, but the "profession" is now far more accessible to anyone with a desire to write and to interact with others who have similar interests. At some point, an idea will emergy that is economically viable. I hope that idea includes newspapers, but a different approach and a better relationship with the audience will be required.
  10. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    My problem with the notion that we don't write what people want to read is that we produce content in an echo chamber. Part of a well-rounded human experience is to hear and read news on topics that you are not familiar with or may not like.

    But with HuffPost, Daily Kos, and similar Web sites for those who lean to the right, people just want to read what they want to.

    To prove the point, if I walked into the Wal-Mart in my small town, I doubt that 10 percent of the people knew what was going on locally. They have a tiny grasp of national news as well.
  11. shotglass

    shotglass Guest

    In other words, you don't want both sides of the coin -- you only want the good news?

    If that is the norm, then what we're saying is advocacy journalism is the only kind that will be widely read in the future.

    That sort of goes against the entire journalistic thing, doesn't it?
  12. Jesus_Muscatel

    Jesus_Muscatel Active Member

    If I gotta work part-time at the Circle K, I'm packin' heat like that kid in Raising Arizona.
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