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Baseball Writers Brace for the End

An article from the Wall St. Journal:

As Newspapers Cut Back, Press Boxes Grow Lonelier; How a Venerable Institution Lost Its Way

Baseball's independent press corps, once the most powerful in American sports, is fading. As newspapers cut budgets and payrolls, the press boxes at major league ballparks are becoming increasingly lonely places, signaling a future when some games may be chronicled only by wire services, house organs and Web writers watching the games on television.

"I certainly recognize where things are going," says Jack O'Connell, secretary of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the venerable 101-year-old membership organization for the profession. "I certainly see the dark clouds."

It's not clear how many newspaper beat writers and columnists will vanish. Some major dailies in baseball towns like Boston and New York say so long as they exist, they will never stop covering their teams. Online-only sources have filled some of the void, and independent Web sites have popped up where fans gather to comment on the games as they happen. In many ways, baseball writers are no different than other professionals whose industries are being shrunk.

 

...The changing world was on vivid display recently at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., the spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Opened in 1923 during the golden age of sportswriting, it held its first-ever night game last March -- 20 years after the lights first went on over Chicago's Wrigley Field. At a March 22 game between the Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds two writers from Pittsburgh papers were in attendance, along with two reporters from Major League Baseball's Web site. The Pittsburgh chapter of the BBWAA is down to nine members, an all time low, from 20 in 1988.

The Beaver County Times, outside Pittsburgh, has stopped covering spring training and won't cover every Pirates home game -- primarily due to finances, according to sports editor Ed Rose. To some, it's inevitable that more papers will follow suit. "We're waiting for that first domino to fall, for that first major newspaper not covering its team on the road," says current BBWAA president David O'Brien.

Will we miss baseball writers when they're gone? We really don't need newspapers for the box scores, or even accounts of what happened on the field. With sites like Fangraphs, MLB's own Internet coverage, and bloggers who describe the games as seen on TV or from the park, we can generally follow what happened.

What we lose with the beat writers is the view from inside the locker room.  Beat writers develop a relationship with the players over the long season, and have access and insight a blogger can't hope to match.  There are the radio and TV reporters, of course, but with their time constraints, they generally don't provide the kind of in-depth reporting the print media does.

Newspapers are dropping like flies.  Declaring bankruptcy, going web-only, folding altogether.  Among the troubled papers: the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Detroit News, the Detroit Free-Press, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Rocky Mountain News, Christian Science Monitor.  And of course, the Cincinnati Post went under in 2007.

The bad economy is exacerbating the problem, but this is deeper than the economy, as this essay points out:

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable

It argues that what we are facing is as fundamental a change as the invention of the printing press.  Though we know what the world was like before the printing press, and what it was like afterward, what's really interesting is the transition.  That is what we are living through now.  And if the previous transition is any model, we can expect this one to be chaotic.  In the end, something will replace newspapers, but from where we are now, it's impossible to know what.  We won't know the turning point when it happens; it will be clear only in the rear-view mirror.

During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change — take a book and shrink it — was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.

In the end, we'll get our baseball coverage somehow.  But it could suck to be a baseball writer in the immediate future.

 

A couple of other links related to baseball economics...

The Reds may not have set a new record low in attendance, but the Jays did:

Baseball for peanuts: ballpark deals

...At different stadiums this week, there were worrisome indicators. In Toronto, for example, the Blue Jays played to a nearly packed house on Opening Day, which usually happens. But the next day, nearly three-quarters of the seats at Rogers Centre were empty -- low even for an April game. Part of the reason was a one-game ban on the sale of alcohol, which was punishment for unruly fan behavior on Opening Day.

The Budweiser was flowing again for Game 3 of the series against the Detroit Tigers -- and attendance fell even more, to barely 12,000, the lowest gate ever at Rogers Centre. If beer doesn't put bellies in the seat, you know you have a problem.

 

And on a lighter note...

Bernie Madoff's Mets tickets are for sale on eBay

Seats 5-6 in the eighth row in section 11, just to the home plate side of the New York Mets' dugout, are being sold by the trustee overseeing the liquidation of Madoff's businesses.

Here's the actual eBay auction. They're up to $2,297.00 now.

If you can't make it to opening day, more of Bernie's baseball tickets will be auctioned in the future.

 

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